Best Staffing Agencies

How Should You Choose a Staffing Agency?

Looking for a staffing agency partner? Which criteria do you use? We outline the key points to consider when selecting a staffing agency.
November 2020 — 7 min read

According to the American Staffing Association, there are about 25,000 staffing companies in the United States.

With that many options, how are you supposed to pick one staffing partner?

This is a difficult question, but one that is absolutely crucial to answer for your business. Choosing the right staffing agency can help you source the right candidates for your openings quickly and efficiently. Choosing the wrong agency may mean that you get poor matches for your company and paying a lot for them while also participating in a time-consuming process.

That's why learning how to choose a staffing firm is so important. The stakes are high, and if you start down the wrong path, it can be a pain to extricate yourself.

So take time to chat with several agencies before you make a choice for your staffing needs. And when you talk to them, be sure to ask these questions:

1. What is the Experience of the Staffing Agency in Your Industry?

Most staffing agencies are experts in sourcing candidates in specific fields. If you are looking for a software developer, you want to work with an experienced recruiter that has a lot of business relationships and connections with qualified candidates.

IT staffing services will be much less helpful if you need to hire a salesperson or an executive. Agencies should be upfront with you about their experience in your immediate field.

But do not just ask if the agency has worked with companies like yours. Try to get a more detailed history of how the agency has created a reputation in your field. Do they have a specific hiring process that works well for your industry? Was the firm started by someone who had a huge number of contacts that have increased since then?

Every staffing agency should be able to give you a good reason to hire them, and that often starts with an explanation of their expertise in your field.

2. What is the Staffing Agency’s Time to Hire?

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, the median time-to-hire is 30 days (the average is 36).

One of the best reasons to work with a staffing agency is that they can get you candidates faster than you can get them yourself. That means, on average, they should be able to get you a qualified candidate in less than 30 days.

Of course, that number varies by industry, so knowing your own median time-to-hire is important. If the agency can't deliver a candidate as fast as you could get a direct hire on your own, consider working with a different agency.

If you are looking for a full-time contractor for a small job, it is safe to expect that the agency delivers a candidate even faster.

3. How Does the Staffing Agency Handle COVID-era Recruiting?

Because almost everyone is working remotely, the recruitment process has changed since coronavirus upended the business world.

For example, an April 2020 survey by getAbstract found that most employees want to work remotely more than they did before the pandemic. This is not something you can ignore when choosing a staffing firm. That staffing firm must be ready to recruit remote-ready workers that are willing to work in the type of environment that your company fosters.

If you plan on having your employees come back to the office as soon as possible, the staffing agency needs to know and be prepared for that. On the other hand, if you are considering post-COVID or permanent remote work options, the firm has to keep that in mind, too.

Modern staffing firms should have a plan for recruiting and matching candidates in these unprecedented times. Find out what that plan is.

4. How Does the Staffing Agency Screen Candidates?

The American Staffing Association also points out that staffing agencies hire about 16 million contract and temporary workers per year.

That means every agency is making a lot of placements. Find out how they go about doing that. On average, what is their acceptance rate? Do they hire 9 out of 10 people that apply to their agency? Or just a few?

There is no right answer here—you will have to take this information into account with other factors. For example, Toptal is a network of hand-picked freelancers with years of experience. They only accept 3 percent of their applicants, making them a reliable option for top talent. You can be confident that an IT agency with comparable numbers will only place highly qualified candidates.

It is also a good idea to ask about background checks. While your company might not work with sensitive materials or vulnerable populations, it is nice to know that the agency will not place anyone with you if they have an alarming criminal record.

5. What is Their Interview-to-Hiring Ratio?

The interview-to-hiring ratio looks at how many candidates a staffing agency interviews before they make a hire for a position. If the number is too high or too low, you may want to dig deeper to find out why.

For example, if a staffing agency tends to interview 25 people from their talent pool before making a hire, they may not be writing detailed enough job descriptions. Or their screening process might not be stringent enough.

On the other hand, if the ratio is 2:1, the firm might not be casting a wide enough net to actually find the best candidates.

Again, there isn't an optimal range here. 3:1 is not uncommon but does not fit every hiring style and industry. Knowing the typical ratio for your own company's hiring process is a good benchmark.

6. What is Their Track Record with Clients?

There is no better way to find out the experience of a staffing agency than by asking its previous clients.

Of course, if you ask the agency directly, they will certainly refer you to testimonials on their website—which they have already curated—or put you in touch with a previous client that they know had a fantastic result.

This does not mean you should not ask, though. Testimonials and references can be very instructive, even if they do not mention the difficulties or problems that the client had. It does pay to look for non-curated sources of review, though, such as those on our site

You can always check for reviews on Google, Yelp, and other platforms, as well. Better Business Bureau ratings are easy to find and skim, too.

No matter where you look at reviews or client satisfaction ratings, be sure to look at both positive and negative reviews and take them all with a grain of salt.

7. Does the Staffing Agency Have Any Certifications?

There are numerous recruiting certifications that recruiters can get, and many of them add credibility to an agency.

There are other certifications, and they each have their own programs and requirements. If a staffing firm employs certified recruiters, you can be more confident that they will be able to meet your hiring needs.

8. Does the Staffing Agency Provide Other Services?

In a recent survey, Staffing Industry Analysts found that many staffing agencies are now providing other services, including payroll, human resources consulting, and more. 50% of the commercial staffing firms they surveyed provided payroll and independent contractor classification services. Many others may include health care benefits which could help alleviate those costs from your firm, too.

If your company could use a bit more support, ask ahead of time to see what your options are. You may find that a staffing agency can help you out in ways you didn't expect.

Conclusion: Take Time to Think About Your Process

Before you start interviewing staffing agencies, take time to think about what is important to your company.

Are you looking for candidates who are passionate about your mission? Do you highly value soft skills? Is speed as important as the quality, or are you willing to wait for the perfect candidate?

Knowing the answers to these questions will not only help you interview staffing professionals, but they will also help you determine which agencies place a strong priority on the things that matter to your company.

Keep those priorities in mind as you ask the questions above to find the best staffing firm for your needs.

Share with your network:

What type of staffing agency do you need?