Urban Legend: “Temp to Perm”

From recent Reuters piece by Kristina Cooke on temporary workers:

“Randstad, the world’s second-biggest staffing firm… said more of its clients than in prior recoveries are using a “temp to perm” approach to hiring, to try the employee out before committing to taking them on.”

My experience: “temp to perm” is an urban legend, not a successful hiring strategy.

Could this be different? Maybe. You’d have to employ the same vetting process you’d use with a candidate for a permanent role.

Frame the challenge correctly. When think it will be easy to release a temp, it’s seductive to settle for “good enough.”  Your goal is to find a good fit for the role, and a 60% qualified candidate is not better because they’ll be temporary: use the same criteria for all candidates.

Use discipline in the interview and due diligence process. There’s no upside to sloppy hiring.

I watched a boss agonize — and finally release — a temporary worker who had been, generously, a 40% fit. A rumor arose (possibly not true) that the worker had interviewed at a competitor, and had failed their security check. The truth: the firm that connected her to us had not done this check.  Neither had we.

Understand “sunk cost.” Know how long it takes to become proficient. If the job is sorting green M&Ms from red ones, maybe not long: most jobs are more complex. You and your team will invest significant time to train any candidate; this will be a sunk cost. Set clear benchmarks for 30-60-90 day progress. Know what you’ll do if they’re not met.

Consider human nature. Once someone has shared family photos and stopped off with us at the pub, they’ve started to become part of our team. This is good! And it complicates our decision. Is letting go of a temp “easier” for you?  Really?

Remember: agencies are selling. Caveat emptor.

As a manager in a group where our leaders encouraged “temp to perm,” we had interviewed many people for a role requiring an extremely specific skill set. Finally, an agency sent us someone with exactly the right experience, as evidenced by a bullet point on his resume: yet when I asked him about it, he seemed to not understand me. I referred to his resume, and the poor guy became very uncomfortable. He said that he didn’t know what the bullet point meant; the temp agency had written the resume.

Rather than “temp to perm,” I  advocate a 90-day probationary policy for new hires. And using it.

What do you think? Do you know firms where “temp to perm” works well?

(Temporary Elation, by emilio labrador, used under Creative Commons License.   Wow, emilio’s photos are awesome!   I love flickr.)

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