Consultant caught between customer and placement agency

A consultant works through a placement agency. When problems arise with customer, she has to deal with two bosses.

As the editor of TechRepublic's Career net note, I often receive requests for information from its subscribers. Most of these questions refer to issues in the workplace itself or come from someone seeking answers to problems encountered in a consulting practice.

Of course, the best answers to these questions are going to come from the experts themselves—TechRepublic members.

So I will occasionally describe an issue and open it up for discussion among you. Here's the first scenario I received from a subscriber:

"I'm a consultant working at a company, through a placement agency. (A placement agency can also be a head hunter, career finder, temp agency, recruiter or staffing agency.) I have had my share of challenging experiences when working through agencies. Contractually I report to the agency not to the end customer, but the work is defined by the end customer. Essentially, this means I have two bosses. In a controversy, the Agency will always side with the end customer regardless of the situation. I understand the end customer is a meal ticket, but in most contractor/agency scenarios there is a lack of a due-diligence process to resolve a situation to satisfy all parties in conflict. Unfortunately, in the placement agency world it seems the consultant is always wrong.

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I recall one project where the end customer was extremely difficult to deal with. They dealt with everyone in a threatening manner and finally towards the end of the project, asked me to perform a three-month task in three days. When I informed them that I would be delighted to deliver what they were asking for but it would take three months, without even discussing the matter further they phoned the placement agency and threatened to remove the agency from their preferred vendor list. Rather than working towards extending the contract by another three months (whereby everyone would get what they wanted) the placement agency phone call to me started with words "We are not happy with you." Does anyone have any advice on how to deal with, or protect yourself against, end customers flexing their weight and agencies caving in to their demands, with the consultant stuck in the middle?"

Please offer some guidance in this discussion.

About Toni Bowers

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

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