By Joyce Lain Kennedy

DEAR JOYCE: I tried to sign up with a temp agency but, concerned about potential identity theft, refused to give my Social Security number until I was sent out on a job. Are they allowed to require it before I even go to work? What are some other temp agencies to consider? -- M.D.

Asking for a Social Security number upon application is a legal -- but dangerous -- practice in most states. Because state laws vary, try a Web search for your state (example: "California Social Security number job application").

BOTTOM LINE. Law or no law, a number of staffing firms claim that they can't register you in their system without your SSN. In this tight job market, you may have to wrestle with that take-it-or-leave-it attitude, whether forced upon you in an office or on an online application form.

(I've never tried the following cyber tips, but wary job seekers have offered them as online application tactics to dodge the SSN risk. They include inserting 9s or 0s in the SSN space, writing 0000 for the last four digits, and inserting 078-05-1120, a voided number a retailer is said to have used 50 years ago as a wallet insert.)

Alternatively, you may prefer to write "SSN available upon job offer," but you're unlikely to change a staffing firm's policy. A woman who objected to premature disclosure of her number complained online about the result of her caution: She was told that the staffing firm probably wouldn't be a "good fit" for her and that she should look elsewhere.

LOOKING ELSEWHERE. Today's staffing industry includes a number of subset services; for fulsome details, visit the American Staffing Association (

The chief subsets are the familiar temporary help, so-called permanent employment, temporary-to-permanent placement, long-term and contract help, managed services (often called "outsourcing") and PEO (professional employer organization, in which a staffing firm assumes responsibility for payroll, benefits and other human resource functions).

You don't have to work for only the national staffing firms; there are many fine regional and local agencies with which you can build long-term relationships. Register with as many firms as you wish. Here are seven pointers for choosing.

1. Obtain referrals from friends and acquaintances.

2. Talk to recruiters at job fairs.

Discover what kind of staffing services and benefits they offer and whether it's your cup of tea.

3. Target jobs at specific companies.

Ask the company's human resource department which staffing agencies are on this year's preferred vendor list. Let your staffing recruiters know where you're hoping to work.

4. Similarly, find out the names of companies the staffing firm has as clients.

Most employers have relationships in place with specific staffing firms. If your resume is submitted by a staffing service that isn't one of those firms, you probably won't be considered for the position, because fee disputes arise. If a non-connected staffing agency is doing nothing more for you than sending your resume forward for a regular-status job, you can do that yourself, and you're more likely to get hired because there's no fee involved.

5. When your targeted staffing service subset (temp, regular status, contract) is discussed in online comment forums -- which you may be able to locate with a Web search -- tune in and find out what others think about the staffing firm.

6. Ask a prospective staffing firm representative to name the candidate services you can expect, such as assistance with resume preparation and interviewing techniques, salary information, health insurance benefits, insight into each work environment and the interviewer's style, for instance. Ask in person, not on the telephone.

7. Meet your staffing service recruiter.

The person who interviews you isn't necessarily your recruiter. Click with the recruiter and you'll get prime assignments or be more aggressively marketed.


Career - How to Choose a Staffing Company

Article: Copyright ©. All rights reserved.