How Staffing Agencies Work, with Heather Gordon and Moira Farnsworth

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Transcript

Find Your Dream Job, Episode 200:

How Staffing Agencies Work, with Heather Gordon and Moira Farnsworth

Airdate: July 17, 2019

Mac Prichard:

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life.

I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps people find fulfilling careers.

Every Wednesday on this show, I interview a career expert. We discuss the tools you need to find the work you want.

This week, I’m talking to Heather Gordon and Moira Farnsworth about how staffing agencies work.

Heather is a senior recruiter and Moira is a staffing consultant at Boly:Welch, a staffing agency here in Portland, Oregon.

They join us today in the Mac’s List studio.

Heather, Moira, welcome to the show.

Heather Gordon:

Thank you, Mac.

Moira Farnsworth:

Yeah, thanks for having us.

Mac Prichard:

It’s great to have you both.

Heather, let’s start with you. You and Moira work in a staffing agency. Let’s start with the basics, what is a staffing agency and what should job seekers expect when working with a company like yours?

Heather Gordon:

That’s a great question, Mac. A staffing agency is an organization that helps companies find specific talent and it helps candidates find specific careers with companies that are here in the Portland Metro area.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, and our listeners are across the country, so staffing agencies like yours follow similar practices, whether they’re in Oregon, New York, or Florida, or California. When a job seeker gets in touch with a staffing agency, what should they expect? What kind of services can they expect to receive?

Heather Gordon:

That’s a great question. You know, it starts with a candidate that comes in and is seeking employment. We like to have candidates come in at their…when they’re at the beginning of their job search so that they can chat with a recruiter and that recruiter can really get to know that candidate and talk about what their pain points are, what their motivators are, and what they’re going to be looking for in their next position. And that recruiter is going to be the catalyst between helping that person find the right organization that will fulfill those needs for them. The flip side of that is that organizations will come to us and they will ask us to help find specific talent for them so, in essence, we’re matchmakers.

Mac Prichard:

Heather, I know that you’re a recruiter; you help place people in permanent jobs.

Heather Gordon:

Yes.

Mac Prichard:

Now, Moira, you work with employers who are looking for temporary help, don’t you?

Moira Farnsworth:

That’s right.

Mac Prichard:

Tell us more about that and what kind of services job seekers can expect to receive.

Moira Farnsworth:

Yes, so when our clients call us looking for temporary support, that could be for any number of reasons.

It could be that the company’s expanding rapidly and they’re not exactly certain about what their full-time employee needs are going to be. It could be that someone’s going on a long vacation. It could be someone’s gotten sick.

You name it and we kind of see it. So, our responsibility to our clients is to keep a really robust pool of candidates at all times, so that when we get an emergency call from a client, we can look around and see what fantastic candidates are available to walk into the role, and hopefully, ease the tension over at our client.

When candidates are registering with us, what we like to make sure that we cover with them, is just, understand, not only what their short-term goals are, so not just what they want out of a temporary assignment, but also what they are looking for in a long-term career too because we might have an opportunity for a candidate to slot into a temporary assignment that will build skills towards that long-term career goal.

Mac Prichard:

Well, let’s talk about those career goals because, Heather, I know you work with people who want a permanent position and employers who are seeking candidates like that, and what kind of expectations do you think a candidate should have when working with a staffing agency? For example, do you find sometimes that job seekers think that your company can just help them find a job and sort of outsource the search to you and your teammate?

Heather Gordon:

That’s a great question and one that I think a lot of people are misinformed about. I think the best way to utilize a recruiter’s help is to start with them earlier in your search when you don’t feel desperate to take anything. Because really, for us, we are trying to match people with careers that are going to be long term.

For me and the direct hire division, and for Moira, it’s a little different. I think if you go in knowing that using the service of a recruiter is one piece of the toolkit that you have as you seek a job, you’ll recognize that you are going to be looking for a position on your own; simultaneously, this recruiter is looking for that specific position, that has been narrowed down to any type of search criteria you have discussed with them.

When you come in and you’re desperate for a job, that’s a great time to get some temporary work and use that as much as you can until you find that great permanent job. If you think that a recruiter is going to manufacture a job for you, we probably will not be the best resource.

Mac Prichard:

Just to be clear, there probably aren’t any staffing agency out there that are in the business of manufacturing jobs for job seekers, are there?

Heather Gordon:

I’d love to know about them if there are.

Mac Prichard:

I bring this up because I certainly see this in my conversations with job seekers. I imagine you two do as well. It’s a common misconception out there about staffing agencies.

Heather Gordon:

It is.

Moira Farnsworth:

Absolutely.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, and what drives that is, I think, often job seekers don’t understand you’re working for the employer here. That’s how you get paid.

Heather Gordon:

We are paid by the employer. That is true.

Mac Prichard:

Talk more about that dynamic and why that matters in the relationship.

Heather Gordon:

That matters in the relationship because, ultimately, we have to present candidates to the employer that match exactly what they’re looking for. Oftentimes, employers will come to us because they’ve posted a job on their own or it’s been on their website and they’re just not finding the right type of talent that they’re looking for.

They’ll come to a recruiter and they’ll say, “Narrow this down for us. Can you hand select 3 or 4 candidates that are going to best match what we’re looking for?” And as a recruiter, we meet hundreds of people on a monthly basis and so we really are looking to narrow that field and be surgical in how we present those candidates to folks.

And so when a company says, “Alright, I want this person to have A, B, C, D, E, F, and G,” we’re looking at the candidates that have all of that and simultaneously looking to see if that organization is going to offer that candidate that has all of those back to them. That’s where the match is made.

If we have a candidate that doesn’t have all of those requirements, a company is not going to be real eager to pay us that finder’s fee, and simultaneously with that, there are, sometimes, opportunities when you’re working with a recruiter that perhaps you don’t meet all the criteria that they’re looking for but there might be something else that you have that that company hasn’t thought about that you can then present to the organization and say, “You know, this person may not be great at managing travel internationally, but they’ve managed such complex travel domestically and they have such an outstanding learning capacity, that we really feel like this person could tackle this position with ease with just a little bit of extra training.”

And so sometimes, those objectives can be overcome because of the personal value and the personal touch of using a recruiter that has a relationship with that particular client.

Mac Prichard:

You’re looking for candidates who can meet the needs of your client, the employer. Typically, Heather, do you present 2 or 3 candidates to an employer?

Heather Gordon:

Yeah, we do. We try to narrow it down to no more than 4 candidates per job because, you know, really, part of our service is, give them exactly what they’re looking for and sometimes it might not be 4 candidates, maybe it’s only 1 candidate that matches what they’re looking for and we’ll start with that and that will give that client the opportunity to say, “Alright, well, let’s expand the search and we’re willing to be a little more flexible on some of the things here and let’s look at the candidates who may have a little bit more of a diverse skill set and not be as specific.”

Mac Prichard:

You’re presenting candidates to employers, so if you’re a job seeker and have a relationship with someone like yourself, that’s a benefit. You’re getting in front of hiring managers that you might not otherwise meet.

What are some of the other benefits, Heather, for job seekers of working with a recruiter like you at a staffing agency?

Heather Gordon:

I think if you are a candidate and you connect with a recruiter that truly understands what your motivators and goals are, and the culture that you’re looking for, and the work-life balance, that recruiter is going to have you top of mind when that particular opportunity presents itself.

I’ve been doing this for a while now and there are few candidates that I’ve placed 3 or 4 times because of various, different reasons, that the job that they’re currently in is no longer going to work for them or the companies had been acquired, or various, different reasons, and I feel like a developed such a great relationship with those candidates because they’ll come back to me and they’ll say, “Hey, it’s time to start looking again and I know you know what I like and what I’m looking for so let’s do it again.”

And then we just kind of touch again on “What are the motivators this time? What is your salary requirement this time? You know, “Do you still live in the same location? How far do you want to commute?” We kind of touch through all of these things. “What experience have you gained in your last position that’s going to make you a more viable candidate for the next role that you’re going to take on?”

I get to know the candidates quite well in that regard and the flip of that is that, as I stay in connection with the companies that are hiring, I learn about what those companies are doing.

What changes have they made? How have there benefits become more robust? Or, what are the challenges or the pain points that they may have had in the last year or 2 or 3 years? And why is a position open? Is it open because somebody left the job? Is it attrition? Is it because somebody’s moved here?

To your point earlier, we have a hundred people moving here a day, so there are a lot of candidates that are job seekers and don’t know much about the organizations and so we’re able to provide them some kind of information about those organizations as well.

Mac Prichard:

Terrific. Moira, I want to ask you, I know many people take temporary work through a staffing agency with the hope that it might lead to a permanent placement. Talk about that, what kind of expectations job seekers should have when they work with someone like you, who is placing them in temporary jobs. Is it realistic to think if you find someone a temporary position at a player like Nike, that they might end up working there permanently?

Moira Farnsworth:

Well, I’m going to give the age-old answer; it depends.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, that’s a good answer.

Moira Farnsworth:

It’s a true answer, right?

Mac Prichard:

Yeah.

Moira Farnsworth:

You know, we have a very fortunate vantage point of having long term relationships with clients so that when we find a particularly compelling candidate, when we make the introduction, we have in our mind that this is a good enough, strategic fit for that client, that maybe if there was an open position, that person could be considered.

Unfortunately, we’re not able to make any promises, but we definitely are fortunate enough to have the types of deep relationships with our clients so that we can say, “We think this person would be a great fit for your organization, maybe not in this role permanently, long-term but maybe if there was another opening.”

We’re able to have kind of a consultative relationship with our clients. On the candidate’s side, which is really what you were asking about, that’s why we want to understand a candidate’s ultimate long term goals, because if it’s a candidate that needs to acquire a particular skill or is thinking about making an industry change, we’re able to present them with the idea that this is going to help them long-term. Even if it doesn’t flip into a permanent position.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, I want to talk more about that. We’re going to take a quick break and when we come back, Moira, I want to continue that conversation about how you might be able to turn a temporary position into a permanent one.

Stay with us and we’ll be back in just a moment.

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Now, let’s get back to the show.

We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Heather Gordon and Moira Farnsworth of Boly:Welch.

Moira, before the break, we were talking about a question that often comes up when I speak with job seekers and I expect you get it a lot, too. That, “How to turn a temporary position into a permanent one,” and you were making the point, it’s really important to communicate what your goals are as a job seeker to the person you’re working with at a staffing agency, so in other words, tell people what you want.

What else would you recommend people do besides sharing their goals?

Moira Farnsworth:

I think one circumstance or scenario that comes up often with many of the candidates I work with for temporary positions is that candidates are possibly considering making a job change or an industry change and temporary work can be a great way to do that. It doesn’t always mean that you can do it, depending on what the roles and responsibilities are at that particular temporary assignment requires, but a temporary role in a new industry can be a great way to test out if that is the right industry for you.

It can get very relevant and recent experience in that industry or that job title on the top of your resume but I also think it’s important for candidates to be realistic about temporary opportunities.

It is not always the case that the client is going to be able to make that hire, maybe…especially when in cases where it’s a medical leave or maternity leave, that person’s coming back to work, so this is really a great opportunity for the candidate to get in there, learn additional skills, learn a new industry, make connections, so that when that assignment comes to an end, they’re going back out to the job market with more information, which is always my hope.

It’s always my hope that a candidate leaves an assignment having a lot more information to help make a decision about a permanent job search.

Mac Prichard:

You mentioned being clear about your goals; if you’re interested in making a switch to a new industry, using temporary work as an opportunity to do that, and building relationships when you’re inside a company. What things do you recommend that job seekers who are in temporary work, seeking a permanent position, not do, Moira?

Moira Farnsworth:

That is a really interesting question. I guess I haven’t thought about it from that angle, quite, but I would say that I could see the tendency for a person in a temporary assignment, in a new industry to renarrow their search almost too closely to that new industry instead of continuing to be a little bit open.

It’s challenging when someone wants to make an industry switch. You know, they’re very excited and gung-ho on that new industry but there still could be some opportunities outside of that very specific realm. Especially in a temporary capacity that could have them continue to build additional skills that would be industry agnostic, so, I think that that would be my caution.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, well, Heather, before the break you were talking about people you’ve worked with over the years who’ve come back to you 2, 3, even 4 times and that you’ve been able to successfully place in permanent positions. What do you recommend people do to build a relationship with a recruiter like you? How do people who stay in touch with you do that?

Heather Gordon:

I think that the people that I place, I try to keep in touch with them and sometimes it naturally happens where they check in with me and they may say, “Gosh, this is the best job ever. I didn’t think about all of the possibilities that were here. I really love it. I just want to say thanks for that.” Of course, that’s the best possible option, right?

Sometimes, somebody will come back to me and they’ll say, “You know, I really thought this was going to be a great job but it turns out management is shifting,” or, “There’s a bunch of people that are leaving and I don’t think it’s going to be the best fit for me, long-term. Let’s reignite our search and see if there’s anything else out there that might be a better fit for me.”

Those are the two most natural ways for me to stay in touch with candidates and sometimes, you just have a natural affinity towards somebody and you just really hit it off with them and you genuinely are curious about what they’re doing and it’s much easier to stay in touch with them that way.

Plus, I think some of those candidates refer their best friends to you or people that they are their best colleague and I think that’s the best way for me to meet new candidates, as a matter of fact, because we have a saying just amongst ourselves, that “swans fly with swans.” When you have a really wonderful candidate and they have their best friend or their sister’s looking for a new job, they’re going to say, “Go back to Heather.” “Go back to Moira.” “Go back to this recruiter that I used because they helped me find exactly what I was looking for.”

Mac Prichard:

For people who might not have an introduction to a recruiter and may never have worked with a staffing agency before, let’s go back to that first step when they walk into the office or they send an email.

How do you recommend…what happens? And I open this up to both of you because I know you’re working in different sectors, temporary and permanent employment, but it’s the same company.

When someone contacts a firm like yours, what happens? What’s the first step?

Heather Gordon:

The first step is that a candidate will send their resume in and we have a team that looks at every single resume that comes into our office and they parse them out to the recruiters based on their past experience.

After that, when a recruiter looks at that resume, and you’re looking at this person’s background, there are many different things that we’re using to identify whether or not we feel like we’re going to be able to be a resource to this person and let’s say we determine that we will.

We will invite that person to come in, fill out our applications so that we can get the basics on that person, and the first point of contact will be the person that calls them and says, “Hey, I’m here from Boly:Welch, thank you for sending your resume in. We have a recruiter that would like to have a conversation with you and learn about your background.”

From that very first point is the first opportunity you get to understand how that candidate is going to respond and communicate and the hope is that they’re going to be very friendly to the person that’s trying to give them the opportunity to come in and have a conversation with us and that they’ll have a great experience, that that person makes it very easy for them.

Then, from that point on, it’s all about the connection of coming into the front of the office, they meet our receptionist, what’s that interaction like? As with any organization, that receptionist is going to tell everybody in the office how that person behaves if there’s something that’s off and so my recommendation is, always treat that receptionist with as much love and kindness as you can.

Mac Prichard:

I’m a big believer in that, too.

Heather Gordon:

Then, from then on it really is, it’s a sit down, face to face, conversation, and we try to make it as easy and relaxing as possible because we just want to have a conversation with you and discuss your background and so during that period of time, if you can be genuine, you’re genuinely yourself, and really talk about things and feel comfortable with your recruiter, it’s going to make the rest of your experience with them so much more pleasant.

Mac Prichard:

What would you add, Moira?

Moira Farnsworth:

Just a couple of words of caution. I feel, oftentimes when I’m out in public and tell people what I do for a living, folks will say things like, “Well, I applied to another agency and I never heard anything back.” And I’ll dig a little deeper and find out that this person may be an electrical engineer but they applied at a recruiting agency that only does economics, you know, so it’s a total skills mismatch.

When selecting a recruiting agency to reach out to I would caution candidates to be really clear in their mind, “Do my skills align with the overall business areas that this agency recruits in? So, I think that that’s a pretty common thing, I hear and there are agencies that work in all sorts and stripes of different industries, so find one that really, appropriately matches your skills.

Heather Gordon:

That’s great advice.

Mac Prichard:

Any research tips for listeners who want to suss out the agencies that are in their city? For example, I know in Portland, I think we rank 25th in population in America, there are probably 3 dozen staffing agencies in the Metro Region, so in larger cities, there are going to be more, there are a lot of choices.

Heather Gordon:

There are.

Mac Prichard:

Which is good but how can listeners find the right staffing agency? How do you recommend people research that?

Heather Gordon:

I think if you’re looking at particular jobs that staffing agencies are listing and they are exactly what you’ve been doing and what you’re looking for, that’s a first line of defense, I would say and then look at the reviews. If there are a bunch of people saying, “This is a really great organization and I’ve had a great experience working with them,” I think that’s a piece of it. You also have to take that with a grain of salt because there will be plenty that will post reviews that they’ll say that they never called them back or they never found them a job. You know, we don’t place every candidate that we meet; not every job seeker that comes through a staffing agency’s door is going to get a job through them because the majority of jobs that are placed with candidates to companies that we work with, it’s all about timing.

You know, if the employers in the Portland-Metro area are not hiring for a specific job that a candidate is looking for at that particular time, there’s not going to be a match made there but that doesn’t mean that you could…you could get a call in 3 months from that recruiter that says, “Hey, you know, I know you’ve been working on this temporary assignment for a few months but we have the best job that just came up that’s permanent. Let’s have a conversation about that.”

Mac Prichard:

You made this point in the first part of the show, Heather, but I just want to emphasize it again, people should not put all their eggs in one basket here.

Heather Gordon:

That’s so true.

Mac Prichard:

A staffing agency is one strategy that you should follow in a job search but it’s not the only one, is it?

Heather Gordon:

It sure isn’t.

Moira Farnsworth:

I will say, too, whenever I’m meeting a candidate, I like to set expectations that we can be a good long-term relationship for you. When you’re meeting with the recruiter, when you’re partnering with Heather, she might not find you this next job, but 3 years from now, when a job that rings the bell for what you had shared with her at the time, she may pick up the phone and call you and say, “Hey I haven’t talked to you in 3 years but remember you told me that you were looking for a job that has XYZ? I finally have it for you.” And I always say, when you partner with a recruiter, just look at it as a long term relationship.

Mac Prichard:

I want to call out a point you made there, Moira, about the importance of sharing your goal because it’s not that somebody dropped off a resume with you or Heather or one of your colleagues and then that didn’t prompt the call 3 years later. It was because this person said, “I want to do this.” That matters a lot, doesn’t it?

Moira Farnsworth:

It does. I feel that sometimes folks will come into a recruiting agency believing that we are kind of like the career services office at a college and we’re not. It’s not really part of our ability to coach folks into job changes or getting clear about their long term goals. We work best with candidates who have done that work and walk through our doors and are very clear-eyed about what they’re looking for.

Mac Prichard:

That works because employers have told you exactly what they want, haven’t they?

Moira Farnsworth:

Exactly, yeah.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, so know what you want, before you walk in the door, and it’s okay to work with multiple staffing agencies, isn’t it?

Moira Farnsworth:

Yes.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, and that’s very common I imagine.

Moira Farnsworth:

It is, yeah.

Mac Prichard:

Well, terrific.

Well, it’s been a great conversation. Tell me, what’s next for you two?

Moira Farnsworth:

Well, Boly:Welch has decided to run a series of brown bag lunches talking about job searches more broadly speaking. The kind of idea is that we are going to spend a little bit more time, a little bit more developmental time with candidates who want to kind of, reimagine their job search and so we have a series coming up.

Mac Prichard:

Well, that’s great and I know people can find out more about not only that event, but you have some great career and job hunting articles and other services on your website. Your website can be found at bolywelch.com.

Now, Heather, Moira, if there’s one thing you want our listeners to remember about working with a staffing agency, what would it be?

Heather, would you like to lead off?

Heather Gordon:

Yeah, I think that if you’re going to work with a staffing agency, start earlier in your search than at the end of your search when you might feel a little more desperate to find the right position, and know that that recruiter is going to do their absolute best. We want to place everybody that we meet, even though we know that that’s not possible. But be open, speak to all of the things that really are your motivators, and know that that recruiter will come to you when that exact position is open.

In the meantime, search for jobs on your own and see what else you find and if you find something that that recruiter hasn’t helped you with this time around, know that you can come back to them when the next move in your career is going to be the right time for you.

Mac Prichard:

Terrific. Moira, what would you add?

Moira Farnsworth:

I would add that, people, we love to hear from candidates, so as you’re going through your permanent job search, if you’re in a temporary assignment, keep us apprised as to how that job search is going. We definitely want to know where your head might be taking you next for your job so we always appreciate feedback and information from our candidates, and also, please be nice to the receptionist.

Mac Prichard:

Excellent point about the receptionist.

Well, thank you both for joining us today.

That was a terrific conversation with Heather and Moira. Here’s my big take away: it is so important to know what you want before you reach out to a staffing firm because when you are clear about what your goal is, the company can help you because they are hired by employers to fill particular positions, and staffing firms are not career coaches.

You need to do that work before you pick up the phone or send the email to a staffing firm, whether you’re looking for a temporary position or a permanent one.

Now, Heather and Moira and both from the Rose City here in Portland, Oregon and they help a lot of people find jobs in Portland. If you’re listening here in the Pacific Northwest and are starting a job search in Portland or you’re thinking about coming to Oregon, we’ve got a new guide that can help.

It’s called How to Land a Job in Portland.

You can get your free copy today. Go to macslist.org/portlandjobs

We lay out in 8 steps everything you need to do to find a great job in Portland.

Join us next Wednesday. Our guest expert will be Angela Yeh. She’ll explain why mindset matters when you pivot careers.

Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.

If you’re considering enlisting a staffing agency to help you find your next job, you need to understand exactly how they work. Find Your Dream Job guests Heather Gordon and Moira Farnsworth join Mac this week to underline that recruiters are not career coaches and explore how staffing agencies work. A recruiter works with both the job seeker and the employer, trying to find the perfect position for the job seeker and the right person for the employer. Heather and Moira also share the importance of having clear goals before reaching out to recruiters so they can help you identify the right role.

About Our Guests:

Heather Gordon is a senior recruiter and Moira Farnsworth is a staffing consultant at Boly:Welch, a staffing agency in Portland, Oregon. With backgrounds in business development and HR, they now specialize in helping clients hire top talent and match candidates with jobs they love.

Resources in This Episode:

  • For helpful career advice articles and other recruiting and staffing services, visit Boly:Welch.com