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What Drives Me Nuts About Staffing Agencies (and How They Can Work as a Better Partner)

Posted By Matt Lowney On August 2, 2012 @ 5:26 am In Opinion | 134 Comments

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(Editor’s note: With so many new ERE members coming on all the time, we thought that each week we’d republish one popular classic post. Here’s one, below.)

Over the last several years I’ve sat through no less than 100 staffing agency “pitches” in person or over the phone. At this point these meetings have begun to all sound very similar, so I’ll bucket agency sales pitches in to these three areas.

“We’re Different.” Almost every agency says they have a special/unique process for reviewing resumes, sourcing candidates, and access to candidates that sets them apart from their competitors. From my experience I’ve not really seen the impact of their “unique” process in the candidates they’ve submitted. Additionally, most agencies don’t appear to have a thorough understanding of their competition. At some point in almost every vendor meeting someone says that they don’t push paper like “everyone else.” I would encourage vendors to have a much more in-depth understanding of the competitive landscape before they make such broad sweeping indictments of their competitors.

“We Build Relationships.” Every vendor I’ve ever sat down with has said they build meaningful relationships with managers and they “get” our business unlike any other vendor in town. As a result they tell me they have the ability to make a cultural fit for our organization. To this statement I like to ask: “Give me an example as to how you screen for cultural fit.” I’ve been underwhelmed by all responses to this point.

“We Have a Proprietary Database.” I’ve heard this one a million times. Vendor ABC has a database of millions of qualified/ interested candidates at their beck and call to fill contract needs. I don’t doubt they have a long list of former contractors they’ve placed, but in my experience most contractors don’t feel the same level of loyalty to their staffing agency. Most contractors are more interested in the type of work, the end client, and compensation. And before you rebuke, I will concede there are notable exceptions to this point, but overall, it’s correct.

Overall my experience is that candidate screening is indeed not that different; that staffing agencies do not have a special candidate database (why, then do I get the same candidate submitted by different vendors all the time?); and your partnership with me is not that strong. In fact, too many vendors treat me as someone to work around than to work with.

Here are my suggestions.

Talk about your recruiting process: In the end, aren’t we hiring a staffing partner to do something we aren’t/can’t do internally? It drives me nuts to see agencies post client requisitions on job boards. This is NOT a value-added partnership. I can purchase a Careerbuilder posting and screen the candidates who apply. More recently I’ve really pushed vendors to talk in depth about their recruiting process. The responses are truly varied. I will absolutely select a staffing vendor based on the depth of their recruiting process.

What actually makes you different? In 15 seconds tell me why you are a truly different partner (without emphasizing any of the three items I mentioned above) and why I would be insane NOT to work with you as a staffing partner. Give me a truly compelling case. If you can’t, then you aren’t any different than the other 10 agencies that will be calling me this week.

Don’t over-promise: Not a lot more to add to this, but on my side of the fence, this is a continually painful part of vendor interaction. If you can’t fill the role, or it’s not something you’ve worked on before, tell me. I’ll respect your honesty, and in the long run you’ll get more work.

Turnover: I want to deal with the same person each and every time I call. Additionally, I do not want to have to re-train my account rep every six months because you have retention issues. This leads to a second challenge: too many newbies. Most recruiting agencies fill most of their recruiting positions with new college grads and then do not support their development appropriately. In short, these new recruiters don’t know how to recruit OR maintain relationships (reference my previous challenges). As a result, I now ask to meet everyone who will be working with my team to fill external needs. I want to meet the manager, account rep, and recruiters that my managers will be talking with.

We do value relationships (on our terms). My last point, is that I truly do believe staffing agencies can add tremendous value to the talent acquisition landscape of organization. I value true experts who do real recruiting and respect my role in the process and organization.


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