Hiring a staffing agency is easy. Simply let the market know you have open positions, and account managers from staffing firms will call you to tell you they can fill you jobs with the best people.
Like most corporate decisions, the time-crunched decision maker is forced to rely on salespeople to decide who is the best fit for the company. That process isn't going to change, but one that might is the questions that staffing firms are asked before they are given open positions.
Rob Neelbauer of Job Matchbox writes on the subject of questioning your staffing firm before giving them open reqs, and as a former recruiter and current hiring manager/owner, he has a unique perspective.
For example, in my recent interviews of recruiters I spoke with
recruiters who represented that they knew all about different things in
the tech world. So I asked them questions that were telling. I asked
them if they used Facebook. If they said no then I asked them if they
knew what Web 2.0. You would not believe what kinds of answers I got
back. My personal favorite has been the recruiter that doesn’t use
Facebook but knows how to recruit Facebook developers. The bottom line
here if you don’t ask then you will not receive.
Now to be fair, salespeople don't have to be on Facebook to recruit Facebook developers. They have recruiters to do that, and the ability to code Facebook Apps can be found by recruiters with no knowledge of the site. It is possible, but is it likely? Robert as a business owner has to make a decision whether to use a recruiter. His cost is his time. Should he give his time away to a salesperson who doesn't even have a passing acquaintance with the industry Robert works in?
A good recruiter can find anyone, and I don't buy into the idea that you have to know how to code Java to be a good Java recruiter. But you do have to know something about software development to be able to screen people effectively. So Robert passed on those recruiters.
The real question is what is the best method for screening recruiters? What are the criteria for establishing a good relationship with a firm. My hunch is that our "hunches" about what makes a good recruiter are dead wrong. I wonder if anyone has done benchmarking on the actual effectiveness of staffing firms. What make a strong recruiting fit?
Update: Rob has further thoughts on Q&A for your Staffing firm.