Finding a Staffing Agency

What do you need to know when you're searching for a staffing agency to outsource the HR hiring needs of your business?

First, know that every agency generally has a "sweet spot," or a special expertise in hiring for a certain industry or industries. Ask if the agency you are considering has fulfilled the hiring needs of someone else in your industry, or a similar one.

Then, communicate the set of skills you must have in a candidate. A written job description is helpful, if not mandatory. Let the agency know if the candidates should have knowledge of a certain set of software packages coming into the post, or if they'll be trained on-the-job.

Set a timeline with the agency, with deadlines for interviews to begin and when the final round of interviews will be conducted. Clearly define at what point in the timeline that you, the manager, want to be involved. In other words, do you want to participate in all interviews, or simply the interviews for two or three finalists?

Whatever you do, try to settle down with one staffing agency that works for you. Developing a long-term relationship is the best solution to quickly finding the appropriate candidates for any openings that will naturally arise at your company over the course of years.

As a small business owner, David Kiihnl understands how having the right person in a top position can boost or burst a company. To help Kiihnl scope out the top talent for his business, he uses an executive search firm because, as he puts it, "Hiring is not something I do everyday."

Kiihnl has partnered with Centennial, Inc., a 30-year-old recruiting firm located in Norwood, for more than 20 years as he evolved his business from an office furniture distribution company to his own consulting firm, Kiihnl Associates.

But not all search firms are created equal, and with the recruiting business booming, owners have to be savvy about selecting a quality firm that will deliver the best people for the job.

Executive search firms specialize in filling top positions, usually ranging from middle managers to vice presidents, and it often means wooing candidates who are already employed. Anonymity, therefore, is a necessity for both company and candidate, and the search firm can act as a buffer between the two, notes Peter Bycio, professor of management and entrepreneurship at Xavier University. Finding the best candidates is the true test of any recruiting company, and their success often depends on the size and depth of their personal contacts, Bycio notes.

In a strategy that eschews placing newspaper ads, Dave Hartig, co-owner of the Angus Group, a 37-year-old search firm headquartered in downtown Cincinnati, says an ample amount of research "on the front end" is crucial in finding qualified candidates. Potential candidates also can make the initial contact with the search firm, by applying for openings through the recruiting company's website.

When selecting the right executive search firm, business owners need to know the company's specialties in certain industries, and if the firm can perform local and national searches, according to Bycio. "You need to know how broadly they cast their net," he says. Checking out the firm's Web site is one quick way to get that information.

Of course, getting a pool of applicants is only the first step in the recruiting process. Once this is done, resumes can be scanned for the prerequisite job experience and technical skills, but high-performing search firms will dig deeper with extensive screening of applicants.

Tim Warning, president of OPW Engineered Systems, headquartered in Lebanon, used the Angus Group to fill two positions - a CFO and a vice president. "(The Angus Group) did an outstanding job, going through hundreds of resumes and tens of phones calls, presenting us with five quality candidates," Warning explains.

The Angus Group's screening methods include in-depth interviewing and checking references provided by both the candidate and their own network of people in the field.

Centennial also goes beyond the standard shuffling of resumes, where candidates go through a similar rigorous screening to find the few top candidates. Centennial performs most of the screening "instead of passing five or six resumes to the client," says Mike A. Sipple Jr., Centennial's vice president.

But how do search firms know who would be the best person for a company? It comes with building a rapport with the client, where the search firm actively works to understand the company beyond the surface level. Before the search begins, a high-performing recruiting company will meet with the client to get more information about the job and its specific tasks and responsibilities. They also will meet directly with the hiring manager. They will want to know in-depth about the company's culture and the type of personality most desired for the position.

"When you look at a resume, you get only the objective point of view. But when you hire, you have to be subjective. When you use a search firm, if they can be both objective and subjective, they can give you the best candidates," Warning observes.

Profitability can suffer if the new person in a high position doesn't fit into the company's culture, a reality to which search firms need to be attuned. "The company culture has been developed over many years by the owner of the company. You have a cadence of doing business and a work ethic that is already established. If the person does not fit your culture, then it is disruptive to the existing workers. So if you can prevent that, it is worth it to the company," Kiihnl says.

All this effort also should be worth it to the search firm. "We ask what type of person is likely to fit well. ... We let [the client] tell us what they're looking for," Sipple explains.

Building a relationship with an executive search firm can help a business be ready to hire. Centennial believes in maintaining contact with companies, Kiihnl notes of his two decades of experience with the firm. "They don't try to be a customer to everyone. They work with companies who have the same hiring philosophy as they do. They want the relationship to be long-term."

Warning sees a similar style at the Angus Group. "I have a lot of other search firms that call me and want to do business. The approach at Angus is more my style. I'm not into high pressure and (Hartig and his staff) are not constantly calling me," Warning says.

Experience and expertise in hiring comes at a cost, and the decision to hire an executive search firm most likely will be affected by budget concerns. A search firm's fee can be "substantial," usually between one-third and one-half of the person's first-year salary, Bycio says. However, companies can choose to have a search firm perform a regional search, eliminating the need for costly relocation packages.

Business owners should expect the top performance from any consultant, and the executive search firm is no exception. But frustration can compound if a top candidate decides to turn down an offer.

"You have to be sensitive to the needs of the client and the candidate," Hartig says. "We are living in the real world. We have the only product in the world that can refuse to be sold."