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According to the 2020 State of Staffing report (and pretty much any staffing exec you talk to), building a pipeline of qualified talent is consistently one of the top challenges for staffing firms.

We’ve previously written about how referrals can play a key role in sourcing right-fit candidates — here we delve into other practices that help you build your pipeline.

1. Create ideal candidate profiles

If you were searching for a new executive assistant for your firm, you wouldn’t simply start interviewing anyone who lists “Executive Assistant” in their LinkedIn profile.

Instead, you’d talk to others on your team about the requirements, think about what qualities have worked for the position in the past, and brainstorm, specifically, the kind of person you want to see in the role.

This may seem like common sense, but, often, staffing firms don’t practice what they preach when it comes to building a solid pipeline. They waste valuable time and resources casting too wide a net.

To get clarity on who you and your team are looking for, create an ideal candidate profile for the positions you most commonly fill. This is a semi-fictional representation of the purple squirrel you’re looking for — that candidate who is guaranteed to wow the client and fits the position to a T.

Here are areas to explore when creating an ideal candidate persona:

  • Demographics: location, current job title, desired salary
  • Background and qualifications: work experience, educational background, professional interests
  • Personal attributes: the soft skills that often set candidates apart, such as character attributes, personality type, strengths/weaknesses, and interests
  • Goals: what drives them, where they see themselves in five years, what career they are seeking to build
  • Deal breakers: what drives them away, what job or company attributes would make them lose interest

You may want to find someone on LinkedIn who matches your ideal candidate profile. Whether or not they’re looking, a specific person can help you and your team align on that perfect candidate and better understand how to recruit them.

By drilling in on the specific characteristics and qualifications of your ideal candidate and articulating them in your outreach, you do more than help your team understand who they’re searching for. You also help potential candidates to self-assess and self-qualify, and your current candidates to screen who they know for appropriate referrals.

Qualified talent

2. Identify bottlenecks in your recruiting process

Have you ever found a candidate who would be ideal, only to have them snatched away by another opportunity during your screening or onboarding processes? As you know, competition for the best candidates is tight. The smallest delay in your process can be the difference between landing a candidate and letting them slip away to your competition.

Some staffing firms have lengthy processes that turn off good applicants. Taking too long to get back to a candidate or to make decisions to move them forward can translate to lost opportunities.

A great way to make sure your recruitment cycle is as fast as possible is to keep data on how talent behaves through each stage of the candidate lifecycle. Track how long it typically takes for candidates to move from sourced to placed. Pay attention also to where in the process candidates are most likely to churn.

With data in hand, you can investigate bottlenecks and better understand why candidates lag or leave. You can gain insight into where you lose the best talent, why your recruiters are ghosted, or how you’re losing out to your competition.

Armed with this information, you can implement smart solutions to improve your time to hire.

Say you notice that your candidates are hanging out for days or even weeks waiting to be certified. You could consider partnering with a solution that can provide you quicker background checks or that manages the certification process entirely.

Be on the lookout for processes that are unreliable, overly complex, or difficult to understand. For example, if your referral process has too many steps, people likely won’t follow through. 

3. Respond quickly and communicate clearly

Along with making your processes as efficient as possible, you also want to communicate transparently about them. The number one thing candidates want from recruiters is clarity on where they are in the process.

Take two candidates who are both waiting to hear back on the results of an interview. The first candidate doesn’t hear from you. Five days pass and they get a job offer from another firm. They don’t want the position as much as the one you’re offering, but because you’ve been radio silent, they take the sure thing. They’re dissatisfied and end up feeling ignored and undervalued. They don’t have a good impression of your firm, and they share that with their friends.

With the second candidate, your team communicates clearly and consistently, letting them know where the client is in the decision-making process. They get daily emails and a couple of text check-ins. They get another offer, but since they know your client is on the verge of finalizing, they ask the other firm if they can take a little time to decide. Even if they don’t ultimately end up landing the position with you, they’ll have a more favorable experience and will be more likely to want to continue working with you. Instead of losing them, you’ve strengthened the relationship.

4. Keep your brand strong with active reputation management

Let’s face it — staffing firms don’t always have the best reputation. Maybe they’ve had a poor experience with a staffing firm before (like the first candidate above) or they know someone who has.

Gaining qualified candidates means building trust with them, and keeping up activities that build a strong brand can help. This means being seen, articulating and acting on your core values, and generally working hard to help people succeed. In fact, relationship-building and transparency rank highly as success factors for staffing firms.

Qualified talent


Your current candidates who you’ve successfully placed are your best brand ambassadors, and they’re a good place to start. Instead of placing talent and forgetting about them, make sure you’re keeping up contact and nurturing all your relationships.

For example, testimonials or reviews from happily-placed candidates can be powerful marketing tools. Anyone who’s thinking about whether they want to get involved with your firm wants to know about other people’s experiences. They want insights into your company culture and a sneak peek at your recruiters. Are you one of those companies they’ve heard bad things about? Or can they expect to have a stand-out experience?

In terms of brand ambassadorship, a referral program can be an effective way to harness the enthusiasm of satisfied candidates, especially if you approach them right after placement and keep up contact thereafter. Referrals are a top source of quality candidates and rank highly for ROI. They’re a great channel for tapping into talent you may otherwise never have found.

Final thoughts

The perennial problem for all staffing firms is finding and attracting the best talent. We’re obviously huge proponents of the benefits of staffing referral programs, but it’s important to have your sourcing, recruiting lifecycle, and reputation dialed in as well.

Clarity and simplification not only helps your candidate experience but the working conditions for your recruiters, too. We’ve found that, at the end of the day, finding the right candidates often boils down to good old-fashioned hard work and relationship-building.