SI Review: December 2011


Expert’s Corner

How to make sure your contingents send the right message

“Uh, so whaddya want me to do?” I looked up and was surprised to find the contingent worker I had just hired from a staffing organization standing in my office doorway, wearing stretch-knit stirrup pants, tennis shoes and a wrinkled T-shirt.

Inside, I panicked. I had fought for this resource, sent many emails justifying the need and cost of hiring a contingent worker to train our staff. I had interviewed a number of people by phone and had decided on Louise (not her real name). “Didn’t I mention that you would be training our staff?” I asked her, trying to understand her appearance. “Well, I’ve helped with training, but I never taught all of the training myself; I helped in back,” she replied.

Tarnished Reputation

Truly though, it wasn’t just her appearance that did Louise in; it was that she lacked general professionalism. While I was speaking with her about the assignment, our needs and the reason that we had chosen her, she proceeded to check her email on her phone, send a number of texts and find something quite fascinating on her arm to pick at — she appeared disinterested. I asked if she had questions and she wanted to know how much time she had for lunch.

This was the beginning of the shortest work week in her career and the end of trust between the staffing company and me. The staffing company did not do its due diligence before sending her, ending a relationship (with our company) that they had spent 18 months developing.

As it turns out, the company did not check her references. She told me during the interview (with the staffing company on the line) that she had been a trainer, but did not specify that she was a “back of the room” trainer, and hadn’t actually ever led a class. She also was not experienced in the version of the software that we were implementing. Had the staffing firm done its job, I would never have hired her.

Presenting a professional image is important for staffing companies and the contingents that represent them. Louise may not have realized, but the entire reputation of the staffing company was resting on her disinterested demeanor, and she tarnished it.

Sprucing Up

So, how do you ensure that your team members are portraying the professional image that you want to convey to the client? Here are three quick tips to help spruce up the image of your staff and company:

1. Interview in person or online. There is nothing like an in-person interview to help you see how someone conducts themselves and to see if that is the message that you are trying to convey. Sometimes, though, it’s not possible to meet in person. In those cases, using Skype, Webex, Goto meeting or other software applications enables recruiters to see the person’s nonverbal behavior during the interview. Watch to see if the candidates have good eye contact. Do they smile or look pleasant? Are they animated or not? Do they ask appropriate questions? Looking for specific nonverbal reactions and skills can help you select those that will best represent you.

2. Define your expectations. We forget sometimes that common sense is not always common. Clearly discussing expectations with your resources is important to your business. Assign a mentor from your company to act as an informal leader and help clarify for each resource how you expect them to conduct themselves. Hold a monthly conference call for all new associates to discuss presenting a professional image to clients. Topics could include how to respond to changes in assignment, how to ask questions without challenging the client’s staff and how to work with your internal systems.

3. Check those references. When you are not able to interview your resource in person, checking references is critical. Ask for six references and call the bottom three first. The top three references are generally friends and close colleagues, you want to hear from those who are more impartial. Spend at least a half an hour discussing the previous employment and role so that you can have a thorough understanding of how to set that resource up for success.

Presenting a professional image does not start and end with the contingents you send; your office and interactions also matter and set the tone for all those that you come in contact with. Presenting a professional image is a great way to ensure success for your contingent staff, your clients and your business as well.

April Callis works with organizations to create a positive workplace and present a professional image. She can be reached at


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