Choosing a staffing agency

What to ask and what you should know

Companies must create a fine balance between efficiency and flexibility in order to sustain growth and success — that’s business 101. But this is especially important when it comes to human capital.

The Canadian staffing services industry has grown in size and sophistication in order to meet the complex and changing requirements of HR departments. However, choosing the right staffing service can still be challenging.

Many HR professionals have an ongoing business relationship with temporary service consultants and recruiters who specialize in their industry or in specific skills sets.

For those who are selecting a staffing firm, the nature of the position to be filled is an important factor to consider when choosing a staffing service. Job placements can be broken down into three main types:

Temporary or contract: The employee works for the staffing firm or is an independent contractor. They are added to an organization’s workforce for an interim period or on a project basis.

Temporary-to-permanent or temporary-to-hire: HR departments benefit from the opportunity to make sure the candidate is a good match and to determine whether the position is required permanently.

Executive and professional search and permanent placement at all levels: The staffing firm is retained to select and present the best candidate. The arrangement for service can vary depending on the position, however, the end result is the same — the HR professional is expecting the recruiter to provide the best possible fit for the company.

Questions to ask

With a clear idea of the nature of the position and the nature of the service to be provided by a staffing firm, asking the following questions can help the human resources department determine a good fit.

Does this firm know the company’s business and have experience in the industry? Ask about the firm’s specific experience in the company’s sector and whether it has helped fill similar positions. If references are offered, don’t be afraid to check them. If they are not offered, ask for them.

Can this firm handle the positions the company needs filled? Volume could also be an issue. If it is a small or specialized firm, can it handle a large client request? On the flip side, will a big firm be able to offer the level of attention the positions may require?

Will this firm invest the time to become a partner and understand the company and the type of employees needed? A reputable, professional firm will be interested in building a long-term relationship and want to understand all facets of the business. The chemistry must be right for the relationship to work.

Does this firm have capabilities not available in-house? This is the critical question. It does not make sense to partner with a firm that cannot add any value to the company’s current system or processes.

Evaluating the partnership with a staffing agency

When a relationship has been established with the staffing firm, it’s important to evaluate the partnership on an ongoing basis. Here are some guidelines to help determine the success of the relationship.

Are the candidates better? Do they stay? HR should look at the results it was able to generate on its own to see if the staffing firm is bringing in a higher level of candidate. Look at the lifespan of the candidates placed — does the firm have a high success rate?

Are temporary assignments filled in a timely manner? HR departments often turn to staffing services when they are particularly busy, so evaluate whether the firm has been able to speed up the process.

Is it money well spent? Compare what the company was spending in-house to the costs of the staffing firm. Try to factor in “soft costs” like the time managers previously spent combing through resumés or the loss in productivity when a position went vacant for a long time.

Staffing companies are not all alike — they vary widely in terms of performance, cost and culture. A common mistake is choosing a staffing company based on price alone. Before making a decision, employers should look long and hard at the staffing company’s reputation and select a company that compliments their corporate values. Over the course of a long professional relationship, staffing companies often evolve to become strategic consultants to their clients, offering HR solution expertise.

Chris Roach is the national president of ACSESS, the Association of Canadian Search, Employment and Staffing Services. He is also a partner of Cadre, a staffing firm with offices in Mississauga and Calgary.

Latest stories