Talent Agencies are your representatives for the entertainment industry that work on a 10-20% commission of our salary. Industry professionals such as directors, producers and casting directors in most cases do not want to talk with the talent and would prefer to talk with a legal official that acts on the talent's behalf.
The representative's job is to submit the talent to casting calls, to book auditions and callbacks, to negotiate a contract, and to supply the actor with all the information and tools that he needs in order to do a good job.
The role of the agent is to submit or connect you with clients that can hire you for work. It is up to you to get the job with your marketing materials, look, skills or abilities. That is why it is critical that you keep all your materials up to date, professional looking and continue to work on your craft. Legitimate, reputable agents will only get paid after an actor has been paid, and the rate is generally 10% - 20% of the actor's gross salary.
While it is not necessary to have an agent or acting agency in order to get work, it would serve you well to find an agent as soon as possible. Agents, with their industry contacts and professional resources, will be able to get you into auditions and interviews that you otherwise may not ever hear about.
In addition to their resources and help in getting you in the door, many agents will also represent you to casting directors, help you in continually developing your career, negotiate your contract for an acting job, as well as protect you and help with any disputes you may have with a producer. For their services, agents will take a percentage of your gross salary, as well as expect you to be professional and committed to your career.
Since reputable agents are paid only when you get paid, it is in their best interest to keep you working. For this reason, you should begin your search for an agent as soon as possible, because it only helps to have an ally in your search for acting jobs.
Remember, reputable agents never charge any kind of fees or dues outside of their stated commission charges. Since the invention of the internet and websites, agents do and should charge a small website fee for their designers work on adding you to the site for submissions. If an agent tells you otherwise, find another one. While it is possible to get work without having an agent, you will find that you get more opportunities when you have representation.