RALEIGH — During a year when unemployment rates climbed, companies cut back staff or closed, and the economy struggled to grow at all, one might think recruiting and staffing firms would suffer as well.

That was not the case at HireNetworks.

The Raleigh-based, privately held firm reported “substantial increases in revenue, candidate placements and customer acquisitions” last year. HireNetworks reached profitability by increasing revenues by 117 over 2001. It also increased candidate placements by 28 percent and reported a 90 percent increase in the number of customers.

The company provides strategic recruiting, staffing and human resources consulting services. Its particular focus is on “providing elite, pre-screened personnel for the information technology, life sciences and semiconductor sectors.”

Local Tech Wire asked Craig Stone, HireNetworks’ founder and chief executive officer, to talk about the reasons for the firm’s growth, what he sees ahead in 2003, and what trends does he see in hiring senior executives.

Beyond the kudos to your employees, what services or other reasons did
Hire Networks make available which led to growth in, as you said, difficult times?

First off, we never lose sight of our goal to be the Southeast’s premiere recruiting and executive search firm. Focusing on this goal allows us to create long-term relationships with our employees, customers and partners. It gives us the flexibility to be creative with pricing and fee schedules, provide a supportive environment for our employees and make investments in technology. For example, we recently made a significant investment in a time and expense system to make us more efficient and lower costs but also to enhance our customer relationships.

What are the keys of your success?

We approach the business different then similar firms. First, we don’t just help companies hire people. We take a long-term approach and partner with our clients to help them build their business not just their staff. Secondly we value our people and try to create a culture and work environment that supports their goals. Our people are the lifeblood of our organization. Without them we’d be nothing.

In terms of placements, what trends did you see in the type of employees/level of experience and position that companies wanted in 2002? What trends do you see thus far in 2003?

First, companies did hire in 2002. Many forward-looking organizations took the opportunity to upgrade their staff and make investments in people. In terms of placements: C-level executives, sales, financial and specific technical skills — mostly senior in all categories. To date, we see similar trends in 2003.

Do you see signs within your industry that hiring is picking up, flat, or worse? How is this trend indicative of what’s going on in the economy?

I feel like the hiring market is picking up, slowly but surely much like the economy. Although budgets may be tight, the long-term benefits of retaining, recruiting and hiring talented employees have never been greater. We plan and are on target to add staff and grow revenues in 2003.

Another employment group told me last week that “adult management” is in and firms want experienced people, not “kids”. Do you concur or not? Please elaborate?

I concur. Companies are not in as desperate need to hire staff, thus they are less willing to take a chance on less senior employees. They want people who can hit the ground running and can make an immediate impact. Today companies are getting these types of people for what they were paying less experienced people three years ago.

(HireNetworks also announced a couple of promotions. Mike DeCellis is recruiting manager and Ross Warren is the team lead for the professional division.)

HireNetworks: www.hirenetworks.com

Rick Smith is managing editor of Local Tech Wire.