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Hiring temp-to-perm: Is it for you?

Posted by Bianca Strzelczyk  October 20, 2008 09:35 AM

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By Aaron Green

“Temp-to-perm” is a short-hand term that staffing and recruiting professionals use when talking about filling a job with a temporary employee with the option of offering it to that employee on a permanent basis after a trial period. Temp-to-perm, also sometimes called temp-to-direct or temp-to-hire, can reduce guesswork and risk and raise the odds of finding a candidate who fits well within your organization. It can be a win-win situation for employers and candidates who get to do a test run before committing permanently. To determine if temp-to-perm is the right hiring strategy for you, answer the following five questions.

1. How important is culture fit?

If you contrast a direct-hire interview process with a temp-to-perm approach, the temp-to-perm way provides you with a much better assessment of culture fit. While it is true that a direct-hire interview process can include techniques to help you assess whether a candidate will be a culture fit for your organization, results from these techniques pale in comparison to the information you get from having a candidate actually work in the position. Having the candidate work for you on a trial basis will give you perspective on their work ethic, how they interact with other employees as well as other important cultural elements that you wouldn’t be able to ascertain through an interview.

2. What does your applicant pool look like?

If you have a deep applicant pool to choose from you have the luxury of filling positions on a temp-to-perm basis. On the other hand, if qualified applicants are scarce, you may need to also consider direct-hire candidates. The reason is that many candidates want to see a greater commitment from the employer before accepting an offer and aren’t willing to compromise for a temporary situation. For instance, if someone is currently in a job and would need to quit, they might not make the move unless you make them an employment offer with no contingencies attached.

3. What type of position are you trying to fill?

If the job is hard to describe in standard employment-speak, requires responsibilities that will fluctuate, or requires a certain “je ne sais quoi,” both the candidate and the hiring manager may be better served by getting their feet wet in a temp-to-perm arrangement so each party full understands what is required and can make informed commitments.

You also will need to consider the nature of the position and if it is customary to fill such a position on a temp-to-hire basis. For instance it is not at all unusual to fill an administrative assistant position on a temp-to-perm basis, but it might be unusual to take the same approach on certain senior management positions.

4. Would you like to test the applicant’s skills?

Some people interview well and have excellent references, but when they start working they just don’t have the level of skill we thought they had. While there are tools to help make good hiring decisions (see the article, Making the Right Hiring Decision), the best way to assess a candidate’s skills is to see them in action. Temp-to-hire provides this opportunity to evaluate if their skills live up to their resume.

5. How soon do you need the work performed?

If you need the work performed right away, temp-to-perm might be a good solution. Taking this approach you can get someone working immediately while you continue your search for the right long-term hire. You might be pleasantly surprised and find that your temp-to-perm candidate turns out to be the best long-term fit; regardless, you buy yourself some time to conduct a more thorough search process.

While it is not always practical to hire staff on a temp-to-perm basis, taking this approach offers many advantages. You should consider these five questions when evaluating if the temp-to-perm way makes sense for you.

Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Offshore Resources. He is also a member of the board of directors of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at or (617) 250-1000.

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Featuring human resources advice and columns from The Boston Globe's On Staffing and Hire Authority writers.