SI Review: August 2010

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How People Get Started in Staffing, SI Review August 2010

By Julie McCoy

Jim Fabiano is a former minor league baseball player who 30 years ago took a swing at staffing. And he's been in the industry ever since. Fabiano had been playing for the Boston Red Sox when, in early 1980, after suffering several knee injuries he decided it was time to retire. He knew he wanted to get into sales and business development. His father, who happened to own a computer service bureau at the time and had been doing business with TAC Worldwide, told him what the company did and introduced him to the owner and founder, Sal Balsamo.

Fabiano ended up getting a job at TAC. He left baseball in late February 1980 and joined TAC as a recruiter in April of that year. Fabiano, who was at TAC for 26 years and did consulting and owned his own IT staffing firm after that, is still in staffing today. In fact, earlier this year he became executive VP of business development for Randstad Professionals.

Many Get Started in Staffing in a Roundabout Way
Many people, like Fabiano, get into the staffing industry in a roundabout way. It's not something they necessarily expect or plan to do; it just kind of happens. SI Review spoke with people in staffing about how they wound up in the industry, how their previous non-staffing experience has helped them in staffing, and some of the similarities and differences they've found between staffing and the work they used to do.

Similarities Abound Between Baseball, Staffing
Baseball and staffing may seem like two different worlds, but Fabiano has found some similarities. Both involve teamwork, team building and competition. Also, in both baseball and staffing, you need to be flexible, try different things and challenge yourself.

Additionally, practice is important in both baseball and staffing. In baseball you've got to practice to improve your performance, and in staffing you've got to practice how well you develop staff, how well you recruit and how well you bring your message to customers.

"You always have to work on it to get better," Fabiano says. "If you don't, someone else is going to. To find that edge in staffing, you've got to practice."

Baseball and staffing also both involve finding the right people. In baseball, you need to find the right people to put on the field whereas in staffing you need to find the right people to put in front of the client, Fabiano points out.

"In baseball the ultimate is to win the World Series, whereas in staffing, it's to be with a great company that has a chance to be a leader in the field and shape the world of work," Fabiano says. He feels like he hit a home run by joining Randstad. "In coming here, I feel like this is the Major Leagues."

Welcome Wagon Business Leads to 41-Year Career in Staffing
SOS Staffing CEO JoAnn Wagner is another person who got into the industry in a roundabout way. In the late 1960s, Wagner was a stay-at-home mom looking for some part-time work to supplement her husband's income. She found a job managing a Welcome Wagon business, which hired "greeters" to pass out baskets with gifts and coupons to people and businesses that were new to the area. As it turned out, the Welcome Wagon work not only gave her family a little extra money but also led to what is now, for her, a 41-year career in the staffing industry.

Not long into it, Wagner met a man by the name of Ted Cobb, who founded Total Personnel Services or TOPS. She asked him if she could be a recruiter for TOPS, started working out of her home, found she loved what she was doing and the rest, as they say, is history.

People with a non-staffing background can and do succeed in staffing, Wagner points out. Wagner -- who has people who were in the retail and car rental industry on her staff -- says the most important thing is the ability to provide strong customer service. "There's nothing really magical about learning staffing," she says. "The magic is in the service mentality. I think it's all about service."

Leaving the Printing Business for Staffing
Bill Rohr, senior VP at SOS Staffing, owned a print shop, Creative Arts Printing, in Denver, before he got into staffing. What prompted him to make the switch? Rohr's wife, Jan, is friends with Wagner, and one day when all three were skiing together, Wagner told Rohr she thought he'd be great in the staffing industry.

So Rohr, who happened to be looking for a change from the printing business anyway, decided to come work with Wagner, who was then at TOPS. The two worked together at TOPS for four years. In 1982, Rohr was starting the labor division for TOPS in Denver. Wagner had him visit Dick Reinhold, the original owner and founder of SOS Staffing, and the SOS offices in Salt Lake City, to learn about how SOS ran its labor divisions. Rohr decided to join SOS and opened an SOS office in Grand Junction CO, where he and Jan (who Wagner also recruited into the staffing industry) have been ever since.

Rohr -- who has been at SOS for 23 years and in the staffing industry for 29 years -- says that many of the skills he learned as the owner of a printing business (such as how to handle customers and how to manage expenses) have been applicable to staffing. "By running your own business, you really get a good feel of how to run lean," he says. He also points out that when he first got into the industry, his printing background was an asset working with SOS' printing clients. "I was able to talk the lingo," he says.

Slowdown of Corporate Events Leads to Career in Staffing
Express Employment Professionals franchisee John Dickey did large-scale corporate events and projects for such giants as Ocean Spray, Abbott Laboratories, Boston Scientific and Dunkin Donuts prior to getting into staffing. But in 2001, 9/11 hit, and that put a damper on the event business, so Dickey knew he needed to find something else.

"I always had a desire to own my own company, and [event] production was not going to reach my financial goals and professional aspirations," he explains.

So, he met with a franchise broker who presented him with three different opportunities that he thought would be a good match for him. One was an Express franchise, another was a tutoring franchise and the third was a dry cleaning franchise. And after doing research in all three industries, Dickey -- who admits he was skeptical at first -- decided the Express franchise was
the best opportunity for him.

Dickey also did light shows for sporting events -- including the Super Bowl, all-star games and the Stanley Cup for the NHL, and all-star games and championship finals for the NBA -- prior to getting into the staffing industry. "The Chicago Bulls started doing it with Michael Jordan, and I took the idea and ran with it," he says.

Additionally, he was a news and sports producer at ABC News 20/20 in New York. Dickey -- who started in an entry-level desk position and worked his way up to associate producer -- has found some similarities between the television industry and the staffing industry. "We needed to be on time on television or the screen went blank," he says. "You have to deliver on time. It's about professionalism. It's about honoring your commitments, producing things in a timely efficient manner."

Concludes Dickey: "The role I play in staffing is business development. You have to come up with ideas and concepts and go out and talk to people about them. Everything I have done has been helpful. You take everything you had from your last job and bring it to your next job."

Swapping the Green World for the Staffing World Joe Kotlinski, a partner in Winter, Wyman & Co.'s IT division, had a 20-year career in environmental regulation and compliance before joining the company. He worked for the Environmental Protection Agency and was involved in helping companies clean up hazardous sites and comply with a multitude of regulations, he says.

Kotlinski began to realize that if he were ever to lose his job his options would be severely limited. His wife, Angela, who used to work at Winter, Wyman, said, "I think you can do this," so he decided to give it a try. When Kotlinski was working in the environmental industry, he had to be logical and analytical and also negotiate with people, which has carried over to his staffing career. "I do a lot of negotiation here," he says.

In the environmental industry, there were guidelines to go by, whereas in staffing there aren't any guidelines, Kotlinski points out. "There was more rigidity to what I was doing on the engineering side," he says.

Kotlinski says that when he was doing his environmental work, he was more of a policeman and the conversations he had were more negative, whereas now most of the conversations he has are positive.

He had a 10-minute commute when he was in the environmental field, whereas now he commutes three hours a day (an hour and a half each way) but he's still happier. "I come home with less stress," he says.

Making the Switch from the Nonprofit Sector to Staffing
Amy Gerrity, president of The Reserves Network (TRN) in Fairview Park OH -- who holds a bachelor's degree in social services from Cleveland State University and a master's in social work from Case Western Reserve University -- was working for a nonprofit and looking for a change when a co-worker of hers met Don Stallard, the current CEO of TRN. The co-worker said to Gerrity: "You need to meet this man. He's starting up a recruiting firm. He has 20 years of experience in HR." Gerrity met Stallard when she was in her late 20s and has been in the staffing industry ever since.

She was empowering people before and empowering people now, she points out. One difference between staffing and the nonprofit sector is that, "We have a bottom line to look at now," she explains. "It wasn't as obvious in the nonprofit [world]."

Going from Social Work to Staffing
Jessica Salerno did social work for three years prior to joining Boston-based Professional Staffing Group (PSG) in 2001. Salerno was a treatment coordinator who worked with teenagers in state custody to help them get into an independent living situation, she says.

She wanted to get some corporate experience to supplement her social work experience and interviewed with many companies, including staffing companies. One of the companies she interviewed with was PSG. She applied for an internal staff position at PSG and the company ended up hiring her.

Salerno currently is director of PSG's technical division. She also built PSG's suburban division for three years before handing it off to someone else to start the technical division.

Her social work background has helped her in staffing, she points out. She has been able to transfer the listening and communications skills she acquired as a social worker to her staffing career. Additionally, she learned how to be calm and patient when she was a social worker, something that comes in handy in staffing when clients happen to be upset, unhappy or stressed out. "You never hear me raise my voice," she says. "It's kind of a patience level."

A desire to be in staffing is all it takes to succeed in the industry, Salerno stresses. "As long as they want to work in staffing, they can be successful. They have to understand what the job is."

Trading Nursing for Nurse Staffing
In her previous life, Melissa Knybel, director of operations at Clinical One, was an ICU nurse. Having spent 10 years in an ICU setting, she was feeling the effects of the stress that nurses are under, experiencing burnout and needing a change, she explains.

Knybel signed up with a local per diem staffing company to get some variety in her work setting. She developed a relationship with the branch manager in that office, who, like her, was an ICU nurse. She asked the woman how she got into staffing. "I was very intrigued by how she was still able to use her nursing education and experience every day, but it was a completely different environment from the hospital," Knybel explains. "I wanted to know how could I get a job like hers."

A few months later, Knybel saw an ad Clinical One had placed for a branch manager to set up a new office in her area. Today, although her role has changed many times, she still works for Clinical One. "I feel pretty blessed right now because my position affords a great deal of variety," she says. "No day is the same."

Goodbye DQ, Hello Staffing
Bill Grubbs, executive VP and COO of SFN Group, formerly Spherion, was a Dairy Queen owner before getting into staffing. Grubbs worked at a DQ store in New Hampshire when he was in high school and in college. When he graduated from college, the owner of the store decided he wanted to retire and handed the store over to Grubbs.

While running the store, Grubbs, who holds a degree in computer science, decided he wanted to explore a technical job in the corporate world. He responded to an ad from staffing firm Technical Aid Corp. and the company hired him. "They hired me almost right on the spot," he says. His brother ran the DQ store during the week.

Eventually, Grubbs sold the DQ store, plus another DQ store in New Hampshire that he had worked at and bought.

Grubbs -- who has been in the industry for 26 years and also worked for TRS Staffing and Spring Group -- joined SFN Group in November 2005. He enjoys what he does and doesn't plan on leaving any time soon. "It's not like I'm in a factory making widgets or something," he says. "It's all about people. That makes it fun and exciting every day. This is my career until I retire."

Some Come to Staffing with a Law Background
Mark Toth is a lawyer who is using his law background as chief legal officer of Manpower North America. When he began his law career he tried to figure out what kind of law he wanted to do and was drawn to employment law because it focuses on people, he says. And he found a staffing company was a good place to put his employment law knowledge to good use.

Toth says the communication and writing skills, as well as the speaking and presentation skills, he acquired as a lawyer have helped him in staffing. "It's a lot more fun working in the staffing industry," he says. "People are generally friendly and love people. There's a lot more love than there was in the law firm. I just really like it here. It's a great place. I really think that staffing is the key to the universe."

Julian Brown, a graduate of the University of Virginia Law School, was an attorney at Venable in McLean VA before becoming president of Compliance Staffing, a legal staffing company that is part of Randstad Professionals.

He had been an attorney for four years when he decided to pursue another love of his -- horse racing. He kept his law license current and did a little bit of legal work while he was in the horse racing business.

In 1999, he started thinking about what was next and came across the legal staffing industry, which was really starting to peak at that time. He saw an ad that Compliance had placed in the Washington Post, looking for temporary attorneys as well as a sales representative. He responded to the ad because he was interested in the sales part of it, and figured if that didn't work, he could always do the temporary law work, too.

Brown, who began working for Compliance in late 1999, started off as a salesman, then worked his way up to VP of sales and eventually president.

Relationship building is important in both law and staffing, but even more so in staffing, Brown points out. "The more authentic the relationship is, the more successful the salesperson is in staffing," he says.

Staffing is very interactive, whereas law is less interactive, Brown points out. "I find staffing much more interactive than practicing law, which fits my personality better," he says.

Craig Nelson was a lawyer before joining his dad's staffing firm, The Nelson Family of Companies. Having spent seven years with the California Department of Justice in San Diego as deputy attorney general, Nelson says he was ready for a change. Plus, he and his wife wanted to move back to Northern California, and he wanted to work with his dad before he retired.

Nelson -- who graduated from law school in 1990, was a lawyer in private practice for two-and-a-half years and earned his master's degree in law in 1994 -- says his law background has given him credibility with clients and helped him with negotiations. "It helps in general with problem solving," he says. "It also helps with presentation skills. Anything that has to do with written or verbal communication has been transferable."

One big difference between law and staffing, though, is that lawyers tend to be direct, and to not speak in a political way, Nelson points out. "In the business world, it's more gray," he explains. "It's more of a political environment. I've had to tone down my direct style and be a little more warm and fuzzy."

Also, Nelson points out that as a lawyer he worked pretty much on his own, whereas now he needs to be more collaborative.

Transitioning from IBM to Staffing Don Palmer, VP of MATRIX Resources, was a programmer and salesperson at IBM before making the switch to staffing. He asked one of IBM's clients if they knew any good recruiters, and the client referred him to two people, one of whom called back. It was John Scarbrough, one of the founders of MATRIX, who ended up spending two-and-a-half hours with Palmer. "He spent time getting to know me," Palmer says. "He was unlike any headhunter I had talked to. He was an ex-IBMer like me." Scarbrough spoke to Palmer about coming to work at MATRIX, and he ended up joining the company, where he has been for 20 years.

At IBM, Palmer was selling hardware and software, whereas now he's selling people. "Every product in staffing is different because every person is different," he says. "When you're selling a product, it's very static. ... With people you're dealing with a lot of dynamics. That makes it very interesting. There's always something that's going to happen that's going to surprise you."

Leaving Job as Account Rep for Telecommunications Firm for Staffing
Matt Colarusso, a national recruiting manager at Sapphire Technologies, was an account representative for a telecommunications company before getting into staffing. "When you did sell something, it was great," he says. "I needed more. I was looking for something with a quick turnaround time, a few days as opposed to several months."

Colarusso had a friend who knew his personality and thought staffing might be a good fit. The friend put him in touch with staffing companies, one of which was Sapphire. He ended up making the switch to Sapphire, where he has been for 12 years.

When Colarusso was at the telecommunications company, he was selling a product, whereas now he's selling people, he points out. He's gone from "selling product you can put in people's hands to working with clients and candidates and personalities."

He did a lot of work outside the office when he was at the telecommunications company, whereas now much of the work he does is inside the office. "It was quite a different animal," he stresses.

Today, Colarusso oversees four sales teams, two in Massachusetts, one in North Carolina and another in California. "My job now really is sales management," he says.

Colarusso, who has hired more than 60 people during the time he's been at Sapphire, says he doesn't usually hire people from the staffing industry. He's hired people with a background in education or a clinical field like psychiatry. He's also hired people who have worked with autistic children, and he even hired someone who played professional hockey overseas. "I think recruiting is a very niche skill," he says. "It's almost a trait."

Former Software Engineer Switches to Technology Staffing
Amar Panchal, CEO of Akraya, a Sunnyvale CA-based technology staffing and solutions firm, was a software engineer before getting into staffing. He decided he wanted to get into more of a sales and business development role. "That was a big decision for me to make, to leave a field that I was qualified for and that I liked," he says. He left at a time when software engineers were in demand and there was a shortage of them.

Panchal says his technology background has given him an edge in his current role. When he was an engineer, he could work any time -- in the middle of the night if he wanted or needed to -- whereas now a lot of the work he does needs to be done during regular business hours. Also, he was dependent on himself when he was a software engineer whereas now he's dependent on other people, he points out.

Swapping Technology Company for Technology Staffing
Annie Whetstine, a senior account executive at Chicago-based Instant Technology, worked for CDW, a technology company also in Chicago, before getting into staffing. She did sales and also trained salespeople, training about 2,000 people while she was there. She also hired trainers.

When CDW was bought, and went from being a public company to a private one, Whetstine began going to staffing companies to see what work she could find. She went to Global Employment Solutions, which referred her to Instant Technology. Global Employment Solutions does a little bit of everything whereas Instant Technology focuses strictly on technology staffing, so it
was a better fit, she explains.

Whetstine says her technology background has helped her succeed in a technology staffing company. She likes being in the people business and plans to stay in staffing. "For me, it's more of a reward to place a person," she says. "I can have a relationship with the person I place versus a server or a desktop. You don't have a relationship there."

Couple Leave Semiconductor Business, Human Resources for Staffing

Bill Neufeld, who owns an Express franchise in Campbell CA with his wife, Linda, was a partner in a semiconductor company before getting into staffing. He was doing quite a bit of traveling with his job and eventually tired of the heavy travel and wanted to try something else, he says. His friend's wife owned an Express franchise and talked to Linda about it, and he and his wife decided to open a franchise together.

While staffing is quite different from the semiconductor industry, he's nevertheless transferring many of the skills he acquired as a partner in a semiconductor company, including marketing and public relations skills, as well as money management and invoicing skills. His semiconductor company contacted staffing companies and had success with that, he points out.

Linda Neufeld -- who has a sales background and worked for Paychex for 13 years -- says that with her background in payroll and human resources, staffing wasn't a far reach. She says the biggest change for her -- and it happens to be a change she likes -- is not being in corporate America. "We don't have to answer to Wall Street," she says. "They want their numbers and then you had better get them to them."

Ann Ruschy, managing director of SALO LLC's Oberon division, also was in human resources before staffing, although she did human resources in the retail industry. Back in 1996, she received a phone call from a recruiter from ProStaff who inquired as to whether she might be interested in joining the company. Originally she handled human resources for ProStaff and later she moved into a field role.

When she was in human resources, she acquired problem-solving skills and helped companies achieve their business objectives, and she's doing that today as well.

Ruschy has been in the staffing industry for 11 years. She took a two-year hiatus, during which she did executive coaching and leadership development, and then she came back this past March because she missed the industry and the people. "I love being able to be a solution and help people understand there are options," she says. She adds that: "The pace is really what keeps me going. I love the pace. It's one of those things that is going to attract or keep people, or just the opposite."

Conversation Leads to 31-Year Career in Staffing
Mark McKim, a senior account manager with SkillStorm, was a junior at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo when his parents decided to leave New York and relocate to San Diego. When McKim graduated from college, he decided he wanted to follow his parents and also move out to San Diego. The only problem was, he didn't have any work.

McKim ended up meeting Bob Smelter, who lived in the same complex as his parents. Little did he know that the conversation he had with Smelter would lead to what is now a 31-year career in staffing. Smelter was opening up a San Diego branch of a staffing firm that was then called B&M and suggested McKim send his resume. "If I owe anybody anything, that's who I owe it to," McKim says.

He started working at B&M and found he really enjoyed staffing. It was about "putting money into people's pockets -- not taking it out," which matched his values and goals, he explains. McKim, who hadn't ever been in staffing prior to B&M, feels the company provided him with good training. "I had the owners take me under their wing," he explains. "I had the intelligence to recognize as a 23-year-old kid these guys knew way more than I did."

McKim ended up staying at B&M for 21 years. He also worked at Eastridge InfoTech for five years and has been with SkillStorm for five years. "A lot of people I met in the beginning I'm still friends with," he says. "I am a hard worker. I don't have plans of going anywhere. If everything goes according to plan, I plan to retire from it."

Some Join the Industry Having Been Staffing Firm Clients
Roger Iris has gone from working with a staffing company to working for one. Iris is currently president of Burbank CA-based Workway. But before that, he was with Fidelity National Title and worked with Title Temps, a niche staffing firm that specialized in the mortgage industry, to find workers. Title Temps suggested that he get into staffing, and although he was a little apprehensive at first, he did. He was able to help Title Temps go from being a regional player to a national player and also to begin Workway. "It's been a great experience," he says. "I recommend the staffing industry to anyone out there. It's not for everybody, but it's a fun industry."

From College Admissions to Staffing
Megan McCann, VP at Chicago-based technology staffing firm Geneva Technical Services, attended college at Whittenberg University in Springfield OH and worked in the admissions office there before getting into the staffing industry.

While doing admissions for Whittenberg, McCann -- who happened to be looking for a geographical change -- saw an ad in the Chicago Tribune that GTS was looking for a technical recruiter and decided to go for it. And she's been in the industry ever since. "It's changing and exciting and interesting," she says. "That has kept me in it. I do love what I do. Quite frankly, I fell in love with the industry. It's always interesting, ever-changing. It keeps you on your toes."

When McCann was in admissions at Whittenberg, it was all about finding people who were a right fit, making sure they were a match for the school and its culture. The same is true with staffing. The only difference is that you're making sure someone fits in with a company and its culture instead.

Straight from School to Staffing
Scott Mayer, CEO of QPS Employment Group, had been in college for two years when he decided it just wasn't for him and that he was ready to enter the workforce. But he wasn't sure what he wanted to do. He saw an ad Personnel Pool (now SFN Group) had placed looking for someone to join its internal staff and ended up working there.

Mayer has been in the staffing industry since he was a teenager and doesn't plan on leaving anytime soon. "There's nothing more rewarding than helping people get back on their feet and find jobs," he says.

When Mayer was in high school, he worked for his dad and another gentleman hiring high school and college kids to sell books door to door, which gave him a business foundation. "It was a great business experience for me," he says. "It truly laid down the confidence to get a job in the staffing world."

Todd Hyken, a technical recruiter for Sapphire Technologies, got into the staffing industry two years ago, when he was fresh out of college. In fact, he got the job with Sapphire a week before he graduated. "It was a good thing walking through graduation knowing that I had a job," he says.

Hyken says he always wanted to get into HR, and recruiting was an angle that stood out for him. He interviewed with a lot of staffing companies and Sapphire stood out. "I love it," he says. "I come home with multiple stories. It's very fast-paced and the type of work I enjoy. There's always a new challenge. It just keeps me on my toes."

Hyken, who studied political science and business management in college, says that a strong work ethic and being able to learn quickly have helped him more than any classes he took. "If you can work hard and work long hours, it's definitely the right position," he says.

There isn't any kind of formal training or education for the staffing industry. High schools and colleges don't offer courses on how to get into the industry, or how to become a recruiter or a staffing company owner. No one goes off to college and majors in staffing. People often "discover" the industry or unexpectedly "wind up" in it having done something else first. And once they do, many find it's the right career for them.

What Some People Did Prior to Staffing

  • baseball
  • Welcome Wagon business
  • printing business
  • corporate event planning
  • nonprofit work
  • social work
  • nursing
  • Dairy Queen
  • environmental regulation and compliance
  • law
  • programmer and salesperson for IBM
  • account rep for a telecommunications company
  • software engineer
  • salesperson and sales trainer for technology company
  • semiconductor business
  • human resources
  • staffing company client
  • college admissions
  • college

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