[Note: This is a reprint of a Squidoo article I wrote a few years ago . . . upon which I received an email today . . . so I decided to repost.]
How are the Big-Boxes Different From Smaller, More-Targeted Firms?
What's behind the black box? How are they structured? What goes on behind closed doors? What's a typical day at the PTBBSA (Publicly-Traded Big-Box Staffing Firm) like? Instead of just coming out and giving away all the "juice", I'm going to expose "A Day in the Life of Jill, an Agency-er". From here, you'll gain a much stronger insight into what goes on at the typical "Candidate-Factory".
(Note: You may ask how I personally know what goes on at the typical PTBBSA. Great question. I am qualified to speak intelligently because I worked at one for about 120 straight days after leaving the consulting field as a co-founder of Enviant Tech Ventures. Within 48 hours of leaving the company, I was happily back on the small business owner side of the fence. I am now the Managing Director and co-founder of a talent strategy and executive search firm named LG & Associates Search / Talent Strategy. Being a small business that is not seeking capital on the financial markets, Wall Street is powerless in its ability to exert pressures on the firm that force us to negotiate compromises with our values.
Keep in mind that this is a dramatization - not all Agency-ers are as depicted in this article. The real problem is that it's just tough to find good apples in the bunch because most go on to start their own firm (or join a more ethics-driven boutique firm) where Wall Street & stockholder pressures on short-term revenues don't take precedence over the customers' and candidates' best interests.
Why did I choose the "A Day in the Life of" format? Because by doing so, I think Candidates, Hiring Managers, and Internal Recruiters will be able to draw correlations between some of their own experiences and what really goes on in the "bullpen" (translation: staffing agencies call the cubicle farm where everyone makes their daily phone calls the "bullpen".) Newsflash: Those beautiful front-offices that you meet and interview within are in stark contrast to the high-volume telemarketing setup in the back-office area.
Meet Jill - "A Day in the Life of an Agency-er"
Meet Jill. Jill is 22 years old and just started working with Z-Staff 2 months ago.
This is Jill's first "real job" out of college -- she was so excited when the managers and corporate recruiters at Z-Staff told her that she would have no problem making at least $100k her first year.
"We work with some of the best and brightest companies in the U.S., so you'll have no problem getting new business. Every company wants to work with us. Since we're publicly-traded, we have immediate credibility. Sure, you can go find a job making $50k for a 'regular' company, but Z-Staff is for people that aren't 'regular'. This is one of the only jobs that pays a 40% commission. In fact, if you're not making $100k in the first year, you're honestly not a good fit for us! Hey, this is like owning your own business! [except you're taxed by Uncle Sam at 35% after giving us our $0.60 on every dollar you bring in!]"
Jill was so blown away by the interview because she knew deep inside that she wanted more out of life. She thought that Z-Staff would be her ticket to millions, so she proudly accepted the offer of a $2500/mth 'draw' (although she didn't really know what a 'draw' meant, as this was her first real sales job). The following is the beginning of her 9th Tuesday on the job.
8:00 - 8:30: Refining the "Plan"
What is "The Plan", you ask? "The Plan" is the list of names and numbers that Jill will call today.
Before leaving work yesterday, Jill did a search on Monster for resumes with the words "HTML and Oracle" (Techies out there, stop laughing! . .. wink, wink).
From this search, Monster displayed 100 resumes with these keywords -- some of the resumes are Finance people that have worked with Oracle and built their own HTML-site on the side, some resumes are for Database Administrators that are experts with IBM DB2 (and knew that some recruiter out there would want to see the 'HTML' as well!), some resumes are for legacy mainframe candidates that have worked minimally with IBM DB2 and play with HTML on the side, etc.
Other people in "The Plan" include candidates that are in the Z-Staff company database - some were interviewed 2 years ago, while some were called just yesterday by a co-worker (who isn't going to be happy that Jill has 'stolen their candidate' and put them in her plan).
8:30 - 9:00 Training and "Get Motivated" Time
This is where Jill's manager wants to know who's in her plan. Typical questions sound like the following . . .
Manager Mike: "Jill, did you search on Google to learn more about IBM DB2 and what it is? If you keep asking about HTML and Microsoft Word experience, you're going to keep getting hang-ups. By the way, what is your Big Mission today? How about your Little Mission?"
Jill still doesn't really understand much about IT. Her Z-Staff recruiter told her that it would be a "piece of cake" to pick up the differences in types of positions, responsibilities and technologies, but she only had 1 junior-level IT course in her Liberal Arts undergrad. She mostly remembers the recruiter telling her, "We don't care if you know technology or not - we're just looking for people who can sell."
Present at the meeting are her 'team' co-workers: John (a Z-Staff "Top Performer" who is at the office 18 hours per day), Vinnie (a previous car salesman who knows less about technology than her, yet is the 'slickest' talker she's ever heard tell a lie), and Jane (a former telemarketer who used to sell annuity-based life insurance policies to the elderly).
Jill: "My Big Mission is to recruit an HTML Programmer. My 2nd Big Mission is to let you know 5 companies that are hiring by asking my candidates where they're interviewing - I know that this is the information you need so you can call them and get the Job Order. My minor mission is to find out where John Smith is now working by getting more references from my candidates."
Manager Mike: "Great, Jill. I really need to find out those companies that are hiring - where you can, tell your candidate that they shouldn't take the job there - this way, we have a better chance of getting one of OUR candidates in there due to the fee we'll make for the placement. Also, give me any references with the title Manager, Director, VP, or above - this is how we get business.
You must do everything you can to find out the names of the people doing the interviewing at the places your candidates are trying to get jobs. This is one of the keys to our business. The faster you learn how to get what you want out of candidates, the faster you'll be on your way to being a big biller like your co-worker John."
Manager Mike (continues): "Remember, cold calling is all about being motivated. Make the candidate say no at least 3 times, and if they do, you just have to remember that the average here is 500 No's to get a Yes! That means that you technically make $1 every time somebody says No! Ok, get fired up and hit those phones!"
9:00 - 11:00: Calling the People in "The Plan"
"The Plan" consists of 100 names and numbers of today's lucky candidates!
Jill makes a call approximately every 2 minutes to all the people in "The Plan" - when she gets them on the line, she used the script that Manager Mike provided her on her first day or work:
"Hi, Mr. Candidate - My name is Jill and I work with Z-Staff. Have you heard of Z-Staff? Oh, you haven't? Wow - I can't belive it! We're ONLY the largest staffing firm specializing in blah, blah, blah . . . So the reason I'm calling today, Mr. Candidate, is because someone told me you're great with HTML and that you have made websites with IBM DB2, too. Is that true?"
(From this point, there is normally a hang-up or a laugh from the candidate, but there is one exception to this rule -- the exception is the candidate that truly hates their job so much that they'll talk to Jill despite the fact that they know she has no clue what they do.)
11:00 - 12:00: Interviewing Candidates
Time to meet the candidates hoping that they're interviewing for an actual open position!
Jill's been informed that in order to meet her Robotic Performance Points, "RPPs'", she must bring in between 10 - 15 people per week so that she can get their references and find out where they're interviewing. Like the good employee she is, she tells every candidate what Manager Mike made her recite 1000 times thus far:
"Mr. Candidate, we're not like the other staffing firms out there. We want to build a relationship with you, and that's why we bring everyone in and meet them face-to-face. After you give me your references, I will do a check and find out if we have anything for you. If not, I'll put you in my database and call you if I find a match. Yes, I know it took you an hour to drive out here, but isn't your future worth a few hours in the car? By the way, who did you say you interviewed with over at Widget Company?"
When the candidate hesitates, Jill pulls Manager Mike's famous 'Candidate-Riddler': "We work with Widget Company all the time. Did you meet with Mr. Orange over there?"
Candidate: "No, I actually met with Mr. Pink." From here, Jill writes down the name for an immediate hand-off to Manager Mike when she gets back to the bullpen.
Candidate: "But Jill, you mean we're done? I thought you had a position in mind when you called me yesterday afternoon to set up this morning's face-to-face interview?"
Jill: "Oh yeah, that position. I forgot to tell you that the position was filled about 2 minutes after I got off the phone with you yesterday, but I was so impressed by your verbal presentation that I just had to meet you. But please don't worry, you're in our database now, and we have new positions all the time. Just be sure to email me back the reference sheet as we don't represent any candidates that we haven't reference checked. As soon as I do that, I will approve your profile in our system."
12:00 - 1:00: Lunch Time
Jill goes to lunch with Jane, who always has the "hot scoop" around the office.
Jill goes to lunch with Jane, who gives Jill the scoop on who is sleeping with who in the office, who stabbed who in the back by stealing their candidate, who shouldn't have the right to be a manager because Jane has "billed more than them this year", what candidates asked her out this week, etc. Jill then finds out the rumor that Manager Mike has a reputation for hiring younger girls in order to "keep morale high among the male big billers." (Jane: "But don't tell anyone I told you, Jill. You have to keep this between us.")
From this point, Jill is slightly pushed back, but it gets better. Jane tells Jill to not tell anyone that they went to lunch, either - "If they don't know we went together, I can say that I went to meet a candidate for lunch and charge back all the expenses for our lunch today. I can even charge them back for the gas mileage to get here!" When Jill objects, Jane continues, "Look Jill - you have to look out for yourself. I mean, you're paying them 60% of every deal you make, so you might as well learn how to play the game to get some of that money back!"
1:00 - 2:00 "Get New Business" Time
It's time for the 1-hour "candidate marketing blitz" - a method used to get new business quickly.
Jill knows that Manager Mike told her that she has to generate a new "Job Order" per day - if she doesn't, she might not make her weekly RPPs.
Manager Mike taught Jill to look over job descriptions and "just make up a candidate that sounds like they'd be a super fit" (by reviewing all of the job 'must-haves'). Most clients hang up on Jill immediately because they get 100 calls a day from different Z-Staff employees (for some of these companies, they don't appreciate the fact that Z-Staff employees have been caught calling into the company in the middle of the day to recruit their employees.) However, 1 out of the 25 clients that Jill calls thinks the candidate sounds good -- "Wow, we'd like to speak with this candidate! By the way, are you new at Z-Staff? I never know who is still working there or not!"
From here, Jill jumps up and hollars, "I think I have a Job Order", and tells Manager Mike she is transferring him the call. "Hi, Mr. Client, this is Manager Mike of Z-Staff. Can I help you? . . . Sure, we will send that candidate in for an interview ASAP . . . right after you sign this fee agreement entitling us to 45% of the first year's base."
After some intense negotiating, Manager Mike accepts a 30% fee - however, he tells Jill, "Just don't send your best candidates there - we have others that are willing to pay 40%, so they get first dibs on the best people, regardless of match."
2:00 - 4:00 Back to Calling People in "The Plan"
Time to pound the phones looking for candidate "fresh meat" again.
After Jill puts her "Job Order" on the Mystical Job Order Board, she then goes back to calling people in "The Plan". Every once in a while, someone that really hates their job will talk to her, despite her asking them, "So have you been an HTML programming for a while now?"
The Market VP, Mr. Biggs, stops over by her desk and acts interested in her progress. "You're coming along nicely, Jill. But remember: This business isn't about making friends. It's about making placements. By the end of the day, let me know how many submittals you have for next week." (translation: a "submittal" is a resume presentation to a client.)
Jill worries because she has a feeling Mr. Biggs looks at the Z-Staff staff like a bunch of union factory workers or commodities. She can tell that his experience has been with either another staffing firm or a fast-food restaurant (where turnover is insanely high). Jill has also heard the 'word on the street' in the office that Mr. Biggs is known for doing his fair share of firing.
As Mr. Biggs walks through the office, she hears him drill the other 'new people', "Jim, what's closest to the money?", "Lucy, what's closest to the money?", "Tony, what's closest to the money?", "Everyone, you need to keep in your mind all day, every day, exactly what is closest to the money!!!"
Jill thinks to herself that this is probably a good sales principle - after all, it's important to have a grasp of your sales pipeline. However, Mr. Biggs carries himself with a transparent lack of integrity and care for his staff that she finds herself watching him float around the office out of the corner of her eye more times than not. She wonders if this lack of authentic leadership ability is intentional - does a leader like Mr. Biggs help permeate the corporate culture of constantly wondering who you can and cannot trust?
4:00 - 4:30 Time to Call the Client with Bad News about the Fake Candidate
Time to find a way out of having to show contact information of the fake candidate!
Manager Mike tells Jill to call her new client back and say that the candidate they were interested in just took a job with another company (or they failed a background check, etc.).
But Mike informs Jill, "The point wasn't to place the candidate you marketed to them this morning because that candidate doesn't even exist. The point is to get the business and then work hard to fill the job! Be sure to let them know that we have other, much stronger candidates, so there is no reason to worry."
Jill: "Manager Mike, isn't that lying?"
Manager Mike" "Lying? How could that be lying? You're trying to help them fill a need!"
Before picking up the phone to call the client, John (a Z-Staff "Top Performer") states, "Jill, I already have 5 great candidates for that position, so don't even bother recruiting on it. I already have it covered. Besides, that was my client company from 2 years ago, and this placement is going to get me on the Top Performer Trip this year." Jill realizes this is under-handed, but after all, she knows the corporate culture looks down upon questioning a Z-Staff Top Performer. She also notices that Mr. Biggs has taken a newfound interest in their conversation - she finds it odd that he is pecking at an oversized calculator to figure out his bonus potential ('commission override') based on the placement.
What bothers Jill about this most is that John has a track record of "throwing resumes at clients" belonging to candidates that are in the top end of the client's salary range (instead of who is truly the right person for the job). Just yesterday, she heard John say, "Manager Mike, I have 3 great candidates that are in the low end of the range, but I'm going to sell the most expensive candidate as hard as I can so we make a higher fee with the placement."
4:30 - 5:00 Debriefing the Day
Jill's co-worker, John, finally speaks to her . . . and Manager Mike is very disappointed.
During the daily debrief (a meeting at the end of the day), Jill's coworker, John, complains that Jill "called his candidate today". Jill states that she didn't know because the note in the system showed that John had never physically spoken to the candidate (although there is a note that he did try to reach the candidate 29 days ago, but got no answer).
John says, "Look, Jill. This isn't in the 'Rules of Engagement' manual, but it's an unwritten principle that you don't call any candidates unless one of us hasn't spoken to them in more than 30 days. This is especially true for a Top Performer like me - nobody steps on my toes. I called that candidate 29 days ago, so they're still mine. You have to turn the deal over to me, as it's my commission - the bottom line is that Jimmy is my candidate, not yours." Jill figures that John must be right -- after all, he's known around the office as "John, The Shark" and is a "Z-Staff Top Performer." Since he doesn't acknowledge her as a team member much (or her very existence), she just tries to learn what she can from him.
Jill also gets reprimanded by Manager Mike for not providing the names of the hiring managers at the companies where her candidates are interviewing. Jill: "But Manager Mike, they wouldn't give me the specifics on the names- I know you told me to not let them leave until I got this information, but I had some tough candidates today. One candidate even got up and walked out and I had a feeling I was going to get in trouble for that!"
Manager Mike comments, "Look, I hear these excuses from new people all the time - Jill, not everybody is cut out for this business, so you have to think about it real hard if you want to become a Z-Staff Top Performer."
5:00 - 6:00 Time to Make Tomorrow's Plan
Jill begins work on a new plan, just like today's, but begins to notice a stench . . .
Jill begins work on tomorrow's plan, however she has a bad taste in her mouth about what she was reprimanded for by Manager Mike. What's worse is the residual stench she's started noticing around the office. Although she played team sports growing up and was a collegiate cheerleader, there was an aura in the office that reeked of something much different than healthy competitiveness.
Her mind flashes back to her interview and what she was told about easily making $100k her first year. She also remembers the way that other employees looked at her for being "new" on her first day at the office. Although she graduated with honors and had always been an over-achiever, she didn't feel that she was surrounded by others like herself in the 'bullpen'. The offices she was interviewed in were nothing like the cubicle-farm she would be working in - likewise, the individuals that interviewed and sold her on the opportunity were nothing like the people she'd be working with on a day-to-day basis.
She thinks about John's recurring complaints about her "stealing his candidates", as well as the resistance she gets from her candidates when she asks them for the Z-Staff standard of 10 references.
Although she hasn't made it through the 9th week on the job, Jill also thinks about how John benefited from the last employee to "not make it" at Z-Staff. As soon as the employee left, John started calling all their clients that day saying, "I'm your new account manager as we've upgraded the importance of your account to Z-Staff." Jill begins to ponder, "Is this the way that the supposed Z-Staff Top Performers act? Is this the way they build their client base? Are they really top performers . . . or are they just leveraging the hard work of the new people that "don't make it"?" Her mind then ponders what it truly means to "make it", anyway.?.
Everything is beginning to make sense, and as her conscious mind begins processing and "making sense" of where she is currently working, the stench flowing through the office mushrooms to a state of non-bearability.
And then, in an instant, Jill has an epiphany that she will no longer be content with trading her integrity for income.
6:00 - 6:15 Jill Has a Realization
It Took 8 Weeks, But Now Jill Can See Beyond the "Smoke and Mirrors"
As Jill gathers the rest of her belongings, she begins to have a feeling of weight lifting from her shoulders. She watches John continue to make dial after dial, his headset scratched, worn, and sweaty. She thinks to tell him that she won't be back tomorrow, but she figures that he'll be the first to know and capitalize on it first thing in the morning anyway - after all, he probably has a contingency plan already in place (as he has so many times before when Z-Staff employees "didn't make it.") She even wonders is John's personal development is tied to leveraging the hard work of the new people that either "don't make it" (and/or those individuals that decide "making it" isn't worth negotiating compromises with their values.)
Although Jill has only been there for a full 8-weeks, she has learned more about herself and the exploits of capitalism and Corporate America than she could have in any other way. However, she just hopes that the stigma of working with Z-Staff doesn't negatively impact her chances of finding a new opportunity in the future. She has faith that she can overcome this if it happens to be the case, but she wonders how she'll look at PTBBSAs' when she's in a hiring capacity down the road.
6:15 - 6:20 Jill Won't Be Coming Back . . . And It Feels Pretty Good.
As she peers across the parking lot, she sees all the cars of the "new people" still there.
She knows that most of the "new people" are going to be there until 9:00 or later that night. However, Manager Mike left promptly at 5:30 (as he always does) and Mr. Biggs never came to the office today - he had a promotional golf outing to attend.
As Jill makes a left out of the parking lot, she smiles as her days of 60 hr+ weeks and feeling like a predatory "wolf in sheep's clothing", are over. And it already feels pretty darn good, but not as good as it does to have her integrity back.
UPDATE: Wow, I've Had Some Serious Response To This Squidoo!!!
[It's Like The Emperor Realizing He Has No Clothes!]
Yes, I've received some hate-mail from Agency-ers. But I've also developed deeper relationships with candidates and companies who now know the "real deal." For any Agencies/Agency-ers that get upset at this, I offer the following: Instead of getting upset that your secrets are now public domain, channel your energy and do something today to change this unscrupulous behavior.
As a Sergeant in the Marines, I learned firsthand that one person can make a difference - it all starts with you. So instead of complaining, get off your *ss, take a good look in the mirror, stop lying to yourself (as well as your candidates and clients), and do actually something constructive about it.
Leadership starts with integrity, character, and honor - from here, you can begin to exert influence. Bottom line: Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way.
As for me, I'll just keep running my business ethically. My intent is to follow this Squidoo up soon with a lens about the things we should all be doing to improve the perception of our industry (both as firms and search consultants alike) - it all starts with us at the individual level.