Staffing -- Still in Need of a Makeover?

I was recently chatting with a friend - a typical Silicon Valley software engineer-turned-MBA, now placed in Bangalore, India to kick off his company's operations there. I was listening to him compare life here in the U.S. and in India over a cup of tea when he mentioned that he would eventually like to come back to the U.S. because he is brimming with business ideas that he feels will have more chance of succeeding in the U.S. And suddenly he looked at me as it finally dawned on him, "You write about temporary staffing!" Well, only for the past eight years. It's a $128 billion industry, you know.

But he just talked right past me. He had a Web site in mind for independent contractors, all professionals, where they could be listed and potential customers who needed them could browse through their resumes and initiate interviews. This would be the place to write reviews about contractors you have used. "Just like Angie's list, but for professionals," he gushed.

He went on to explain why such a business model would be more powerful than a staffing company. Before I could gently break it to him that his was not novel idea and such Web sites do already exist, some are happily co-existing along with staffing firms, one of his comments stopped me dead in my tracks.

"Here's a place where you can read your peers' reviews actual references," he told me earnestly. "It would be much more value add than what staffing firms do. They simply simply send a bunch of resumes without really checking on the candidates whether this person is really what I need or if he will fit my company's culture."

Simply send a bunch of resumes! When will the staffing industry shake off this reputation of just throwing a bunch of resumes at an order? This perception is probably one of the biggest reasons why customers give staffing firms a B- in terms of service. In the past eight years, I have talked to umpteen staffing firms and I have to say, very few would fall in the "resume-thrower" category. But what is that saying - one rotten apple spoils the barrel? Sadly, after decades of working on its image, certain stereotypes for staffing firms still persist. It is incumbent on the industry to educate customers on the value it provides and to ensure that the one rotten apple finds its way out of the barrel. 

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