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Finding and Selecting a Staffing Firm

Posted by Aaron Green  September 21, 2009 06:56 AM

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Last month I wrote about how staffing firms can help you weather the recession and prepare for employment recovery. This month I'll provide some tips on finding and selecting a staffing agency that is best suited to your needs.

In Boston alone there are hundreds of staffing firms, from small operations to large multinational firms. You will find firms specializing in every staffing niche. You will have no trouble finding a staffing firm, the challenge is to find one that is qualified and best meets your specific needs. To find the staffing firm that fits for your organization you need to do your homework.

First, depending on the uniqueness of your staffing needs, you might want to choose a staffing firm that specializes in your industry or specializes in the type of position you have open. Figure out if you need staffing employees for a one-shot deal, a long-term assignment, a permanent job placement, or if you want to develop an ongoing relationship that you can tap into as need arise.

Get referrals
The old-fashioned way of doing this is to ask around and find a company that has needs similar to yours, or reach out to business contacts you respect or anyone who thinks they've got an exceptional relationship with a staffing firm. This effort takes more time and energy than simply doing a quick Google search, but the more you put into this effort the better the payback will be.

Use impartial industry trade organization resources
A good starting point is the American Staffing Association (ASA). The ASA is a non profit industry trade organization serving the staffing industry, membership consists of 15,000 staffing offices nationwide that have agreed to conform to the industry's highest standards, and are up-to-date on all the latest human resources developments and trends. The ASA's website,, includes a "search for a staffing firm function" that will allow you to narrow your search based on criteria that is important to you. Feel free to call the ASA: while they won't recommend a specific firm, they can point you in the right direction.

Put yourself in a job seeker's shoes
When looking for prospective agencies, it can help to think like a job seeker. The firms that are well known to job seekers and that invest in branding, marketing and advertising to attract job seekers are more likely to have a larger pool of candidates to meet your staffing needs. Of course, having the largest pool of candidate alone won't make an agency good, especially if they have bad screening processes and/or poor customer service, but all else being equal the firm with the stronger network of candidates is more likely to be better than the low-profile agency you've never heard of until now.

Do your due diligence
You wouldn't make a large purchase or hire a new employee without doing background and reference checks, nor should you embark on a relationship with a staffing firm without due diligence.

o Use the internet - start with the company's web site to see how they position themselves, review their credentials, review benefits offered to temporary employees, see the range of services they offer and think about how this fits into your needs. Also check the so-called "complaint blogs" to see what others are saying about them and determine if you feel the comments are relevant to you. I would not suggest starting your search for a staffing firm on the internet, but on-line information is certainly useful for due diligence purposes.

o Check references - this is a standard procedure, but you should do more than just go through the motions. When following up with references, be prepared and have questions ready that are tailored to your needs. Also, look for "back door" references which are essentially references identified by you, rather than the firm you are evaluating. For example, if a staffing firm says they serve all of the largest hospitals in the area, check your network and friends-of-friends to see if you can find who uses the firm and get a "real" reference.

o Invite them in - ask and expect a firm representative to visit you. Doing so demonstrates their level of investment and commitment to service.

o Make an office call - perform a site visit yourself at the staffing firm. If you're looking for a long-term relationship and/or have complex or high volume staffing needs, it's worth your time to visit and "kick the tires" to see how the agency operates.

Take a trial run
Many companies with a consistent and sizable need for temporary staffing decide to ink long-term contracts with one staffing agency. This makes sense for several reasons, cost-savings being the primary reason, but also to gain better access to a pool of candidates skilled in your industry, and to simplify the process by having a reduced number of vendors. If you find yourself in this position and are having trouble differentiating between a number of staffing firms, you could consider a trial.

Wrong way to conduct a trial:
* Don't call half a dozen staffing firms with the same job order and award it to the firm who responds fastest.
* Don't overreact if your usual staffing agency lets you down by not meeting a deadline and then, when you are virtually out of time, try a new agency and give them an even shorter timetable to work with.

Unfortunately the wrong way approach is much too common. It measures one facet of staffing: speed, but it does not measure quality. Certainly there are certain situations that require speed. If your receptionist calls out sick, getting a replacement to your office within 15 minutes to handle the phones on a busy Monday morning is one of them. But if you are staffing a long-term position where particular experience and technical skills are crucial, speed is not nearly as important as having the right match.

Right Way:
* Do use one agency exclusively for a defined period of time, evaluate their quality, speed, price, follow-up, and overall service.
* Do switch to another agency entirely after a period of time and use them exclusively and evaluate them.
* Do make your decision on who to retain based on your experience.

Working with a staffing firm means more than just having an order filled. Your staffing partner will represent you in some important HR functions related to those temporary or permanent hire employees. It's more than worth the investment of your time to make sure you've chosen the right partner and have put in the effort to get the relationship off on the right foot.

Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Global Solutions . He is also the Treasurer of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at or (617) 250-1000.

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About HR Columns

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