How Do I... Hire a Temp?

When the economy's looking bleak and unemployment is rising, that often means there's a bumper crop of workers available through temporary staffing firms, which can valuable to small businesses.

Many job seekers are attracted to the benefits offered by temp agencies and hope to connect to the right job or bide their time in the temp worker world until firms start hiring full-timers again.

Small businesses can tap into temp help as projects ebb and flow, without having to add the expense of a full-time salaried employee.

Temp workers can make sense for a firm "if there's any uncertainty and a business is not willing to make a long-term commitment to add on a full-salaried employee right away," said Helen Stefan Moreau, president of the Midtown Group . "You can always hire a temp with the possibility of bringing that person on full-time. It's a good way to try out a situation and it can last a week to six months if you want."

However, be aware that most placement agencies do charge a fee if a temporary worker converts to a full-time salaried employee at a firm.

Stefan Moreau touted the cost-savings benefits of a temp: "You're only paying for them when you actually see them, and you're not paying for the downtime. If you don't have enough workflow [and you hire a full-time, salaried employee], you're dealing with carrying someone or terminating them and paying the unemployment."

Stefan Moreau, who founded her company in 1989 in a small office with a card table, understands what it's like to be the owner of a start-up. Midtown Group now employs about 30 people in D.C. and just opened a five-person office in Chicago. Her stable of temp workers extends to more than 100 and she works with more than 300 businesses nationwide.

She said a small firm should consider the duration of a project when trying to determine if hiring a temp worker makes sense. For example, if it's a law firm that has a case going to trial it might be hard to know if extra work will be available for just six months or a year.

"In the D.C. area, there are a lot of small law firms, non-profits, associations and government affairs offices that are working on projects that need to bolster their workforces for a short amount of time," said Stefan Moreau. She's currently got one tax preparer client that has added 40 short-term workers to get through tax season and, she noted, with summer around the corner, there soon will be a flood of college students looking for work. Many of her clients are businesses with fewer than 20 employees.

She offers these tips for a small business looking to start a relationship with a placement agency. Make sure the placement agency:

* Has full liability insurance and covers workers compensation.

* Conducts background checks and speaks with employee references. If necessary, ask to speak to the potential employee's references. (You can also ask for references of the placement agency itself.)

* Offers an employee screening process. Midtown Group requires all temporary employees to sign a document agreeing to its policies.

* Offers workers with security clearance levels, if applicable to your line of work.

* Discloses all fees up-front. For example, many agencies scale down the fees the longer a temp worker is employed at a business.

Stefan offers these tips for a small business looking to hire a temp worker:

* Be sure to fully describe the needs of a particular position as well as a time-frame for that worker. "Letting us know in advance if there's potential for becoming a direct hire helps us in filling the position with the correct person," she said.

* Meet with the temporary agency and view it as "a partner and an extension of the firm - even if it's a five- or 10-minute meeting," she said.

* Don't assume temps are just for gift-wrapping around the holiday season, although that group certainly comes in handy. There are highly-qualified professionals working for temp firms who have been affected by downsizing.

* Feedback from the client to the temp agency is important. "We prefer to know in advance if there's someone who's not a fit," said Stefan Moreau. "It doesn't work out for anyone if at the end of 90 days for example, the clients says 'that person was terrible.'"

By Sharon McLoone |  April 1, 2008; 3:10 PM ET How Do I...
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