The staffing industry needs to change

Anyone who has been in staffing/recruiting for awhile knows the feeling when a prospective client asks to see your pricing structure. They not only want to know your profit margins, they want to influence them. You feel invaded and disrespected. What other industry allows the customer to dictate pricing? Clearly there is a gap between the value proposition of staffing firms and client perceptions. It’s time for change.

The industry’s obsession with quotas and making numbers has bred an atmosphere that rightfully draws skepticism from the talent we hope to represent, and the clients we aim to service. We’ve taken on the reputation of used-car salespeople, and are asked to wear badges at networking events like some recruiter scarlet letter. The industry has lost respect, but we have only ourselves to blame.

Circling companies that are hiring and aggressively recruiting talent like sharks with blood in the water communicates an air of desperation. We’ve been pursuing whatever business is available in the market so aggressively that it’s weakened our value, and given way to poor business practices like not vetting the talent we represent (not meeting people face to face? Really?!), pitting competitors against each other in price wars, sending resumes to companies without candidate knowledge or approval, and just generally acting desperate. Now staffing companies are resorting to tactics like sign twirling to attract talent and using roller skating biblical characters to promote themselves. We’ve become the fast food of the employment industry.

I’ve been in and out of the staffing industry since 1993, but my exposure goes even further, having worked through staffing agencies in administrative, light industrial and creative capacities. My first job in staffing was as an outside sales representative for a large national brand. Later I worked inside running a full desk. I’ve worked for four staffing companies and have owned two. With a few exceptions, I’ve seen every company make decisions motivated purely by sales and profits. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Over the years, I’ve met so many great people working in the staffing industry. If there is a common thread of discontent with these people, it usually revolves around their desire to provide relationship-based solutions to their clients, and frustrations with their organization’s resistance to any activity that does not lead directly to sales and profits. We have to strike a balance.

Some might read this and think it’s written by someone who’s out of touch with the realities of business. A history of incredible revenue growth, happy clients, rising talent, strong relationships and motivated employees says otherwise. There is another way.

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