An introduction to staffing agencies for employers & job seeker

An introduction to staffing agencies for employers & job seekers
January/February 2007
A Field Guide to Headhunters
by Shel Perkins

Looking to find or fill a staff position in a design firm? In the creative community, there are many matchmakers—often referred to as headhunters, though this term is not one they use to describe themselves—who bring employees and employers together. Here’s what job seekers and hiring firms need to know to find the best fit.

There are three basic business models in the world of recruitment: temp agencies, contingency firms and retained search firms. The key differences between them have to do with the level of positions they handle and the methods they use for charging clients.

TEMP AGENCIES This is the largest category—the base of the pyramid. These firms handle temporary staffing, mostly at the junior level. To be considered as a candidate, you must approach the agency. If you have skills that are in demand, they’ll put you through a registration process and add you to their database. The largest firm of this type is Aquent, with dozens of offices in the U.S. and abroad.

When a temp agency sends you on assignment, chances are you’ll be paid at an hourly rate. Some assignments offer the possibility of transitioning from temp to regular staff; employers sometimes use a temp assignment as a test drive of potential employees. But not all of those listed with temp agencies are looking for fulltime positions; many are freelancers supplementing their incomes.

CONTINGENCY SEARCH FIRMS The middle of the pyramid is occupied by contingency firms. They occasionally handle junior staff positions, but it’s important to note that because design firms can easily hire entry-level employees without the added expense of a recruiter’s fee, contingency firms usually conduct searches for mid-level to senior positions. They work with experienced candidates, and they maintain an inventory of current resumés. They’re called contingency firms because they only get paid if and when a position is filled. The hiring firm pays a commission based on salary level.

RETAINED SEARCH FIRMS Atop the pyramid are firms that handle only executive positions. There are fewer jobs like this and they’re harder to fill. In general, senior-level design leaders are already happily employed. Candidates typically don’t approach the recruiter—the recruiter has to approach them to let them know about specific opportunities.

According to RitaSue Siegel, president of RitaSue Siegel Resources, “Finding special people who are not on the job market is what a retained search firm does. They proactively research potential candidates, approach them, qualify them and, if the candidate looks like a good fit, sell them on the opportunity.”

Retained firms are paid to conduct a search, whether or not a hire is eventually made. At this level, there are two options for how the fee might be calculated. According to Siegel, “Sometimes it’s a fixed fee, not one based upon a percentage of earnings but rather based on the difficulty of the assignment.” The negotiated fee is then divided into an advance deposit and two progress payments.

HYBRIDS The dividing lines between the three business models can become a bit blurred if a firm works in more than one way. For example, a large recruitment firm might have a new talent division as well as an executive division, with each functioning differently.

If you’re a recent graduate, it’s important to find a recruiter interested in junior-level candidates. Fortunately, many recruiters have ongoing relationships with leading design schools. “Graduating students should ask their career counselors for information on how to get in touch with a recruitment firm that the counselor knows well,” says Janou Pakter, president of Janou Pakter, Inc.

Find a recruiter who specializes in your creative discipline. Large recruitment firms have counselors who are experts in fields such as web design, advertising, industrial design and so on. You have to feel that there’s a fit and that the recruiter is qualified to assess your work. Take a look at the recruiter’s list of past clients to see if they are industries or companies you’re interested in.

Growing companies quickly learn that they need to reach beyond their own network for potential candidates. Before listing positions with recruiters, however, they must first develop internal consensus on the attributes they want to see in candidates. Melody Christensen, owner of Filter/Talent, has this advice for employers: “Write a detailed job description and, most importantly, include some selling points about the hiring company.”

“Business-savvy employers understand that a recruiter is an extension of their company,” says Roz Goldfarb, president of Roz Goldfarb Associates. This point is also emphasized by Judy Wert, president of Wert & Company: “The recruiter is not only filling a hiring need, but also acting as an ambassador of a company culture to the greater design community.”

Design is a people business. Over the course of a career, it’s possible that a designer will interact with a recruiter on more than one occasion. Several years after a successful placement, a former candidate may remember the respect, care and passion shown by a particular recruiter and come back—this time for assistance in hiring talent. As Goldfarb puts it, “Establishing a long-term relationship with a respected recruiter can have life-altering effects.”

Aquent, | Filter/Talent, | Janou Pakter, Inc., | RitaSue Siegel Resources , | Roz Goldfarb Associates, | Wert & Company,

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