Finding Staff through an Agency

The alternative to conducting your own search for staff is to use a domestic employment agency. There are many benefits to searching with the help of an agency and many employers would not even consider other options. The only drawback is cost, with agency fees varying based upon the salary of the employee you hire. The rest of the chapter will give you a look at why agencies are valuable, leaving you with a simple equation:

"Do the benefits of the agency equal the value of your time and money spent doing the search yourself?"

Step by Step Expertise
From start to finish an experienced placement agent can guide you through the hiring process. Chances are that an agent has placed similar service staff in another home very much like yours. They will know to bring up all of the important details concerning the position, type of personality, and work environment that make a successful placement. So the beginning or planning phase of your hiring process requires only your response to standard questions a counselor knows to ask. As you continue through the steps to find staff the agency will have suggestions pertaining to your situation that should save time and make your part very simple. Likewise, the agent will do all of the legwork, compiling the paperwork, screening the candidates thoroughly, and coordinating telephone and in-person interview schedules. They are also the perfect “buffer” in sensitive discussions between the employer and potential employees. They can be impartial and very candid with questions about personal items and salary negotiations, helping get to the point right away.

The placement agency has its greatest advantage over the individual when it comes to reaching top candidates. Most agencies market to candidates 24/7 in various publications, by constant referrals, and other direct advertising, resulting in a tremendous pool of applicants in an ever-expanding database. The individual performing a one-time search is limited to the area and time where they are searching, and will not know about the many candidates available elsewhere. This reason alone is the basis for the agency fee. The company’s overhead is based on the continual updating and searching for qualified candidates to be on “standby” for the employer with specific requirements. So a client is really not paying for the hours it takes to handle their one placement, but for the cost of keeping an “inventory” of candidates.
Selecting an agency should be based on the type of position you are trying to fill. The higher the level of applicant needed, the more reach you’ll want. There are several agencies that are capable of placing staff nationwide and some even worldwide. Check with a few agents to determine if they are comfortable to talk to, understand your needs, and have made similar placements. You might also want to use several companies to have a larger pool of candidates to review. Some agencies charge an upfront fee to begin the search for you, while others only bill once you have made a successful hire. You might also consider an agency that is able to access candidates through partner or split agreements with other agencies. This will save you from having to work with more than one person on your search and will avoid the same resumes coming from more than one source. Most high level positions will require the reach of a national agency, but some of the “support” positions are better served locally. These include live-out or part-time childcare and housecleaning. A local agency will typically have a selection of employees within driving distance that can be replaced quickly if necessary. Check your local yellow pages for their ads.

Screening Experience
The employment agency’s second function is screening the applicants they attract. Every day resumes and profiles reach the desk of a recruiter and have to be reviewed for their potential success in a new position. This is where the most time savings are offered to the client. Extensive files are created on each qualified applicant, preliminary interviews are done and strengths and weaknesses assessed to determine where they will be a good match. An agency will present a client with only the applicants they know are a fit for the position requirements and the personality of the household. Doing so allows an employer to skip the entire preliminary review process of the random resumes they would find advertising a position on their own. They need only be concerned with identifying the strongest applicant among the few carefully matched profiles from the agency. Also because the agency is continually interviewing, checking references, and compiling documents, the time from start to finish on a top-level hire is greatly reduced.

Sample Agency Timeline
Day 1
Contact one or more agencies to discuss your staffing needs. You should have a very detailed job description to give the recruiter or they can walk you through the creation of one. Have the agency contracts sent by email or fax to review terms and fees, and return signed agreements to those you wish to work with. (If a fee is due to initiate a search you may be asked for a credit card payment or to submit payment by check.) If there is an upfront registration or retainer, make sure you are clear on what to expect in return. Many clients are hesitant about paying upfront, but if you are working with a reputable agency I can assure you they are doing a tremendous amount of work on your behalf from day one. Interact with them frequently and ask many questions along the way. It will be more than worth any upfront costs, and all fees paid likely apply toward the full placement upon hire.

Day 2
The agency begins its search for qualified candidates that match your criteria. Files could be forwarded to you as early as the afternoon you return a signed agreement. It is more likely, however, that an agent will contact each candidate that seems to fit the position and re-interview them for the specific job. They will also verify the applicant’s availability and desire for the position. This step could go on for days or even weeks depending on the level of skills and unique characteristics necessary. An agent should have a good idea of who is immediately available within 24-48 hours. If the initial candidates are not suitable, more resources may be employed, such as contacting other partner agencies for resumes or placing specifically targeted advertising for the job.

Day 4-5
Ideally, within a few business days, you will be presented with a few top choices from the agent’s files for you to review. It is not uncommon to end up hiring the first or second applicant you see, because the work of the recruiter can bring the best match right to the top of the list for you. Don’t be afraid of the “one and done” scenario. When locating unique people in a specific job niche the goal is to find a suitable match and hire! Comparison shopping for staff is not the best way to produce results, and sometimes causes the loss of a great candidate. Again, consult closely with your staffing professional to make these decisions.

Day 6-7
At this stage, assuming you have received candidates that interest you, it is time to conduct interviews. Most employers speak with potential applicants by phone before meeting them in person. This is a wise idea, especially if you have to fly the prospect from another location to meet with you. By speaking on the phone you will identify the top one or two candidates to meet in person. Make travel and interview arrangements with the help of the agent or directly with the applicant yourself. It is normal and expected that all travel costs will be paid by you, the employer throughout the interview process.

Day 7-14
Conduct extensive in-person interviews with the selected candidates. Go through all of the preparation and steps suggested in the chapter on interviewing and clearly discuss all elements of the job while they are on the property. Misunderstandings about employer expectations are the greatest reason for employees leaving a new job. Make sure everyone is clear on all the details of the position. Also consider a “working interview” where a candidate can visit you for consecutive days and perform work as part of your screening process. This is most common with Chefs who will do trial cooking periods for potential employers. Anytime a person works for you, even for the sake of an interview, you must pay for their services. Arrange this in advance through your agency.

Day 14-21
Make a decision on the best employee for your needs and lifestyle, and make a formal offer. It is best to put it in writing, either right away or as a follow-up to a verbal communication of the deal. There should not be much haggling because the financial terms of the offer will be very close to the amount previously discussed with the agency and the candidate. Once the candidate accepts, set a start date and arrival time if they are traveling or relocating. Then consult with the agency to finish official background reports and identification paperwork on the new employee. All offers should be conditional on the final verification of background and references. Again, your agent can guide you through these steps. They should also be able to provide templates and help you draft all necessary documents for a proper offer and hire.

Day 21-30
Mission accomplished! Help the new employee get settled in their position and possibly the new living quarters. Welcome them to your home and give them the necessary equipment, paperwork, and information for their job. Also have a meeting with other staff to introduce the new person and explain their fit within the team. Work closely with them to convey your preferences and service needs from the start. Developing a “custom” employee will be much easier than trying to correct differences later on.

One exception to this average timetable is the Trial Period. Should you want to hire a candidate that is not presently working or that can be flexible with time off of their current job, a one or two week trial period is a good idea. This is especially relevant in positions that require cooking or specialized knowledge such as formal service. If you choose to have a trial, make sure the terms are clear, including the pay, the functions, and the schedule expected during the week(s). You can make a formal offer to a candidate during or after the trial period.

As a final note, if you don’t already have it in place, protect and simplify the employment relationship with a payroll service. The right professional service can implement all the legal paperwork and ongoing payroll processing for you. There are a number of easy options to set up things like automatic deposit, check delivery, taxes and withholding, etc. It’s really a no-brainer! Please ask us for a referral based on your location and particular needs.

Excerpt from the book, Insider's Guide to Household Staffing, 2ed. Private Staffing Secrets They DO Want You to Know. Click for more information.