Career and Jobs

Meet America’s Top Recruiting And Staffing Firms 2021

For recruiting and staffing firms, this past year posed a particularly heady mix of challenges and opportunities. They had to meet the rapidly changing employment needs of their clients, all while working remotely and during the worst-ever month for recruiting firm placements, according to the American Staffing Association. Whether they were helping clients find executives to guide them through the crisis or employees to keep vital services running, recruiting and staffing firms were essential.

In partnership with Statista, Forbes took a closer look at the executive, professional and temporary staffing recruiting firms that were able to thrive in 2020 and position themselves at the front of the pack in 2021.

Despite the volatile environment, the country’s top staffing and search firms remained relatively unchanged. Los Angeles-based Korn Ferry held on to its place at the top of the executive search list, which features 200 firms specialized in filling positions with salaries of at least $100,000. Menlo Park’s Robert Half similarly maintained its No. 1 spot on the professional search list, which ranks 250 firms specialized in filling positions with salaries less than $100,000. It also secured top marks on the 150 temporary staffing list, though Troy, Michigan-headquartered Kelly Services was close behind.

“We’re in the midst of tremendous change. How we consume, how we produce, it’s all going through cataclysmic changes,” says Gary Burnison, CEO of Korn Ferry.

To weather the storm, Korn Ferry leaned heavily on its digital assessments in lieu of in-person interviews. That required it to change its thinking about culture; less emphasis on interpersonal relationships and amenities, and more on how tasks are accomplished. The new recruiting strategy had its benefits: Without travel expenses, Korn Ferry saved a significant sum, and by working from home,  the company was able to expand its international footprint. It also rolled out a career coaching subscription service, KF Advance, and $100 million in corporate diversity, equity and inclusion training.

Kelly Services also used this time to build out a robust set of DE&I practices, establishing an internal advisory council and organizing six identity-based affinity groups to develop community and focus feedback. The staffing company has also relaxed its hiring standards for candidates with criminal records. 

“We no longer automatically disqualify people with a criminal background. That’s a third of American working adults, and it’s disproportionately impacting people of color,” says Peter Quigley, the CEO of Kelly. “If somebody is convicted of check fraud, putting them in accounts payable isn’t a good idea. But if it’s a minor offense that has nothing to do with a role, we think companies are better served by what their skills can contribute.”

Like many large recruiters, Kelly’s business took a dramatic nosedive last spring, its education staffing business losing 80% of its revenue. But an increase in demand from science, healthcare and pharmaceutical employers bolstered its bottom line. Quigley is optimistic that staffing firms, and the economy as a whole, will quickly recover once schools resume in-person education.

Wayne Mello, president at Robert Half Executive Search, is similarly confident in the prospects for professional recruiting in the coming year. While the pandemic necessitated the switch to work from home, it seems to have opened as many doors as it closed. Not only did the advent of widespread telecommuting improve the productivity of Robert Half’s recruiters, but it gave its clients the chance to tap into the national labor market, allowing for better fits that satisfy employers and employees alike. “We’ve seen a lot of opportunities because it’s not a geographically limited market,” says Mello. “We’re seeing candidates from across the country. It’s a huge asset, an opportunity.”

And for many top firms, the changes brought about by the past year’s exceptional circumstances are here to stay. “We have new toys,” says Mello, “and we’re not going to be giving them up.”

Methodology

To determine the list, Statista surveyed 31,000 recruiters and 7,200 job candidates and human resources managers who had worked with recruitment agencies. Respondents were asked to nominate up to 10 recruiting firms in the executive search, professional search and temporary staffing categories. Firms could not nominate themselves; last year’s findings were considered. More than 26,000 nominations were collected, and firms with the most recommendations ranked highest.

For the full list of America’s Best Executive Recruiting Firms, click here.

For the full list of America’s Best Professional Recruiting Firms, click here.

For the full list of America’s Best Temporary Staffing Firms, click here.

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