Those of us who work in the staffing industry know more than a little about “fit,” right?

Staffers spend the bulk of their working day trying to find that perfect fit for each and every client. In fact, one of the things that makes our business particularly difficult is the fact that a staffer must match candidates to not one, but several, uniquely different clients, all while keeping both sets of customers (clients and job seekers) happy.

Doing the job effectively takes more than the ability to compose a sentence, run a report, and check a couple of references, more than being able to recite a cookie-cutter list of interview questions.

Soft Skills Needed

A good staffer knows when an interviewee is selling a load of malarkey, so most of their hires actually show up. But when they don’t, they know how to smooth it over with the difficult clients with just the right amount of deference, sense-of-urgency, and “fix-it” attitude. 

Good staffing takes the “soft skills” necessary to acquire an intimate knowledge of each client’s culture, values, and work environment, and transform that knowledge into making good hires for each of those clients, every day.

When a prospective employee sits in front of a good staffer and goes through the interview and screening process, that staffer just knows which, if any, of their clients would be just the right fit for that individual. And you know what? They usually are. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be in business.

A good staffer has to be able to roll with the punches this job brings and keep on bringing it, day after day.

But, it’s far from easy. In fact, I would contend that staffing is truly one of the toughest “desk jobs” around!

Doing For Ourselves What We Do For Others 

And yet, when it comes to actually hiring our internal staffers, time after time staffing agencies fail to apply the very same principles their staffers are expected to use to satisfy clients.

Since the wrong hire can destroy business, devastate relationships, and generally wreck a previously successful staffing office, it is of paramount importance to make the RIGHT hire, every time.

During my stint as Branch Manager of a reasonably successful staffing office, I made and saw more than my share of bad staffing hires along the way. 

However, I was also able to learn from my own mistakes, and those of others, and develop hiring strategies and philosophies that, while far from perfect, definitely led to a progressively better hiring success rate.

Here are three key things I’ve learned to keep in mind when hiring a staffer. I have a feeling this also applies to many more positions companies hire for.

Education is important, but it isn’t – It seems like nearly everyone’s a college graduate these days, and a bunch of them are working at Starbucks. Don’t get me wrong, anyone in a hiring role needs to know how to express themselves, compose a coherent, grammatically-correct email, and speak in a knowledgeable, educated fashion to clients. Certainly the college experience can help with that and more. 

But subject matter specifics, such as employment law, gets taught to our staffers going in through the ASA’s CSP program anyway. It’s much cheaper and more practical than a degree in HR.

I wouldn’t discourage anyone from going to college if they have the time, the desire, and the means. But plenty of non-college grads have gone on to be excellent staffers, and used that as a springboard to bigger and better things, including some of our own higher level executives. The main thing is to acquire and develop the skills necessary to be functional in an office setting.

It’s all about our customers – A staffer has to deal with two entirely different sets of customers – job seekers and clients. If they get impatient easily or don’t like dealing with customers, even annoyed and demanding ones, this job isn’t for them.

Some of our best staffers have been in customer service and even food service. If a server can display the kind of organization and diligence and patience it takes to serve six tables at once with a great attitude and a genuine smile on their face, all while treating customers like they are the only ones in the restaurant, what kind of a staffer do you think that person would make?

In fact, we’re just about to hire such a person at one of our branches, and we aren’t even hesitating.

It’s all about attitude – You can teach lots of people how to interview a candidate, check a reference, or fill a job order. Heck, even if they have virtually no technical background you can still teach them how to operate a computer and run an Excel spreadsheet or two. But you can’t teach someone how to be genuine, how to have a positive attitude, how to be a likable person that people want to be around. You also can’t teach character, passion, drive, or creativity.

I’m not saying those aren’t attributes we all couldn’t benefit from possessing, but if your candidate is a dud, it doesn’t matter how much knowledge or experience they have, or how many "qualifications," your clients won’t
like them and neither will you. Maybe you can live with that, but your business can’t.

Years ago I interviewed a candidate for a staffer position who seemed to be a perfect fit. On paper. She had worked for three years at a national agency, doing the exact type of work we did. She had the educational background, the know-how, the practical skills,  and perhaps best of all, she was available and ready to start immediately.

Although her personality reminded me of a cross between a rock and Angela from The Office, I figured the money and time we would save from not having to train her would make up for her lack of personality and Darth Vader-like disposition.

So we hired her. And immediately regretted it. It only took a week for us to realize how her negative attitude was impacting our other employees and we had to let her go.

A group from our firm recently attended a Dale Carnegie Leadership session. In it, the presenter discussed the three criteria upon which employers typically make a hire – skill, knowledge, and attitude. Guess which of those was emphasized as by far the most important of the three?

Hire great staffers, and they will in turn hire great people for your clients.