Buying StaffingWhat you must know before you buy staffing agency services.

According to the American Staffing Association, there are over 17,000 companies in the United States offering staffing services.  Services include a variety of temporary, contract, permanent placement, and HR consulting services.  The skill sets range from labor and office work to professional and technical work.  Americans are increasingly interested in working in contract positions which provide them variety and flexibility.  American corporations are turning to a more flexible workforce to fill the gaps that long periods of hiring freezes have caused.   When the economy starts picking up, employers will typically hire contract workers before committing to permanent placements.

What this means to the corporate recruiting teams is that you need to have solid relationships with several excellent staffing agencies who will work hard for you when it comes to hiring the best contract workforce.  If you solely base your choice on the price or you beat the agency down so far they barely make any money, they aren’t likely to value you as a client, because you’ve shown them you don’t value their services.  Would you hire the cheapest babysitter?  Cheapest hairdresser? Cheapest surgeon?

Tips for Buying Staffing Services

  • Be a good customer: Staffing agencies are sales focused and typically employees have some type of quota to fill.  The larger the company they work for the more pressure from upper management employees will be under to meet their numbers.   The first time you “throw them a bone” they will likely jump to fill that order, but if you don’t give them any feedback, any subsequent orders, or even meet in person with them, the agency will think that you just used them in a pinch when their primary agency couldn’t fill their request.  Most agencies won’t waste their time with you if you do that a second time.  Yes, it’s that transparent!
  • Let them in: Agencies often times are all recruiting from the same sources and often times have a database of the same candidates as their competitors.  What makes the agency different is what they know about their candidate, and what makes a good match.  What skills have they tested for, what are their hobbies, what type of environment will they thrive in?  A good agency should also get to know your company culture, what type of environment it is, and thus they will be able to make a better match beyond just a simple resume match…but you, corporate recruiter, must enable the good recruitment agencies to do their job.  Let them in, introduce them to various employees, remember the agency is the employer of the contractor, give them feedback, help the agency council the contractor to get better results.
  • Understand they can’t control candidates: Agency recruiters and sales people literally have nightmares or other anxiety attacks worrying about the day their candidates will embarrass them, and it will happen.  A contractor will quit on the 2nd day, get caught drinking or sleeping on the job, or mouth off to the VP.  It’s life, it happens to the best agencies out there.  If you have developed a good relationship with your agencies and something awful happens remember that the staffing agency is just as upset as you are, probably more so, and they will deal with the employee accordingly.  Don’t let one bad apple ruin the relationship.  This is a people business and people can be unpredictable. You want your agencies to have a solid background check and assessment process, but it’s impossible to guarantee anything when it comes to people.
  • Correct expectations: Candidate satisfaction and candidate retention are extremely important to the agency.  Their reputation as an agency can be tarnished by dissatisfied contractors.  Be clear with your job descriptions, don’t add manual labor into a job that was supposed to be administrative in nature, and don’t forget to tell the agency what the department is like to work for, this will level set all expectations and get the relationship started on the right foot.
  • Break down the barriers: Agency staffers are in the people business like you are.  If you follow the above guidelines and build a great solid relationship with the agency, you will have a much easier time negotiating a lower rate with them.  Once they know they can trust you, that you’ll send them a certain amount of work, and that you’ll respect their candidate, that’s the time to sit down and negotiate a long term price. If they know your organization well, and understand your job descriptions, and what makes a good match, now the agencies job is easier too.  They won’t be putty in your hands, but the skyscraper high barriers that often times exist between agency and corporate recruiter come down and the two parties can work towards meeting their objectives.

If you follow these general practices when you are buying staffing services for your company, you will develop strong relationships that transcend customer-client transactional business. When you make that leap, you can justify your productivity demands, lower rates, and get premium service from the recruitment or staffing agency. The real secret is taking the time to develop solid, mutually beneficial relationships over the long term. After all, your people are your company’s most important asset – it’s worth taking the time to develop not just a list of suppliers, but a group of strategic partners.

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