The conversations at the gatherings I’ve attended lately inevitably turn to how business is faring for each of us. Many of the questions I receive about the staffing business are about supply (available qualified candidates who aren’t satisfied to be on unemployment) and demand (job orders with reasonable compensation expectations). Some inquiries are focused on how well my firm can compete with all the options now on social media.

Some at these parties have tried to draw a parallel with the travel agency industry, which has solidly moved away from the small agencies in strip malls toward online services. I usually command everyone’s attention when I pronounce, “With travel itineraries, you’re talking thousands of dollars; with employment, you’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars.” Depending on the crowd and my mood, I may even question what each person might be willing to spend over the internet after a 45-minute in-person inspection (in my business, known as the interview).

My point to my inquiring friends is that our repeat clients from the largest local employers understand that hiring the right person not only involves an upcoming investment of salary, hopefully for several years, but the likely impact on their revenue and profits for years to come. This type of commitment demands both expertise and significant time investment. The expertise in identifying and screening candidates may not equate easily to brain surgery, but it takes a practiced eye to determine what a candidate is really about and what potential exists. There is an adage: some candidates have great resumes and lousy skills; others have lousy resumes but great skills. Figuring which candidates are better (or worse) than their resume is a talent derived only from experience.

Of course, there is more to finding the right candidate than putting in the time to review their resumes. There is the time to schedule, prepare for, and conduct interviews (sometimes multiple for the same person). Checking references requires time, especially finding those questions that don’t push the reference to fall back on providing only dates of employment. Negotiating an offer is a further time investment. In a climate where finding qualified candidates are tough, this time might be needed after hours when the candidate is only available, or during times when the hiring manager has other pressing business needs. Aside from the future salary costs and revenue risks in hiring any employee, the cost of the time of the hiring manager away from other duties and family may be economically offset by engaging an expert in staffing, similar to the rationale for outsourcing other professional experts.

I could summarize our advantages over web-based services as:

  • Prescreen candidates, always in person or by videoconference, to make sure each fills the needs that were in the job posting (as well as what wasn’t included in the posting).
  • Provide relevant information to the hiring manager about the candidate (not included in their resume).
  • Prep both the candidate and hiring manager for the interview so that less time is focused on employment history, job descriptions, and company benefits, and more on questions that reveal judgment, flexibility, and commitment.
  • Check references, sometimes with former bosses that the hiring manager can’t comfortably contact.
  • Be available to speak with the candidate to receive questions and pass along responses at times inconvenient for the hiring manager.
  • Support salary negotiations so that both sides enter with reasonable expectations, meet both sides’ (sometimes undisclosed) needs. Hopefully, neither is disappointed or resentful about the final package (the candidate wanted a better package, the hiring manager did not want to offer that much).
  • Assist the candidate in coming to a decision or carefully fashioning a counter offer.
  • Follow up a few times within the first 90 days to make sure everything is going well, and there aren’t any miscommunications between the two well-intentioned people who don’t know each other very well as yet.

This analysis is likely more than my friends want to hear about at a party. To move the conversation to another topic, I might say, “We offer a better alternative to hiring based on ‘gut feel,’ which in a way is what you’re doing with candidates you identified through social media.”

For my friends in the corporate suite, I would add, “Not that you shouldn’t consider your gut. If the person looks great on paper, interviewed well, and had terrific references but something still doesn’t feel right, you might still be best to pass.”

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