Inside Track: No mixed message for Mixed Staffing
Sara Sherry overcomes obstacles to reduce others’ barriers to the workforce.
Sara Sherry is establishing her boutique firm as the staffing agency that personalizes the job market — one person and one employment opportunity at a time.
Mixed Staffing, 85 Campau Ave. NW, not only assists local businesses in finding the right talent and connecting people with job opportunities, but also is led by Sherry’s drive to make a positive impact on those she serves.
“We really try to stay away from the stereotypes about staffing agencies. We treat people like people. We will walk you through the process rather than just blindsiding you going into an interview,” said Sherry, who is president and owner of the company.
“On the client side, just because someone comes in and fills out an application, it doesn’t mean we would send them. We have a pretty strong and strict screening process.”
Sherry launched Mixed Staffing in 2012 with a business partner after both had experienced difficulties during the hiring process after graduating college.
With an associate’s degree from Grand Rapids Community College, a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies with an emphasis in creative marketing from Grand Valley State University, two internships and roughly eight years of working experience, Sherry said she moved to Chicago without a job, optimistic about finding plenty of job offers.
“Who wouldn’t want to hire me? But I had the wrong mindset. All I would get considered to interview for were administrative positions, and when I would express my interest in growing or working my way to the top, they (said), ‘Oh,’” said Sherry.
“My business partner at the time had a similar issue. He is African-American and he felt any time he would apply for a job, they would already know what his skin color was or he wasn’t even called to an interview because of the stereotype.”
Originally planning on having her business partner be the face of the firm while she managed the back-end operations, Sherry said instead she had to take a risk and run the business on her own when she moved back to West Michigan and he took a step back.
“It is really risky to start your own business. You don’t make any money and you have to make sacrifices. I just went for it,” said Sherry.
“I was working at a bar and owning my own business. I would work from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m., then go to the bar and work until 11 p.m. and do it all over again. It was pretty much just so I could eat because I had bills and wanted to keep investing in the business.”
Mixed Staffing landed its first client when Thomas Rosenbach, managing partner at Beene Garter LLP, decided to give Sherry a chance since he had conducted business with Sherry’s late father. The business grew from one employee in 2012 to 33 employees in 2013, and approximately 165 employees in 2014.
Mixed Staffing’s team now includes Adam C. Everhardt, senior recruiter; Rodriguez D. Johnson, recruiter and account manager; Jahaun McKinley, senior director; and Chris Sain, senior director.
“I did a lot of word of mouth, a lot of referrals. I reached out to any person that I ever knew and instead of asking them for business, I asked them for wisdom,” said Sherry. “I wanted to know how I could be (them) in three years or five years. None of it has been easy.”
Sherry said Mixed Staffing has grown in annual sales from approximately $18,500 in 2012 to more than $782,000 in 2014, and has diversified into three divisions. The firm now serves between 15 and 30 clients a year depending on the season and work volume.
Originally launching the firm with a focus on women and minorities, Sherry said she realized as an un-established business without credentials it would be difficult to grow, so in 2013 she decided to create three divisions: Mixed Professional Staffing and Recruiting, Mixed Inclusive and Diversity Staffing and Recruiting, and Mixed Workforce Staffing.
“Mixed Professional Staffing and Recruiting is your basic staffing and recruiting. We have our Diversity Staffing and Recruiting where we specialize in women and minorities, and for companies looking to diversify,” said Sherry. “Then we also have Mixed Workforce Staffing or inclusive workforce staffing, in which we work with ex-offenders and military veterans.”
Differentiating itself from other agencies in the industry, Mixed Staffing provides educational and training opportunities, motivational seminars, diversity staffing and personal interview practice to help walk individuals through the hiring process. The firm also incorporates traditional background checks and skills evaluation throughout the screening process to ensure the right candidate is placed with the right corporate client or business.
“If you don’t have a résumé, we will help you build a résumé and from there we are going to give you interview tips and then we are going to screen you to make sure you are the right fit for this culture,” said Sherry. “We are a lot different from the larger firms. We take a personal approach depending on who each candidate is, so even if it is a professional who hasn’t been in the job market for 20 years, we will walk (him/her) through the process.”
One of the unique services offered through Mixed Staffing is an educational program at the Kent County Jail, which includes training ranging from application etiquette, social media, résumé building and interview skills, to personal accountability and body language during an interview.
“We work with a lot of ex-offenders — non-violent ex-offenders,” said Sherry. “The thing we are constantly reminded about is, although these individuals have committed a crime, they are human. They are good people and a lot of them might not be able to read or write or might not have a college education or even a high school degree, but they are hard workers.”
Sherry attributes her passion and commitment to helping others to her strong faith. Although she grew up exposed to Christianity, Sherry said it wasn’t until 2013 when she felt called to shift her mindset and operate her business in a manner reflecting a drive to make a positive impact on people’s lives rather than focus on finances.
“I am always asked why I do what I do because I am involved in a lot of things, but I really like helping people and being able to make a difference in the world. I like to hear their story,” said Sherry. “There was a reason they were put in my life; it wasn’t coincidental.”
With an end goal of creating a $3 million business, Sherry said the firm is in the process of planning for strategic development to enable to company to grow by bringing in the right talent internally, and conducting referral programs and a marketing campaign.
Mixed Staffing was recently certified as a Woman-Owned Business, which will be incorporated into the marketing strategy.
“If we can be a $3 million business, then I can employ 300 people instead of 165 and am able to change the lives of 300 people,” said Sherry.
“Although we are really good at helping other people find people, it is more challenging to get them internally here because we are just so unique. I want to create a culture that is our team, and it is really just so I can continue to grow to help more people.”