Recruitment advertising agencies may not be `sexy', but there's never a dull moment in the employment industry
Ever wondered how the BBC found its latest director general? How the army attracts enough raw recruits to turn into blue-berated peacekeepers? How supermarkets source their shelf-stackers and cashiers?

The answer is advertising. While some jobs are still filled through word- of-mouth or headhunters, companies who want to be able to choose from a broad field of candidates - and maximise their chances of getting high- calibre applicants - choose to advertise positions, from chief executive down to trainee. Which is where recruitment advertising agencies come in - a fast-growing industry attracting a fast-growing number of graduates.

Barkers, one leading recruitment advertising agency, launched its first graduate training programme in 1997. Martha Lukasiewicz was accepted onto it with an English degree at Liverpool University. "I had been thinking about going into advertising for several years, but I had never thought of recruitment advertising, because I did not know it existed," she admits. Now she would encourage anyone keen on a career in advertising not to restrict their job search to consumer advertising agencies. "You're not pigeonholed. You're involved in the work from the first call from the client right through to sending the finished artwork to a publication."

She adds, "You get a really broad range of experience because you deal with lots of different accounts in different industries. In my role as an account co-ordinator, I get involved in account-handling as well as all the different parts of the industry. I do some research and I deal with the media and with production."

At first glance, recruitment advertising may not appear to be as glamorous as consumer (or "product") advertising. There are fewer TV campaigns, so opportunities for hanging out with actors on shoots are limited. "It is about 200 per cent less `sexy' than consumer advertising," admits Stephen Halford, managing director of Barkers. But, he insists, it is at least as interesting. Conveying a serious message, dealing in matters which actually affect people's lives, makes for stimulating work. "It has real social value: seeing an ad for a job can change someone's life." Recently the agency worked with the Metropolitan Police on a campaign to persuade people from ethnic minority groups to join the force. "You're dealing with complex issues," Halford emphasises. "It's not just boxes in papers."

In addition to creating advertising campaigns, recruitment agencies will often produce recruitment videos and brochures, design Internet sites, and even conduct first interviews by telephone. An account handler - who draws all these functions together, ensuring that everything from web site to brochure keeps to the same theme and branding - performs a role similar to that of management consultant, but with a creative twist.

Be warned, however, that the unpredictable nature of the product - people - means that deadlines are even tighter than in consumer advertising. "In product advertising you can work out your strategy for the year. Recruitment advertising is much more immediate," explains Karen Skewies, a director of TMP Worldwide, the largest recruitment advertising agency in the UK. "Someone resigns, the job has to be filled. There's a very fast turnaround. Sometimes the deadline is today."

Graduates going into recruitment advertising need all the qualities necessary for account handling in consumer advertising: dedication, good communications skills and persuasive powers. However, in addition, a real interest in people and what makes them tick is vital.

It also helps to be outgoing, says Halford. After all, as a fresh graduate, it can be tough to try to talk with credibility to a 45-year-old human resources director about the world of work. But, he points out, youth can be a positive advantage: someone who has recently left university is well placed to advise a client on how to ensure their recruitment brochure or a website will appeal to young talent.

Much of the work involves problem-solving. Often clients are trying to find people with scarce skills, such as scientists. "You can't just put an advertisement in the paper," explains Skewies. "They'll never see it." Instead, you have to pinpoint the particular websites or niche publications that they will see, and create an ad that will appeal to them.

For those hoping to go into account handling, degree discipline is largely irrelevant. Starting salaries are usually around pounds 15,000 to pounds 17,000 but promotion can be rapid. One hazard of working in recruitment advertising, however, is that job security depends on the financial climate. When recession bites recruitment advertising, the lifeblood of recruitment agencies dries up, creating uncertainty for their employees.

This risk aside, though, recruitment advertising agencies are an ideal environment for a creative, outgoing graduate, combining the fun side of advertising - lots of young people, plenty of after-hours socialising, a free-thinking environment - with the fulfilling knowledge that you are performing an important service.

Skewies sums up its appeal: "The difference is you're not dealing with Fairy Liquid but with people's livelihoods."