How to Push Through the Noise When Purchasing Staffing

Procurement professionals and human resources managers take note!  If you’re hiring a contingent labor agency to provide contract staffing, you’ll likely hear some bold claims.  Here’s Bench, Inc.’s take on how to evaluate suppliers correctly and to purchase staffing services with confidence.

Staffing Agency Lore: Five Myths & Five Realities

The staffing sector is a crowded space. When it’s time to go outside to hire contingent or temporary workers, customers have choices. But to properly evaluate your options, be prepared to push through a lot of noise (rhetoric). Staffing firms make many bold claims – very bold. The boldness then morphs into digital marketing channels where great volumes of text are needed to please the Google bot gods. Bold text quickly turns into aggressive sales pitches. In our industry, the noise can become almost deafening. How to know what’s true and what’s not?

To help businesses better evaluate a potential staffing partner, here are five myths
perpetuated by our industry, directly followed by their matching realities.

Myth #1: “We have a proprietary database of candidates.”

Staffing and recruiting shops regularly claim this to be true in an attempt to differentiate themselves from their competition. They’re basically saying, “Our candidates are unique to us and no one else can access them.”

Reality #1:

Once, that was true… back in the age of dinosaurs and rolodexes. In the days of yore candidate networks were built slowly over years. And yes, they could have been considered proprietary because people were not easily located. It took a lot of work to build up a database of candidates using just the phone book and personal connections.

But today — in the age of digital recruitment — if a candidate has a digital presence they may be located immediately using digital tools. Every staffing agency also has a database. While they may be redundant to all the other sources of candidates found elsewhere online, they’re definitely not proprietary.

Myth #2: “We’ll solve your business problems with unique staffing solutions.”

Every B2B service provider wants to be thought of as a credible, engaged business partner. Who wouldn’t want that? Being paid for providing business services can be pretty heady stuff. It’s easy to think of ourselves as purveyors of the cure for whatever ails a client company.

Reality #2:

Staffing in principle is not that complex. Organizations have need for extra workers to meet peak demand, handle special projects or to cover vacancies. Staffing companies provide contingent employees for a temporary duration at a hourly fee (mark-up) on top of the employee’s pay rate. Nuances may occur in the details and there are endless configurations of skills sets required and provided. Certainly, a good staffing service may act as a consultant when providing contract employees to meet a tough business need or problem… but the “solutions” are pretty straight-forward. However if an agency executes inconsistently or doesn’t perform well, they’ll just add to the problem.

Staffing agencies find and evaluate talent to meet requirements set by their clients. While the concept of staffing is not hard to understand, executing well on a regular basis IS a real challenge for many firms. But when paired with a high caliber agency, it’s actually the client company solving its own business problems through the use of contingent employees.

Myth #3: “We provide world-class customer service.”

In the squishiest of squishy (people-centric) businesses, staffing firms regularly state that their customer service is unrivaled. Similar to banking, the staffing marketplace is so crowded that agencies make broad claims about their service quality. It’s easy to shout to the world, “Our customer service makes us special & different!”

Reality #3:

Really? How do they know? Is great service actually defined? If so, are service levels quantified and measured? Are the rave reviews limited to a couple of hero employees who happen to work there, or has great service been institutionalized through solid process management?

Even if all of the above were true, is it really possible for other staffing services to not do the same? Claiming unequaled customer service is one thing; explaining (and showing) what makes it that way — each and every day — is another.

Myth #4: “Our people are passionate about what they do,” and/or, “We have unparalleled expertise.”

To hear most agencies put it, they’ve stocked their own staffs with nothing but highly experienced professionals who absolutely love what they do each and every day. Following one’s passion at work suggests joyful engagement at levels that transcend most work-related worries and challenges. There are no office salt mines where people are passionate about their work!

People who love working with people — that’s the secret ingredient boldly advertised by many in the staffing sector.

Reality #4:

“Passion” is one of the most talked-about labels currently used in corporate America. Look around you… how many truly  passionate co-workers do you see? What do they even look like?

Staffing is hard work. It’s one of the people-y of all people businesses. There’s an old HR saying: “all problems have two legs.” Sure, that’s super cynical, but there’s a fair amount of truth to this because turnover in the staffing sector is high. If passion actually means having a deep satisfaction with one’s career over the long haul, then yes… staffing professionals with many years or even decades of experience could certainly be described as passionate.

Speaking of experience, how many staffing professionals have actually been in the field for any length of time to develop “unparalleled expertise?” Look for your friendly staffing provider on LinkedIn and see for yourself.

Recruiting and staffing are fields with low barriers to entry. It’s not uncommon for senior-level titles to be given to recruiters who were tending bar just six months ago.

We have nothing against former bartenders or being inexperienced… we’ve been both at one time ourselves and you have to start somewhere. But if an agency is claiming its expertise as what separates them from the rest of the pack, take a look for yourself to see what’s what.

Myth #5: “Leave the recruiting to us so you can focus on your core business.”

The 21st century business model is to outsource support functions as much as possible so that there are fewer distractions and less dilution of energies. By engaging outside experts to manage the drudgery of “running the engines,” internal headcount can be kept lean and targeted towards more strategic matters.

Reality #5:

Yes, this is definitely a trend, but it usually only makes sense when there are significant cost savings to be had. Turning staff functions over to external partners who are faster, cheaper and better can be a good thing. But there are still hidden costs in each relationship (usually staff time) and many risks (poor performance) still lurking within the outsourced scenario. Whatever operational activities a company undertakes, good management practices include reviewing those activities for ongoing value-add.

We also find this slogan a bit condescending; we wouldn’t want someone telling us what our priorities or focus should be. Good managers don’t need to be prompted to make

Using the Five Myths to evaluate staffing providers:

There are some really good staffing companies out there, but not because they’re shouting at you. When it’s time to pick an agency to supplement your in-house talent, these five myths may be used as a guide for deciding what’s real and what’s not:

  1. Proprietary Databases: Understand how the staffing firm will find the people you need in the open market using the best digital tools available. Databases are good starting points for sourcing, but the people within them don’t sit still for very long. They can almost always be found elsewhere online.
  2. Problem Solving: Instead of talking about solutions to problems, look for a firm that can demonstrate the quality of their basic service: consistently doing well at finding and qualifying talent in a timely manner and at a reasonable cost. Ask for details that explain how they do what they do. Then if needed, ask for creative ideas to address any unusual business needs.
  3. Customer Service: If you’re told by an agency that their service levels are like no other, ask them to prove it. What do they measure? How often? How do they keep the good stuff going each and every day?
  4. Expertise: This one is pretty easy to figure out. Ask for the names of those who will actually work on your account. Look them up online and see for yourself how long they have been in the recruiting and staffing biz. Assess the quality of their accumulated experience; how many employers have they worked for, and for how long?
  5. Outsourcing: Deciding to turn some aspect of your staffing needs over to an agency doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Start small and see how it goes. You’ll soon know if you have a good fit. Increase the workload slowly over time and look for overall consistency of effort and results. Once you have a service you can rely upon going forward, use the total volume of your business to negotiate favorable rates that create a mutually successful scenario for both you and the agency.