Previous month:
July 2012
Next month:
October 2012

How A Client Should Pick A Staffing Firm

How does a company decide to pick a staffing firm?  In many places, RFP's go out and a group of acceptable firms are placed on a vendor list.  For others, salespeople call in and when there is a need, the manager signs a contract for a placement or two. When needs are regular, HR tends to manage the process with a heavy hand, laying down ground rules on when to contact and when to submit resumes.  

It works.  Sort of.

It's not as easy as it seems to determine if a firm is the right one for you.  The salesperson may be great, or you may have known the branch manager for years, but how can you tell if you're getting not only attention, but the best attention from the recruiters actually making the calls?

Some things to start out on.  This is the basic structure of a staffing firm. 

1) Salespeople (account managers) talk to clients.  Their job is to get jobs (requirements), and bring them back to the recruiters, like birds to their chicks in the nest.  The salesperson takes you to lunch, drives a nice car, and dresses well.  They may or may not understand what you're asking for, but they're good at taking notes and making you feel listened to.  The best salespeople understand the technology, your environment and the market, and are a vital source of information for managers.  The worst just dial a list 50-100 times a day asking you if you have jobs.

In the old days, salespeople were recruiters who got moved up.  These days, they tend to be professional salespeople.   

2) Recruiters call candidates, and work on open positions given to them by salespeople. They always have multiple jobs open at one time.  If they do not, the company lays them off.  The recruiter is responsible for sourcing, interviewing, and preparing candidates, as well as talking to contractors and permanent placements after a hire takes place. 

Both recruiters and salespeople are paid on commission. Some are base plus commission, some are on draw, and a very few are full salaried.  Knowing this, you have to know that low rates do not motivate them.  The lower the rate, the more likely the recruiter is to cut corners.  The salesperson is likely to put pressure on the recruiter to do a good job, but high rate, high margin, easy fills are the gold requirements that get the most attention. 

3) Branch managers, sourcers, admin staff.  There are other people at the firm as well. They interact with candidates, automate searches, and handle admin and management duties.  They have important jobs, but are not part of the recruiting staff in the way you might think. And that matters.  The more recruiters you have the more coverage you have.  An office with 10 recruiters is not the same as an office with 10 people.

Why Size of Company Matters

Big companies like to work with big companies, right?  They teach that in MBA classes. In recruiting, looks can be deceiving.  When you're working with a company, you're working with a person and their team.  Don't get fooled into thinking that a big name means big service.  It can, but I've seen national firms with two people working, and local firms with fifteen.  Generally, you're better off with a larger local presence.  How do you know if they have a large local presence?  

You have to be willing to visit their offices. 

You should, you know.  You should see what candidates see when they walk in the door.  There's no excuse not to, and it will tell you much about how the company functions.  Looks aren't everything, but you can tell if a company is thriving or sucking wind when you walk in the door.  That's a lot more revealing than a lunch, right?

Great recruiting companies have  a buzz around them.  They have a process. They have regular morning meetings to see what they're working on.  They have  boards up displaying the best requirements.  Are you on those boards?  Maybe they'll let you see it, maybe they won't.  If you're not asking, how do you know what level of service you are getting? 

Let me ask a question. Let's say I have a 30% perm placement requirement with a client I've known 10 years.  I have his cell phone, and he calls me back.  Let's also stipulate that I have a client that pays 20%, but wants to hire 4 developers, and claims he'll hire as soon as I find them.

To the 20% Client, he's offering a good deal.  4 placements, low rate.  But to the recruiter, a different story emerges.  The 30% is a done deal if we do our jobs.  We work hard, we know it closes.  The 20% positions are farmed out to 10 recruiters, top candidates are all called the same day, and even if we did find four, we know that the manager wouldn't hire all four.  They'd hire one or two, and then ask for better resumes (they'd never believe they got four resumes from one source).  

So who do you pick?  The bird in the hand. 

But let's reverse that.  Let's say that a difficult client agrees to pay 30%, but the close friend only pays 20%.  Certainly the 30% client will get a lot of attention.  Winning those deals makes you look good to your boss.  But the recruiters will focus on the 20% sure thing, because they know they will get feedback.

Many managers don't understand this.  Others don't want to hear it.  But if you're selecting a recruiting partner, shouldn't you be aware of how they work? Shouldn't you pick one that best aligns with your needs?  Why in the world would you base it off what you've been told by a salesperson?  

Step 1:  Ask to tour the offices.  

Step 2:  Ask about their process, and get them to discuss what they think is a good requirement. 

Step 3:   Find out exactly who is working full time on your positions.  Do you have a specific recruiter who runs your account?  Is it a pool?  Are you competing against other companies for the best recruiting team?

This is tough to ask, but you should be asking about the backgrounds of who works for you. When a requirement comes in from you, does it go to someone specific, or is it posted on a board?  If you spend an hour talking about the position, does that information get shared immediately, or does it sit on a desk for a week until someone can look at it?  How does it get defined?  An "A" req?  A "gold" req?  What is a bad req (everyone knows bad reqs.  If they don't, they are either clueless or lying. Bad reqs are vague, hard to fill, little response back from manager, low bill rate, or low gross margin rate)?  

Most companies don't think about such things.  They want to be sweet-talked into assuming a beaming workforce is just waiting to make calls on their behalf.  There may very well be a beaming workforce back at the offices, but do they roll their eyes when they hear your name? Does the recruiting manager tell them to check their boards, but work on the fillable reqs?

Bet you never heard the term fillable req from a sales guy.  


1) Find out if the account manager knows anything about the technology you're hiring for

2) Ask about the structure of their recruiting process, and where you fit in it.  Dig deep, and don't take vague answers

3) Ask to see the office, if only for five minutes

4) Ask the sales person who will actually work on the job, and what it takes to make your job a fillable req. 


Great companies will be eager to show you what they do. They know they're top notch.  They know that their recruiters are pleasant, smart workers.  They want to show you what they can do, and aren't afraid of pop-ins.

But do call ahead.