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Staffing vs Recruiting vs Hiring: Which Should You Choose?

Updated: Jun 24

Any time you have an open position for a company, and you need that position filled, you go through a particular practice. That practice of filling an open position is known as something, but the exact term used varies. Some people call it staffing. Some people call it recruiting. Some people call it hiring.

Most use these terms interchangeably. Each of the three has a subtly different meaning and context, however, and using them properly can sometimes be the key to using the right processes the find the right person for the right role. So, in this blog post I will explain staffing vs recruiting vs hiring, and the difference between them.

What is Staffing?

Staffing is one way to fill open roles within a company or organization. You have a particular role or set of roles available, and you need people to fill those roles.

The focus of staffing in particular is on short-term roles or specific projects. They may be hiring staff for an event, like a convention. They may be hiring for a project that is meant to go for, say, six months, or six weeks, or less.

Staffing tends to focus solely on active candidates. That is, people who are actively seeking a job, rather than people who are skilled but comfortable in their current roles, or who are not actively seeking a different position.

Staffing agencies also often need to work with limited budgets. The roles they need to fill are often not highly skilled roles and don’t have high requirements for candidates, but that’s not always the case. Most of the time, staffing is a practice used to fill a lot of low-level roles quickly. These roles include temp workers, unskilled labor, and other short-term workers for roles. Sometimes this involves contracting freelancers also, though that’s not always common.

One advantage of staffing, is this process can ignore certain requirements of other role-filling practices, such as arranging company benefits, taxes, and sometimes even background checks beyond the most limited form. Since the employees will not be employed for long, may not be employed for full time hours, and aren’t going to be highly skilled members of the company, expectations tend to be lower.

A good staffing agency will build up a candidate pool for various kinds of jobs. The agency maintains this pool with regular contact with the candidates, and many candidates work numerous jobs they find through the staffing agency. In this way, the agency maintains an active pool of qualified candidates for various roles. Passive candidates are often removed from the roster until such time as they express interest in becoming active again.

What details does staffing focus on? Primarily those related to time and compensation. Candidates want to know how long a contract will last, whether there are any fringe benefits to the contract, what the compensation for the job will be, and whether there will be a chance of being hired on for further employment with the organization.

What is Hiring?

Hiring is similar to staffing in many ways. Like staffing, it is a way for a company or organization to fill open roles in their roster. However, some differences set it apart.

The hiring process typically involves posting a job, receiving applications from candidates, filtering those candidates to generate a pool of qualified candidates, and interviewing those candidates until the role is filled.

In most cases, hiring is aiming to fill higher-skilled roles than staffing. Positions tend to be longer-term, though they may have “temp to hire” plans or probation periods before the worker becomes a fully vested employee.

Oftentimes, the number of positions that need to be filled through hiring is smaller. Staffing may have dozens of roles available for a short-term event or project, while hiring may have as few as one open role. Of course, hiring can work for many more roles, such as when a company expands dramatically, but that’s not a requirement.

One characteristic of hiring is that the candidate pool is not always retained. Good human resources departments will save resumes and applications for potential future use, but little effort is made to keep those candidates fresh and interested. The candidates who are not hired will, of course, move on, and are often hired for other jobs by the time the next open position rolls around for which they would be qualified.

Because of this, hiring can work with both active and passive candidates, but typically focuses on active candidates. Active candidates tend to have a faster response time to fill a role.

What details does hiring focus on? Like staffing, compensation is a big one. Unlike staffing, hiring tends to assume an ongoing employee relationship. The job exists until downsizing or redundancy eliminates it, the employee leaves, or they get fired. As such, most hiring discussion revolves around job skills, compensation, benefits, and other details.

What is Recruiting?

Recruiting is perhaps the most unique of the three means of filling roles for a company. Rather than a process that is initiated upon needing new roles to be filled, recruiting is meant to be an ongoing process.

Recruiting also tends to take a candidate-first approach. Rather than approaching a candidate with a role that is already defined and needs to be filled, recruiting approaches a candidate with a likely skill set and asks them to be part of the organization.

As such, this is often how high-level employees in management and C-level positions are found. Candidates who are recruited for a company don’t just bring their skills and their experience, they bring their own management styles and systems. They are often given the power to make changes within the organization, with the aim of improving the overall company and its processes.

Recruiting can focus on active candidates, but most often tends to aim for passive candidates. At a certain point, most people are assumed to simply always be on the lookout for upward mobility. Thus, recruiting means knowing what role needs to be filled, what compensation is available, and what kinds of candidates out there may be most suitable.

A big part of recruiting is maintaining a candidate pool. This is where a lot of overlap with hiring comes in. The recruiting candidate pool is large and maintained, consistently feeling out potential candidates and investigating them for potential roles that may open up. A lot of it is speculation, with new roles created when an opportunity to hire a good candidate comes along, rather than the other way around.

Among the three practices, recruiting is the most intimate, and the one that involves the most input from your organization. The candidate needs to fit in within their team and within the organization as a whole, particularly within upper-level management teams. These are the people in charge of the overall direction a company takes; recruiting the wrong person can steer an entire company in the wrong direction.

What details does recruiting focus on? Because of its focus on important roles, candidates tend to be concerned with compensation, but also with details such as company culture. At this level, many candidates are already living comfortably, so a slightly higher salary or slightly better benefits might not be tempting enough to entice them to leave their current role. They concern themselves with professional and personal fulfillment, purpose, and their role within a team.

The Matter of Overlap

There is naturally some overlap between each of the three practices. Staffing agencies can find candidates who become long-term employees, acting as a sort of extended filter for the hiring process. It’s similar to an internship process in some ways, and the temporary position to full-time position transition is not uncommon.

Meanwhile, there’s a lot of overlap between hiring and recruiting. They both operate in similar ways, and the hiring process can be used for upper-level roles just as much as the recruiting process can be used for lower-level roles. The primary difference between them, really, is whether they focus on the role first or the candidate first. Hiring starts with a role and looks for a candidate to fill it. Recruiting looks for a candidate and makes a role where they can fit.

Which Process Should You Use?

So which of these three processes should you use? The answer, as you might expect, is all of them. All three processes are complimentary, not exclusive.

Staffing is best used when:

  1. You have a lot of roles that need to be filled in a short amount of time.

  2. You have roles of short duration that need to be filled.

  3. You have to expand for temporary projects but don’t have the capacity to hire anyone as a full employee.

  4. You have roles to be filled that don’t require detailed skills, lengthy training, or high levels of compensation.

As such, the staffing process tends to be outsourced. Companies often decide that maintaining their own staffing candidate pool is too much effort, and turn to temp agencies and other staffing agencies to provide the contact information for prospective hires or contracts.

Hiring is best used when:

  1. You have a few roles that need to be filled.

  2. You have plenty of time to fill roles that are open.

  3. The roles you have available are not short-term or contract-based.

  4. You have the budget and capacity to include benefits as part of overall compensation.

  5. Your roles have higher skill requirements or experience required for success.

Hiring can be outsourced, or it can be done in-house. It’s the most broadly variable of the three processes, so there’s likely a company out there doing what you need done, or offering software to help you do it, no matter what your requirements may be.

Recruiting is best used when:

  1. You are looking for fresh talent to help lead your team, spearhead a project, or take over upper management.

  2. You want to maintain a pool of qualified candidates.

  3. You want to draw in new high-level talent from your competitors or other related industries.

  4. You’re more concerned about culture and skills meshing with your team than you are about compensation.

Recruiting can be outsourced or it can be handled in-house, and a lot of it depends on whether or not you’ve built a team with the skills and tools necessary to maintain and ongoing process of recruitment. Finding the right candidate and enticing them to join your team is a skill that needs to be developed, since tempting a passive candidate is much more difficult than hiring an active candidate.


So, choosing the right process comes down to what roles you need filled, how quickly you need them to be filled, and how hard they will be to fill. It’s all part of the general spectrum of growing the employee roster of a company, after all.

There’s no one answer for which process you should use; use the one that suits your needs, and the one you have the tools and resources to manage. Only by choosing the right process can you maintain high employee satisfaction, retention, and value.

If you need help growing your team, contact us today and learn how we can help you!

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