It is commonplace, by HR and job candidates alike, to use the terms recruiting and staffing interchangeably when referring to process of hiring an outside firm or agency to find qualified candidates to fill open positions within a company. We briefly explore the difference between recruiting and staffing, some nuanced and others more obvious.

How are staffing and recruiting different?

We’ll breakdown how recruiting and staffing distinguish themselves from each other.
(Disclaimer: All staffing and recruiting firms are different from others so the below might be true for some, and not for others.)


  • Generally, staffing firms are used to fill short term roles, temporary-to-hire, contract, or project positions.
  • The search and hire process can be faster when using a staffing agency versus a recruiting firm.
  • In order to hire quickly, staffing agencies may keep a database of candidates they can use to find people with specific skill sets that are immediately available.
  • Staffing agencies may vary in sourcing candidates with specialized skills or general skill sets.
  • Many staffing agencies work primarily with job seekers in the market for a new job, as opposed to working with passive candidates
  • A company working with a staffing agency may provide more specific information needs upfront, and so may be less involved in the screening and interview process.
  • Staffing follows a candidate through the employee life cycle, including promotions, exit interviews, and retention practices.


  • Recruiting firms generally supply more full-time, permanent candidates.
  • These positions tend to take longer to fill, and they may tend toward management positions.
  • Recruiting firms might be more likely to work with people looking for a job as well as those that are not actively looking.
  • Recruiting firms generally place ads for candidates, screen resumes, conduct interviews, and narrow down the candidates until an offer is extended, and therefore are more involved in the actual sourcing and hiring of a candidate, and less involved throughout the lifetime of a candidate.

What do staffing and recruiting have in common?

Now, let’s talk about the functions and purposes the two terms and practices share.

  • Both staffing and recruiting share a common objective – find a candidate and fill a vacancy.
  • Both services are free for job candidates; only the companies looking for employees pay a fee.
  • Ideally, staffing and recruiting should be approached from a strategic point of view, where filling positions drives business value.
  • Both may be able to address common business and/or HR issues, such as trouble attracting and/or retaining talent or low employee productivity.

The real question is – if using these terms conversely is common, does it really matter which one you use? The real answer? It depends. It depends on how you and your HR team choose to use them. But despite their differences, the underlying purpose of staffing and recruiting is to find the right person for the job.

XcelHR provides recruiting services for our clients to help them find the right candidate for their team.