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Hard Won Staffing Lessons And Where We Go from Here

Although staffing employment traditionally is a leading indicator of recovery, professional recruiters today look forward with caution. This recession feels different — not just a slowdown, but a disruption of the way business has been done.

As you formulate a strategic plan for 2010, ask yourself: “Can I afford a return to business-as-usual?” Monster spoke to leaders in staffing whose hard-won wisdom points to a better future.

Staffing Solutions that Innovate

Dan Boersma of Laguna Source in Laguna Beach, CA specializes in finding talent for pharmaceutical, biotechnology and medical device makers. He’s managed the downturn with a three-part strategy of client service, industry knowledge and old-fashioned hustle.

“In this recession, you’re working twice as hard to make three quarters as much money,” Dan asserts. “The big positive is you have a little bit of free time, to say, ‘Hey, we have some time on our hands, what can we do that’s going to help us long-term?'”

Talent shortages in his niche have helped, but as even successful companies try to do more with less, Dan finds he has to narrow his focus to develop deeper relationships with clients. This is the time to listen, to learn more about coming technologies and the skills needed to harness them, and to build trust.

Dan and his team watch for announcements on venture funding and company earnings that signal staffing opportunities. Press releases and news articles are obvious conversation-starters with potential clients. Less obvious is Dan’s observation that his best currently-employed candidates are more reluctant to move to a new employer. They need reassurance that a medical technology firm, for example, will have staying power. Whether positive or negative, industry developments point to hidden corners where top talent and new prospects on both sides of the recruitment equation are open to change. Dan says, “If a company’s doing layoffs, I want to be the first to talk to their people.”

And then there’s plain old bearing down in tough times. “In a downturn, recruiters tend to get down on themselves and the business,” Dan says. “It’s easy to blame things on a bad economy, but we get here early, stay late, work on weekends…staying aggressive like this has just kept us going.”

Service, research, and hard work deliver. It’s a simple plan, and it works for Laguna Source.

Rethinking Staffing Services

Margaret (Margo) Graziano of KeenHire in San Jose is taking the reinvention route; she believes that the fundamentals of staffing have shifted, and the future belongs to those who broaden their services.

Margo has moved her Talent Management Division from “getting people into chairs” to a form of human capital management consulting. KeenHire’s clients, also caught in the disruptions of the Great Recession, face many hiring complications that boil down to doing more with less. They profit from expertise she’s developed across the entire talent acquisition timeline, such as:

Risk Mitigation “Clients are asking us to help them not hire the wrong people, because they can’t afford to make mistakes,” says Margo. Staffing can’t just supply candidates and hope it works out (or blame a bad hire on a client’s managers). Risk mitigation means helping a client design teams. What’s the right mix of talents for a new initiative or product? How should the team work? Can the company adapt, and how?

It also means retention. “We see a lot more effort and money being spent on keeping the good people,” observes Margo.

Hiring Improvements Job descriptions can be a vise, squeezing the wrong person into a job because she happens to have the right skills. Margo counters this problem by assessing people well beyond skills. “I look carefully at the people who are already doing well in the job and build what we call a ‘DNA thumbprint’ of what the ideal candidate looks like — not their resume but their values, beliefs, competencies and behaviors. We actually find and staff organizational development professionals, industrial psychologists, training and development people, HR, talent management people, talent acquisition, full-time and contract recruiters.”

Human Resource Management Human capital consulting from staffing companies can add value to processes like onboarding, top-grading and retention strategies. Once the staffing company has supplied great talent, it can help the client hold onto those people. This is more service, and while it reduces churn (and — let’s admit it here — churn can make short-term profits for staffing companies) it deepens customer attachment and creates new services to sell.

“It goes beyond the hiring moment,” Margo concludes. “We work with companies to help them develop coaching programs and training and development programs for their high potential people.”

Where Staffing Goes from Here

As you plan for 2010, consider these likelihoods:

1) Staffing will see a resurgence but not a return to business as usual. The collapse of whole business areas and re-alignment of money (think automotive and health care, for two examples) means that client needs will change.

2) The super-candidate syndrome will continue. Margo Graziano suggests that staffing lead the conversation away from “Super Resume” to “Super Candidate” by finding greater alignment in values and capabilities than single skills.

3) There is no substitute for persistence and hard work, especially with your most creative employees. Open your business to their suggestions. Experiment. Be aggressive. Learn and change.

Great practitioners of staffing recognize a tectonic shift brought by such a brutal recession. Companies big and small will have to do more with less. Even as business picks up, the opportunity to lead change — for your clients and your business — is too exciting to miss.

By Doug Hardy: Monster Staff Writer


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