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I have compiled a sampling of questions (from my book) to help you when interviewing a staffing service. Naturally, the areas that are most important to you and your company will drive which questions you need to ask.

If you are not in the market for a new staffing service, perhaps you may want to circle back to your present staffing service and clarify certain points with them, if they were not previously discussed. (more…)

As the business community sheds recruiters from full-time positions, many organizations bring on contract recruiters to use when required and dump when not required. I am here to help you to avoid making one of life’s more miserable career decisions: becoming a contact recruiter. Here’s the advice:

Do not ever become a contract recruiter.

Allow me to repeat. (The gravity of the situation bears repeating, and you just might thank me some day.) Do not ever become a contract recruiter.

Now let me tell you why.

The allure of contract recruiting can be seductive. It offers variety, oftentimes far more cash, and the ability to take control of one’s life and career. Incorporate in Delaware, anoint yourself as President, and off you go. The reasons to jump into this situation have broad appeal … to the recruiter who has grown bored, to the recruiter who is between jobs, or to the recruiter who fancies themselves as a visionary who wants to change the world. (Count me in that last category, and, by the way, you will change nothing. Zero.) A few quick illusionary examples for your consideration:

  • You can now work when you want to work and play when you want to play — all while avoiding the corporate politics. (Work half the year, lunch with LaBron James, the other half. Sounds like fun?)
  • You can act as a consultant and have access to senior-level management on talent acquisition strategy. (Finally, people who will see your brilliance.)
  • You can supercharge your career by being in a number of organizations over a short time, do great things, and bring all of this to your next full-time gig. (Finally, a shot at the big recruiting jobs!)

It sounds lovely, but the downside of this career move far outweighs the upside. So let me give you five reasons why contract recruiting is almost surely a bad thing for you.

  1. Unrealistic Expectations. Contract recruiters are usually brought in at the very last moment (translation — way too late) and are expected to go at breakneck speed and hire a number of hard-to-find people with minimal tools. Good recruiting takes time, and there are few shortcuts. Hire 12 to 14 software/IT types in four weeks? This is dumb.
  1. Recruiting as Magic. The demands placed upon contract recruiters can be astonishing. The expectations and level of desperation from hiring managers who absolutely hate the HR/recruiting function at said client lie with you and they expect miracles. The expectation of miracles by either you or the client is a poor strategy.
  1. Call Your Network. Call my network? Do you think that contract recruiters come into an organization with a virtual rolodex of people who we can simply dial up and tell them to come and join us in this new and wonderful place? We are recruiters, not magicians. As an aside, almost all clients are astonished that the best and the brightest do not want to stand in line to work at their company. When the time comes to sit down with the client and tell them that they are not viewed well in the industry, use old technology, or have a product that is not sexy, let’s just say it will not be a very good day for you.
  1. You Have No Relationships. Making hires takes some fundamental knowledge of the organization as well as the people who you can count on to help to make this happen. When you contract, you go into the organization cold and are devoid of said relationships. This lack of organizational grease only slows down your results as key people vacation/travel and job descriptions endlessly change. Candidates seethe as they wait for an offer, and hiring managers are not too pleased either. (Can you feel the love yet?)
  1. Billing, Marketing, Benefits, etc. You alone are responsible for your next gig. You alone must do the marketing, the billing, and the collecting. You are also responsible for the taxes and enhanced insurance required to run your own shop. This can be expensive, time-consuming, and very frustrating. You seldom have any of the benefits you are used to, like health care or a paid day off. Finance pays slowly, as you are now just a vendor. If you have a family or a mortgage, this is not a way to live.

With few exceptions, most organizations that go from hiring one contractor to hiring another are places that neither value nor understand the role recruiting plays in building great organizations. Simply put, they do not get it. If you try to explain it, their eyes glaze over. Their manpower planning is poor. They see recruiting as an unpleasant expense as opposed to an investment. This is often why they need contractors — because they have neither the brains nor the foresight to value those individuals who find the employees they need to be successful. All of this creates a wretched situation that pleases no one and often leads to much angst.

If you ever choose this road be sure it is absolutely necessary, stay for the shortest possible time and get back to a full-time gig, because doing this for a career is a very bad deal.

While all eyes last week were focused on the disappointing March job numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the report contained a curious blip that might be nothing more than a statistical aberration. Or it could be an early signal of employment trouble ahead.

The usually robust growth in temp jobs took a breather in March. Temp jobs dipped by 7,500 during the month, the first time since June the monthly employment report registered a decline. Out of a temp workforce of some 2.5 million, the drop is practically unnoticeable. But considering that staffing jobs grew by 91,300 in January and February, a reduction of any size is significant.

Recent history is also a factor. Looking at April 2011, the monthly jobs report said 251,000 jobs were created, the biggest rise since the census hiring of 12 months earlier. But that same report also showed the first decline in temp jobs in 19 months. Then in May, the economy added a mere 54,000 jobs. It was months before the pace of hiring returned to what it was in the first quarter of the year when 662,000 jobs were created.

Cautious employers can be forgiven therefore if they react as if last week’s Labor Department report were an omen.

Here, though, is where reading the economic tea leaves gets dicey: There were 8 percent more temp and contract jobs in March than a year ago. That’s well ahead of the overall jobs growth rate, which, in a year-over-year comparison comes to just under 1.4 percent. And then there’s the non-seasonally adjusted numbers to consider. While the headlines and most economists focus on the seasonally adjusted numbers, the U.S. Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics issues a second set of numbers that are the raw results of its job counts. (A detailed explanation of the differences between the two is available here. The short version is that the adjustment removes some of the effects of seasonal events like weather, and holidays, and school years from the numbers.)

Using the unadjusted numbers, the staffing industry added 29,400 jobs in March. Year-over-year, the increase in temp and contract staffing hit 8.5 percent. For comparison, the unadjusted numbers put the total new jobs count at 81,100 last month.

“For the most part, staffing firms continued to see healthy demand in March, as was reflected by the nonseasonally adjusted BLS employment numbers,” says Richard Wahlquist, president and chief executive officer of the American Staffing Association. “In the current environment, businesses are understandably cautious about when and how to add additional flexible and permanent staff.”

While temp hiring is one of the early indicators of a job recovery, and the pace of temp hiring offers insights into what the future may hold, other signs offer a little more optimistic view than does a single month of data. Before last week’s report, CareerBuilder offered an upbeat view of employment in the current quarter. After surveying some 2,300 HR professionals and hiring managers, CareerBuilder says 30 percent of employers plan to increase their full-time, permanent workforce. Even more — 34 percent — expect they’ll bring on more temps and contract workers.

In Q1, 37 percent of employers hired more temps, an eight-point increase over the 29 percent who hired temps in Q1 last year. The company also says 31 percent of employers report not being to find qualified employees to fill open jobs. That’s up from the 24 percent who said that last year.

Two other bits of government recruiting industry data are worth noting. One is the month-to-month count of workers employed in executive search; the other is the count of those working at placement agencies. Counted in this latter category are employees of chauffeur services, nurse registries, employment firms, state job service offices, casting agencies, and the like.

Unlike staffing hires, the changes in these industry segments are of dubious predictive value. However, the number of workers employed in both categories has been going up. In February, there were 31,500 workers employed by search firms. That’s 700 more than the average for all of last year. (The data for these sectors runs a month behind the national jobs numbers.)

The challenge in looking at employment in search firms is to decide how much of the change is impacted by corporate in-sourcing of search, versus economic belt-tightening, versus business expansion. In that light, it probably is of significance to note there are more jobs at executive search firms today than at almost any other time in the last 10 years. From that, it seems safe to say that whatever trend there is for corporations to in-source their executive and other hard-to-fill positions, it hasn’t impacted search firms as much as some thought.

Placement agencies have also added workers, though divining the significance is tricky because some placement services — government offices, for instance — added workers to assist the unemployed as the economy was tanking. That said, there is evidence that employment in this category does move in some rhythm with general economic conditions. In 2007, just before the official start of the recession, there were an average of 277,400 workers. Two years later, the average fell to 200,200 workers.

Jobs began returning early in 2010 and the growth continued in all but two months of last year. As of February, there were 240,800 workers employed in the employment placement agencies category.

“Unemployment is expected to remain above 8 percent for the next four years.” That gloomy assessment of the U.S. economy from FedEx Chief Economist Gene Huang is echoed in any number of reports and economic predictions.

“Most predictions,” says an economic analysis by the Society for Human Resource Management, “are less optimistic now than they were when 2011 began.”

What especially worries economists is whether the slow job growth is due to employer cautiousness — in which case growth will accelerate when economic confidence returns — or whether it is structural, meaning some jobs have been permanently eliminated, much the way automation obsoleted elevator operators.

“It is a fair bet that aggregate demand remains the main problem while pockets of skills mismatches persist, despite the high number of job seekers,” says the SHRM analysis.

The latest economist to weigh in is Gad Levanon, director of macroeconomic research for The Conference Board. Last week, he dissected recoveries of the past to examine the rate of job growth across multiple industries. What he found is that “the current employment recovery is the second slowest on record.”

His analysis led him to conclude that job growth this year is going to be a lot like last year.

Like Huang, the St. Louis Federal Reserve doesn’t see unemployment moving much below 7 percent before 2014 and even then, the Fed says it might even be up around 8 percent. That’s despite the Fed’s guess that real GDP is likely to be over 3 percent, possibly even up to around 4 percent.

Levanon’s analysis, though, offered some support for the SHRM view that it is weak demand that’s limiting job growth. One look at the chart and two things jump out. The first is how small the percentages are now compared to recoveries of the 60s, 70s, and 80s. The other is how robust the growth in temporary workers is.

The latter is a good sign. It suggests, at least, that the current pace of job growth is likely to continue. While a nearly 32 percent growth in temporary staffing since June 2009 would historically signal a spurt in full-time job growth, that may not be the case in this recovery. Instead, it may evidence that some structural changes are occurring in how employers manage their workforce.

This is not the same as automation eliminating jobs, but is a response to business cycles — as when retailers add staff in the fall for the holiday season — or project-based needs, or the natural ebb and flow. In other words, more employers may be including the use of temps as a strategic part of their workforce, and not merely as a precursor to fulltime hiring.

This so-called “secular growth” theory is certainly debatable. A Morgan Stanley research paper last spring challenged the notion that temporary and contract workers are becoming a strategic part of corporate employment in the U.S. and worldwide.

However, in a provocative and data-laden analysis of the staffing industry, BMO Capital Markets says “it may be different this time.” While the firm doubted the secular growth notion, now it’s not so sure. The research report issued earlier this month says:

However, by this point in the cycle, we should have seen a significant switch from “temp” to “perm,” but we have not; temp jobs represented nearly 15% of totals jobs added in the current recovery – by far the highest of the first 21 months in the past six post-recession periods – and given the current sluggish rebound, total employment may not return to its pre-recession peak for the first time ever.

There’s evidence now, says BMO, that the proponents of secular growth may be right “and the industry is seeing some secular growth as corporations use temporary staffing more strategically as part of their overall human resource policies.”

I was just reviewing the predictions I made for 2011 written at roughly this time a year ago. Much of what I thought would happen unfolded as expected, except for talent management. I had thought there would more focus on integrating the employee development and recruitment functions, and more internal hiring. I still think that’s on tap for this year. I was on target regarding hiring: There was no great uptick in the volume of hiring, and unemployment remained static. And I was on target with predicting that social media would be core to recruiting success and that RPOs would thrive.

Over the past two years, the way we think about work has changed. Perhaps accelerated by the recession, there is more focus now on finding satisfying and rewarding work than on just finding a job that pays the most.

More people are thinking about finding something interesting, challenging, and perhaps even fun to do that provides enough income. The key words here are interesting/challenging and enough. Fewer expect to get rich and there is less focus on the money. There is more focus on lifestyle, flexibility, free time to pursue other learning or hobbies or sports, and less interest in family. I’ll do more columns on these trends soon, but partly because of them here are the major changes that I see happening this year.

Internal Recruiting Goes Mainstream

Perhaps one of the most significant trends will be a greater focus on finding current employees to fill existing jobs. Rather than continue time-consuming and expensive external searches, more hiring managers will opt to go with an almost-ready internal candidate who is a good cultural fit and is willing to learn fast. Although hiring managers may push back at this, management will encourage it, and the increasing difficulty in finding and recruiting top talent will help accelerate the trend.

Over the next few years there will be a move to enlarge the skills of current employees so they can be moved around to different functions as demand fluctuates. Employee development will morph from delivering training, to providing accelerated apprenticeships, developing simulations, and finding ways to encourage informal and on-the-job learning.

Recruiters should focus on encouraging hiring managers to look at these internal employees, encourage them to hire internally, and develop better internal talent communities to expose hiring managers to talented employees and employees to opportunities.

Social Goes Mobile

When recruiting does look externally, more of it will happen on mobile devices. The explosion of Android and iPhone apps means fewer potential candidates will be using traditional computers.

Clearly candidates with technical edge and savvy — the ones you are probably the most interested in hiring — will be spending most of their time on smart phones, iPads, and other tablets. If you have not developed specific recruiting apps that take advantage of these mobile platforms, you will be at a disadvantage as we roll into the middle of 2012.

More applicant tracking systems are now capable of using a social profile rather than a resume, and as most candidates already have such a profile it only makes sense that they use it to apply for a position.

Everything from branding to screening to even doing interviews is moving to mobile platforms and using such things as simulations, video, and chat. Twitter, Google, Facebook, and other major players will introduce more mobile apps and functionality during this year.

By the end of 2012, the traditional career site will be mostly obsolete. If it exists at all will be little more than the place where the candidate makes the formal application. Smart firms will make everything they do mobile-friendly and compatible and encourage candidates to interact more with hiring managers, other employees, and even alumni in online forums, chat rooms, Twitter chats, and via video, Skype, and other similar media.

Just-in-time Sourcing and Recruiting

Sourcing has already moved from searching static databases to using social media, and this trend will continue to grow. Rather than build proprietary databases or talent pools, recruiters can participate in and look for potential candidates in many different online forums and communities. As almost all professionals have an online presence, whether in LinkedIn or Facebook or elsewhere, and as many are also likely participating in Twitter chats, Facebook conversations, and so on. Searching for talented people is getting easier each month.

A recruiter can find an interesting potential candidate, start a conversation, provide the candidate with a variety of information sources about the organization and position, and even direct the candidate to screening apps and apps that allow the candidate to apply.

Recruiters can also use their network of current employees, alumni, friends, and colleagues to crowdsource good candidates and leverage referrals.

Entire recruiting campaigns can be run in a matter of days or weeks by using referrals, crowdsourcing, social media, mobile technologies, and by rethinking the recruitment process. Through streamlining, simplification and by getting hiring managers more involved, candidates can be found, screened, assessed, and hired in days.

Continued Rise of Contingent Workers

The use of contractors, part-time employees, and consultants has soared during the recession. And it will continue to grow for two reasons: the first is that it provides employers with the flexibility they seek to manage costs and headcount easily and much more cheaply than by frequent layoffs. Second, many people are finding that contingent employment suits their lifestyle and interests well. They can plan other activities around their work schedules, they can budget according to the amount of time they are willing to work, and they get variety in the kind of work they do and who they work for.

It will be hard to return to the model of employment where just about everyone is a regular employee. Strategies changes frequently, world events and business cycles make it necessary to adjust priorities more often than ever before, and people are less and less willing to commit to a long-term employment arrangement that is uncertain and stressful.

The Beginning of Applied Analytics

Look for more vendors to offer analytical software specifically for human resources and recruiting. We will begin to see how various independent events have an effect on the quality of hire by tapping into data hidden away in their ATS and HRIS systems. They will begin to seriously track and use data to decide the best sources of candidates, what key traits lead to retention and on-the-job success, and where they can reduce costs or efforts and still get good results.

All in all, the economy and the election will dominate this year and, as a result, this should be a year of modest employment growth, a focus on hiring returning military veterans, and even more growth in outsourcing volume recruiting and hard-to-fill positions to RPOs.

Fresh off its Inc. ranking as one of the 10 fastest growing HR companies on the magazine’s fast 5000 list, BountyJobs is announcing a $5 million round of financing.

Led by Greylock Partners, the latest financing is coming from the company’s existing investors, which also include Accel Partners and Michigan-based RPM Ventures. BountyJobs said it will use the money to expand software and services support for new and existing customers.

“Despite fragmentation and inefficiency in the contingent search market, companies still spend billions of dollars each year on headhunters in the U.S.” said Dave Strohm, partner at Greylock Partners. “By giving companies a free, streamlined way to find and hire candidates through specialized headhunters, BountyJobs is transforming a major sector of the recruiting market.”

BountyJobs provides a marketplace for contingent recruitment, connecting companies that have open reqs with vetted recruiters who bid for the jobs. When a deal is struck, BountyJobs handles the paperwork and billing. Even in the touch economy of the last few years, BountyJobs reported it grew from $1.6 million in revenue in 2007 to $16.2 million last year.

inc-5000-HR-list-2011

From the giant IPO-bound staffing firm Staffmark Holdings, to Indianapolis’ 14-person HR services firm FlashPoint, 156 self-described human resource companies made the annual Inc. list of the 5,000 fastest growing businesses in the U.S.

Inc. ranks the companies, all privately held, by growth rate; the faster revenue increased over three years, the higher the company ranks. By that measure, HR staffing and services firm Nextaff was first among the HR companies that volunteered to participate. (Participation requires companies to divulge annual revenue, employee counts and growth, etc. Only some companies are willing to publicize that kind of proprietary information.)

Nextaff reported 2010 revenue of $72.1 million, a 1,167 percent jump over the last three years. In 2007, the company reported it generated $5.7 million with only nine employees. Now it has 12.

Of the top ten firms on the list, eight are staffing and placement firms, with several specializing in IT and engineering. That’s in line with the strong demand in the last 18 months for tech workers. It’s also evidence that employers turn to temps and contractors at the early stage of a recovery before committing to hiring permanent workers.

In 3rd and 5th place among the listed companies are Jobfox and BountyJobs, respectively. Both companies are familiar to recruiters.

Jobfox, launched in 2004 by former CareerBuilder CEO and founder Rob McGovern, is a network of networks where job seekers and jobs are matched, recruiters mingle with candidates, and referrals of friends who get hired earn rewards.

BountyJobs is a network of pre-qualified headhunters and independent recruiters, and companies with reqs. Employers set fees and post jobs that interested recruiters can then bid on. It’s three-year growth of 881 percent, took it from $1.6 million in 2007 to $16.2 million last year, not only placing it high on the HR list, but 389th out of all 5,000 firms.

CEO Mike Hard, who piloted BountyJobs though the most turbulent economic years since the 1930s, emailed to say, “Fifth place is an eye-opener, but no HR department that regularly uses headhunters is going to be shocked at the emergence of BountyJobs and the category in general. When people hear about what BountyJobs does they say, ‘What took you so long?’.”

Hard attributed a big part of the growth to existing customers, many of whom, he noted, are among the Fortune 500. BountyJobs, he said, handles the contingent search jobs of more than a third of the Fortune 500 employers in the U.S.

I also pinged McGovern, but haven’t heard back. However, the Inc. report placed Jobfox at 352 on the 5000 list. The company grew from $1.2 million in 2007 to $12.9 million last year, a 963 percent increase.

Besides the companies that described themselves as HR, the Inc. 5000 has others with extensive HR business and clients. Jobs2Web, the SEO firm that optimizes job postings and enhances their online visibility, is listed among the software firms. It’s $9.9 million in revenue last year was 824 percent ahead of 2007, ranking it 419 overall.

About the author: John Zappe was a newspaper reporter and editor until his geek gene lead him to launch his first website in 1994. Never a recruiter, he instead built online employment sites and sold advertising services to recruiters and employers. As VP of one large media operation, his employment revenue alone approached $2.5 million. Besides writing for ERE, John consults with digital content operations, focusing on the advertising side. And when he’s not doing either, he can be found hiking in the California mountains or competing in canine agility events.

The number of  “free agent” workers has nearly exploded in the last three years, and now 44 percent of working Americans describe themselves that way.

A Kelly Services survey says  economic necessity, the desire for more freedom and flexibility, and age have driven up the number of workers not tied to a single company for their livelihood. It’s a dramatic change from 2008, when Kelly’s survey found 26 percent of workers describing themselves as free agents.

Also fueling the rise is the increasing reliance of American business on contingent and contract labor, say the authors of a whitepaper detailing the results. Companies, note Jocelyn Lincoln and Megan M. Raftery, “can scale up and down faster and easier by adopting more flexible workforce strategies.”

A significant driver is the economy. Respondents to the 2011 survey were twice as likely as their counterparts in 2008 to say they became free agents because they were laid off or couldn’t find another job.

That suggests, the authors say, that as recovery occurs, some of the newly minted free agents will return to a traditional employee role. However, “the trend toward more free agents is still very strong and is increasing worldwide. Accounting for differences in legislative frameworks and social and cultural norms, we estimate that the global free agent population is at
least 20 – 30% of the entire workforce, and growing.”

Recently, USA Today wrote about the phenomenon of well-established professionals abandoning comfortable jobs to pursue their own interests.  “Employees bid goodbye to corporate America” chronicled several workers, including two recruiters, who quit to follow their own path.

As the Kelly Services report makes clear, the move by knowledge workers to freelancer, contractor, consultant, entrepreneur or other type of free agency is not a generational issue. Gen X workers saw the biggest increase in self-described free agency. In the 2008 survey, 18 percent of the Gen X workforce so described its status. Now, 38 percent do. That’s a 111 percent increase in just three years, far ahead of the 81 percent rise among Baby Boomers and the 74 percent increase for the Silent Generation, all of whom have now reached retirement age.

Numerically, the Boomers and older workers account for the lion’s share of the free agent population. Together, they comprise two-thirds of all free agents, making the free agent group highly experienced and well educated, the authors write, noting:

More than one-third of all free agents have earned a master’s degree or higher, and compared with traditional employees, more free agents (77% compared to 62% for traditional employees) possess technical or professional skill set.

What does this trend mean for American business?

It means there’s a huge pool of available talent in nearly every discipline and industry for employers to tap. But it’s not automatic. Besides knowing how to reach these free agents, businesses need to understand what it is they want. For some, that demands a change in traditional practices.

Write Lincoln and Rafferty, “Organizations have to first learn how to adapt and integrate this flexible workstyle into their business processes and current company culture. This means forgoing traditional perceptions of employment.”

For the workers, money is only part of the equation. The Kelly survey found it’s the type of project and quality of work that most interests free agents, especially those with more experience and maturity. The third factor, after the nature of the job and the money, is the reputation of the company.

For companies wanting to  take advantage of the free agency trend, the authors make these recommendations:

  1. Ensure that free agents are included in your overall workforce strategy;
  2. Know how you are currently using free agents.
  3. Evaluate departments, positions, and projects to see how they would benefit from free agent talent.
  4. Understand the importance of your employer brand.
  5. Develop options for current employees.
  6. Understand the importance of properly classifying free agent workers.
  7. Evaluate your workforce solutions partner.

You may have heard about companies like CloudCrowd and concepts like microwork that involve new ways to staff; now, there are several more companies trying to shake up the field. They’d like to revolutionize the already-strong contingent staffing industry and in some cases the whole staffing field, making it more Internet-based, more cell phone-based, and just more sophisticated. Even 63-year-old Manpower’s getting into the act.

Three of the newer players, all based in California, include:

Readyforce: It says it is “leapfrogging ‘old school’ staffing agencies and making transformational changes to a $300 billion industry that has not seen meaningful business practice and infrastructure change in decades.” Ouch.

The omnipresent Craig Silverman is the VP of Sales for Readyforce, which has been quietly doing a private beta test in San Francisco. It launched the private beta January 17, but had been operating last year even more quietly, and under a different name. “We’ve raised a raised a ton of capital,” Silverman says. About $14.5 million, actually, and the company is hiring.

Silverman describes Readyforce in a number of superlatives: it is the “staffing agency of the future” and “there’s no other staffing agency like us anywhere.”

Readyforce will talk to an employer about the jobs it has open. Then, it’ll go out and find people through social media and other means, and screen them to figure out who’s best. The screening includes a video interview; Silverman says they’ve interviewed 500 people for inside sales jobs, for example, over the last 90 days. Readyforce presents employers with the top three to five people, showing employers a profile of the person, a 20-minute interview, and a highlight reel.

A typical recruiting agency, Silverman says, might get 1,000 applicants, not totally know how to winnow them down, and not do nearly the presentation to customers.

Last year, almost all the company’s money was coming from contingent employee staffing. Now, it’s closer to 50-50 contingent employees and placement. “We’ve been doing a lot of experimenting,” he says, “figuring out what we want to be when we grow up.” It’s hoping to roll out more publicly soon, and then to other geographies beyond Northern California.

WorkersNow. Founded by Stanford alums, it’s focusing on the construction industry. I suppose you could call it a cloud-based temp company. “No need to wait at a store every morning,” it tells job candidates. “Everything is done through text messages & e-mails.”

Employees apply mainly online, and WorkersNow runs a background check. Employees can build up a profile to showcase their work, which the employers view, showing such information as whether past employers would hire them again. They check in and out of the job using a cell phone.

Employers pay a rate that includes the person’s wages, as well as taxes, workers’ comp, and a fee.

The company (formerly called WorkerExpress, wrapping up a name change due to trademark issues) was selected as the winner of a technology startup contest in northern California last year, whose judging panel included TiVo recruiting director William Uranga. While other companies in the contingent staffing industry are also moving to higher-tech processes, COO and co-founder Joe Mellin says this one’s different because it’s most concerned about a “great fit between employer and worker.” Revenue is doubling every two months, and Mellin says he’s about ready to expand throughout California, not just the north.

Emergent. Unlike WorkersNow, it’s not a temp agency. It doesn’t recruit. It acts as an employer for contingent employees for other companies. This is what a Manpower or an Adecco can do themselves — they put people on their payrolls, with the employees of course spending their work days at a client’s location. But Emergent hopes to do for small staffing companies what’s not so easy for them without the infrastructure and knowledge to handle all of what’s involved in employing someone. Emergent handles (well, hopes to handle; it’s only now getting started, and will launch an expanded website any day) things like onboarding and workers’ comp for contingent employees.

The company’s president, Bill Inman, lives in Manhattan Beach, California, and is part of a team giving birth to Emergent while working for an unrelated show-biz-related company called Entertainment Partners, in Burbank.

Inman has previously been involved with companies you may know — CareerLifeTV and Ensemble Chimes Global, for example — and around 1999-2000 was involved in launching Hiring Link, an applicant tracking system where companies would share pools of candidates.

Inman thinks recruiting someone and employing someone should be separate activities in contingent staffing. “The industry,” he says, “is ready to go through a dynamic change.”

It’s not a new phenomenon, but watch for the use of the cloud, and also the crowd, to grow in the coming months as more vendors vie for your cloud/crowd-recruiting business.

Hajo Engelke is trying it out. Engelke has started up an unusual company in Durham, North Carolina. It’s a website where you build your own cereal, clicking on cranberries, dried apples, pears, pineapples, and so on, add them to either granola or corn flakes, and voila, place your order.

A novel idea for a company, originating out of UNC’s business school, but you haven’t heard of it until now. So Engelke’s looking for someone to market it using a viral campaign. This weekend he plans on posting the project on a website called 31Projects. With that site, top, pre-screened students will have about three to five weeks to submit their suggestions for the build-your-own-cereal campaign, and Engelke will pick a winner. He’ll pay the winner in the neighborhood of $25/hour for implementing the campaign, and if all goes well, may end up hiring them.

Engelke heard about 31Projects through the Triangle area of North Carolina, where he says “everybody knows everybody through one or two connections.” 31Projects will launch next week. It has several hundred MBA and grad students signed up in its network, and has tested it with employers, including a non-profit research institute. Later, it hopes to expand, using undergraduate students as well.

Getting people who don’t work for you, or who at least don’t yet work for you, to do work, isn’t new. Raghav Singh mentioned in an email that “Brassring was doing something like this back in 2000,” using a big virtual network of people to clean up resumes.

But getting the masses to help you out is getting easier.

Another company in this genre, called CloudCrowd, is getting lots of press. It calls what it does “labor as a service,” touting its ability to “break large client projects into discrete tasks, and distribute them through Facebook to its workers.” It did a project for AlumWire where workers went through thousands of digital resumes to capture names, phone numbers, email addresses, employers, and education. CloudCrowd built an interface for the workers to highlight certain information in the resumes, which caused that information to automatically populate the proper field. About 35,000 workers have registered on CloudCrowd’s site.