Get it right the first time Featured

8:00pm EDT March 26, 2007
The “temporary help” industry has grown up. From its origins in clerical and light industrial, the business has expanded to almost every professional position. Unfortunately, the process of identifying and hiring the right temporary professionals into these positions has not grown up quite as fast.

“People can get a whole lot better at hiring temporary staff,” says Joel Adams, CEO and founder of Devon Consulting. “Neither the clerical temp model nor the permanent professional model is optimal for professional contract assignments.”

Smart Business spoke to Adams about the mistakes buyers make and how the right process can mean the difference between hiring the right person for the project or making a very expensive mistake.

What are some of the mistakes companies make when looking to bring on temporary professionals?

Looking for the wrong things — Some customers get so focused on measuring the agency, they forget to notice how the temporary professional actually performs. Sometimes agencies are measured on how many résumés are submitted and how fast, but not on how many people were placed or how many of them completed their assignments. Value should be measured by the performance of the worker. That isn’t always easy but it is a far more relevant measure.

Cutting off communications — Too many companies set up processes that eliminate direct communication between the hiring manager and the recruiter at the agency. All job orders being sent to agencies and all résumés going to the manager are required to go through one central point. This can quickly become a bottleneck, but that is not the biggest problem. The subtleties of the job requirements and the particular strengths and weaknesses of the candidates do not get conveyed. The dialogue is lost. Mistakes multiply and suboptimal solutions become the norm.

Relying on the paperwork — People are not paper and cannot be adequately represented by a resume. And jobs are far more multi-dimensional than any job description can capture. Senior recruiters are valuable resources because of their years of experience in understanding the subtleties of candidates, jobs and work environments.

Putting the wrong people in charge — I frequently see processes being developed and implemented by individuals who have no hiring experience. People are not widgets and professional staff is not the same as clerical. It takes hiring experience to do it right.

Ignoring relationships — People want to buy from people they like and trust. And they particularly want to do business with people who have previously performed well in similar transactions. Setting up a process that eliminates previous good suppliers or stripping agency identification from the candidate, takes valuable choices and information away from the decision maker.

Ignoring the real costs — I have heard clients say that they have solved the price or rate problem by locking the vendor into long-term contracts with guaranteed rates. But if you hire an engineer who is not quite right for the job, it could take months to discover this. And by that time, a company may have so much invested in the worker that it is very difficult to replace him with someone else. The total cost of that contract worker will be higher either in terms of the time it will take to complete the job or in the quality of the work.

Too many agencies — If a new temporary position is given to 10 agencies, each agency thinks that if it does a great job finding a candidate, it will still only have a 10 percent chance of making the placement. Hence, each agency will take a quick look through its files, submit a resume and move on to an order that has a higher probability of generating income. This puts the burden of sifting through résumés on the client and the best candidate may not have even been submitted.

Not enough agencies — Around the turn of the millennium, many companies were seduced into selecting a ‘prime vendor’ or ‘vendor on premises’ for all of their temporaries. But Milton Friedman was right: free markets work and monopolies don’t. Over time, when one side has a monopoly, costs go up and quality will go down. Some companies are now ejecting or losing 40 percent of their professional temps before their assignments are completed.

What can companies do to set up a good process?

Once you identify a need for supplemental professional staff, insist on more communication between the agency and the hiring manager, not less. Take advantage of existing experiences and relationships by giving exclusives to your best suppliers. Take advantage of the free market by dealing with more than one supplier. Rate the actual value received. It may require a subjective measure of the individual’s performance, but it is still the most relevant measure. Then give out more or less work to your preferred suppliers based on their actual performance.

JOEL ADAMS is CEO and founder of Devon Consulting. Reach him at (610) 964-5703 or