Working effectively with a staffing agency
By Aaron Green, 10/27/2003
You're in a bind. Your managers are complaining about a lack of resources. You know that calling a temporary staffing firm would be a quick solution to your woes. Or, perhaps you work with temporary staffing firms regularly, but aren't sure you're getting the best deal.
Whether it's finding someone to answer the phones at the last minute, fill in for a vacationing assistant, or contribute to the team for an important project, there are numerous reasons to call a temporary staffing firm and several considerations to make the relationship a successful one.
Give a thorough job order
First, find out all you can about the work that needs to be done and the type of employee best suited to the task. Be sure to check in with the project's supervisor and/or appropriate managers and ask questions: How urgent is the need and how soon is a temp required? How long will the assignment last? How long is the workday? Is more than one temp needed? What skills are required? What skills aren't required but would be nice to have?
To ensure you get a temp who is a good fit for your need, try to be as specific as possible. Rather than telling your contact at the staffing agency that you need someone for administrative work, try to spell out the specific type of administrative work the employee will be doing, e.g., answering phones, taking transcription, conducting research on the Internet.
Also, consider the skill set and culture around your office. Are most of your employees young and computer literate? Do they communicate primarily by e-mail or IM? Is there an expectation that the temp will be familiar with certain software packages to do the job? Also, never assume that a new employee will know or automatically pick up on unwritten office rules, such as whom to report to and how often, or what the dress code is.
Get out of the starting block...slowly
When working with a staffing agency, there are certain situations that require speed. Getting a receptionist to your office within 15 minutes to handle the phones on a busy Monday morning is one of them.
However, if you can give your agency contact a realistic time frame, you'll end up getting the best person for the job rather than the first available one.
As logical as this sounds, many employers don't heed this advice - especially when the pressure is on. Some companies will call half a dozen staffing firms with the same job order and award it to the firm who responds fastest. While this approach undoubtedly gets the job done, it is not conducive to effective long-lasting relationships and long-term satisfaction with staffing talent.
If you are having trouble differentiating between the numerous staffing firms in your area, a more balanced approach would be to conduct trials over a longer period of time. For example, work with Staffing Agency #1 for a three-month period during which time you give them 6-9 job orders. Do the same thing with Staffing Agency #2, #3, etc. At the end of these trials consider factors such as:
- Which firm consistently responded to requests the fastest? (with or without a staffing solution)
- Which firm consistently supplied the most satisfactory employees?
- Which firm was able to send employees who were already familiar with your business?
In the end, the time and effort you invest will almost surely result in a better-quality, longer-lasting and more effective business partnership with your staffing provider(s).
Settling down with one partner
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, including cost-savings, access to a pool of employees customized for your industry or business, and having one point of contact for staffing needs.
But how should you determine which agency is the one to place your proverbial eggs with? Factors to consider include:
- Do they provide the right level of service? Service, including speed and quality of staffing, is certainly one criterion, and making your selection after sampling the services of several staffing firms (as described above) is recommended.
- How well will the staffing firm accommodate you? Does the staffing firm have experience in your industry and/or experience serving businesses of your size and organization type? Will the firm maintain a dedicated temp pool for your business? Does the staffing firm show potential to accommodate your changing needs by offering personnel with skills that may be useful to you down the line or personnel in regional areas that may be of interest to you in the future?
- How does the firm treat its temporary employees? How does the firm recruit new temps? What percentage are word-of-mouth referrals? What is the firm's selection and screening process for new employees? How long do temporary employees typically stay with the firm?
- Does the firm offer benefits to attract and retain valuable employees? Consider, also, the benefits offered by the firm to its temporary employees as they'll be a good benchmark for the value the firm places on its employees. These benefits can include skills enhancement programs, contributions to health insurance and 401(k) programs, competitive pay, and paid holidays. Although numerous temps work for an agency on a full-time basis, not many firms offer the same benefits that other full-time employers offer. Ask your temporary agency about the benefits it offers, as this is an often-overlooked, but excellent, indicator of the quality of temps the firm is able to attract. Is there a longevity factor for qualifying for benefits at the firm? Does the staffing firm make contributions to the temps' health insurance or 401(k) plan?
These questions will help you determine how the firm treats its employees and therefore gain a better understanding of how stable and happy the workforce is likely to be.
Keep in mind
Whether you decide to work exclusively with one staffing provider or opt to shop your business around, or whether your staffing needs are few and far between or include a large number of temporary employees on a regular basis, following the tips mentioned above will help you find and establish a solid and effective business relationship with the staffing partner best suited to your company's needs.
Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group. He is also a member of the board of directors of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at or (617) 250-1000.