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Job Seekers: How to Choose a Staffing Firm

Searching for jobs has changed dramatically in the last decade. The good news is it’s easy to search online for a job. Besides Google, there are multiple job boards, including industry specific ones, to find positions. The bad news? It’s overwhelming. Even trying to identify the right keywords to send you alerts for jobs is a challenge. And then when you do find an interesting opportunity, you feel like you’re dropping your resume into a black hole. You often are.

Let’s say you apply for a mechanical engineering job at a company via their website. Many organizations have a very specific keyword sort to review – or more accurately, screen out – your resume. If you don’t hit the right percentage of keywords in the job description, your resume literally goes nowhere, filtered out of the system and sent to a dark place in the database.

Enter recruitment firms and their more personalized approach to helping you find a job. But if you’ve never used a staffing firm, why should you (and how do you choose a staffing firm that is right for you)? What can a recruiter offer that you can’t find on your own?


Let’s take a step back, before the job is posted, and look at the relationship between the hiring employer and the staffing firm. It’s a fair question to ask that with all the job boards out there, why would a hiring company choose to work with a staffing firm? Why would an organization pay a finder’s fee of up to 25% of the base salary for a permanent employee, or an upcharge for a contractor? It’s because they’ve exhausted all their resources, need someone right away, don’t want to deal with all the resumes submitted – and they trust the recruiting firm to send them good candidates.

Trust is a key factor. And trust comes from a long-term relationship that the staffing firm has built with the company. They have direct relationships with the right people. They’ve had success working with them in the past. So, when the company sees a resume coming from, for example, Planet Forward, they know, “This candidate is legitimate. Let’s look at this.”

It’s sort of the modern version of hand delivering a resume instead of mailing it. When the recruiter sends the resume, it goes directly into the inbox of the right person. It doesn’t go through some sorting algorithm. They’ve already talked to the hiring manager and know exactly what they want.

It’s also in the best interest of the recruiting firm to make a good fit. They want to satisfy the employers. If they send a bad fit, or just throw multiple resumes at the employer, then they won’t make a placement, or have a long-term relationship with the organization.


As a candidate, why choose to find a position using a staffing firm versus hunting on your own? There are a lot of good reasons.

When you’re working with a recruiting firm, the timetable is more streamlined because they already know which positions are available, they know the organizations, their cultures, timelines, and what their hiring processes entail. In one phone call, you could learn about a dozen open jobs that fit your parameters.

A good recruiter can also prepare you for a successful interview. Let’s say you’ve been a Project Manager for a major utility provider for 10 years, so your interviewing skills are a little rusty. A recruiter can walk you through a step-by-step interview preparation whether it’s for a video, phone, or face-to-face meeting. They should be able to coach you in the best practices as well as give you inside information on what the company is looking for.

Along the same lines, let’s say your resume needs reworking. A good recruiter – who literally looks at resumes all day long – can give you advice on what to improve and what will increase your chances of getting your foot in the door.

The staffing firm can also shepherd the interviewing phase, so things happen faster. They are the link between the employer and the candidate, keeping both informed. They communicate with the hiring company to make sure things are happening in the background, like scheduling the next round of interviews. For example, if the candidate is interviewing with other employers, the recruiter can let the hiring company know that they need to speed up the process or they might lose a good person.


If you are going to work with a recruiting firm, you should interview them to see if they are a good fit for you. You want a relationship, too. Someone who listens to you, asks thoughtful questions, and wants to make a good match. Ultimately, you want someone who you can return to in the future to advance your career and find your next opportunity.

You also want a firm that specializes in your field. If you are a Civil Engineer, you don’t want to work with a company that specializes in accounting positions. Here are some useful questions to ask when interviewing a staffing firm to evaluate if they are a fit for you.

  • Which clients do you typically work with?
  • Tell me about some of the good relationships you have with employers in my field. How long have your worked with these companies?
  • How long have you worked with positions in my industry?
  • Do you focus on a certain geographical location or work nationwide?
  • What is your goal as a recruiter?
  • What can you provide me? What can you do for me?

There’s also something that’s hard to quantify. Can you have a genuine conversation with this recruiter? Are they really listening and interacting, or multitasking and thinking about their next call? A good staffing firm wants to build a long-lasting relationship with you. That means finding a good fit for you and using their knowledge to facilitate the hiring process.

Photo credit: Adobe Stock

by Alex Turner, Senior National Recruiter, Planet Forward