A growing number of small companies use a "temporary- to-permanent" staffing strategy that lets temporary-placement agencies act as recruiters for permanent employees. Three employers told us why they're sold on that approach:

· "Over the past six months, we've recruited about 39% of our permanent employees through temporary agencies," says Angie Green, manager of training and development at Hancock Information Group, a 70-employee market-research company based in Longwood, Fla. Hancock saves time and resources by letting temp firms do initial screenings. But because there's more at stake than just a temporary assignment, says Green, "it's imperative that the agencies understand our business. I encourage them to visit the company so they can observe the work in progress." That kind of pampering isn't uncommon; the temp industry is so fiercely competitive that good firms will jump through hoops to earn your business.

· Steve Safigan's highly cyclical tax-preparation business uses temps to staff up during peak periods. "We bring in 40 people in October and train them for three months to work in customer and technical support during our busy season," says Safigan, president of Universal Tax Systems, in Rome, Ga. And because the company is growing quickly, when the dust settles after tax time, 25% to 50% of those temps join the company as permanent employees. "We get an opportunity to evaluate these people over an extended period of time," says Safigan. "We have confidence that we know who the cream of the crop are."

· "We go the temp route when we're unsure of our long-term needs," says Burt Hashizume, cofounder of $12-million Pixel-Vision, a manufacturer of flat-panel monitors in Acton, Mass. "We want to make sure any uptick in our business is permanent before we hire permanent employees." When sustained growth seems certain, Hashizume says, he can choose from temps "who have proven ability and will fit into the company culture." About 20% of the company's 40 employees started there as temps.