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10 tips for developing an effective RFP for RPO  

April 5, 2022

If your company needs help attracting, sourcing and hiring talent, you may be considering a partnership with a recruitment process outsourcing (RPO) provider. RPOs either assume all the responsibility for a client’s recruitment function or supplement existing internal talent acquisition teams to manage specific stages in the process. Sourcing an RPO partner can, however, be a daunting task as there is so much to consider. A request for proposal, or RFP (sorry, another acronym!), can help you find the perfect partner.

In this blog post, we’ll explain what an effective RFP for RPO looks like and share 10 tips to help you create an RFP that ensures you get the right answers to your questions and ultimately the right recruitment process outsourcing partner for your organization.  


#1: Make sure you actually need an RPO partner. 

It sounds obvious, but so many organizations embark on an RPO RFP but then realize they’re not actually ready for an RPO partner just yet. As a buyer, you need to carefully consider what it is you want to gain from a talent outsourcing partnership before launching an RFP. 

There are a lot of first-generation buyers that confuse RPO with a contract recruiter model. RPO providers are embedded within your business and manage end-to-end hiring processes. RPO models build best practice processes and deploy market-leading strategies and technologies that drive long-term efficiencies while delivering on the immediate need. A contract recruiter model supports short-term hiring needs. 

If you’re certain it’s RPO that you need, there are several options to consider. For instance, does your company need an end-to-end solution or will outsourcing part of your hiring process suffice? It's also important to note that leading RPOs (like WilsonHCG) tailor their solutions based on unique business needs; after all, no two companies are the same and this applies to recruitment process outsourcing solutions. 

The decision about whether you need RPO or another model can be determined by clearly articulating your talent acquisition challenges and business needs by engaging with a total talent provider that can help guide you to the best outcome. 

#2: Decide if a formal RFP process is necessary. 

Even if you’re sure RPO is the service your company needs, a formal RFP might not be the best route for determining the ideal vendor for you. For example, if you’re new to RPO, you might be better off creating a shortlist of talent outsourcing companies that can pitch their services via a presentation. This will save time and effort for you and potential recruitment outsourcing partners. It also gives you the opportunity to have more dialogue than a written process.  

Pro tip: Consider inviting prospective RPO vendors to a pre-bid question and answer (Q&A) session so they can gather more details about your requirements. This will provide valuable information that can be used within the RFP responses to ensure you get the most effective recruitment process outsourcing solution. If you do host a pre-bid Q&A session, don’t invite multiple bidders to the same call. Speaking to one provider per session will mean that potential bidders will be more open and won’t need to keep their cards close to their chests because their competitors are present. 

#3: Set clear timelines.

 Establish a timeline for the entire RFP process upfront based on your organization’s goals and deliverables. Simply having a deadline for submission isn’t enough – you need to split the process into stages (both internally and externally). Before you even start putting a timeline together, you’ll need to discuss your talent acquisition outsourcing requirements with key stakeholders within your organization. Make sure you outline not only the deadline in the RFP but your expectations for when services will would start ideally – this might automatically eliminate some RPO vendors that know they won’t be able to resource the partnership appropriately. 

How long does it take from RFP to RPO implementation?  

It varies depending on the complexity of the scope, the desired model, technology and the capabilities of each RPO provider. A multi-country RPO partnership with several thousand hires, for example, will take more time to set up and implement compared with a small project-based RPO partnership in a single geography. 

Learn about the A to Z of RPO with our guide

Consider the following steps when devising your RFP timeline: 

  • The date the RFP questions will be finalized internally 
  • Notification of forthcoming RFP sent to select vendors with instructions to complete key compliance steps, such as requiring the confirmation from vendors of their “intent to bid” and NDAs completed and returned 
  • Official RFP launch date 
  • The due date for questions from RPO vendors (providers will almost certainly have some questions) and the deadline for when your team will provide answers; procurement teams often don’t give themselves enough time to review and respond to questions, which is perhaps because they underestimate how many questions there will be. This means they miss their own milestones and deadlines and must grant extensions as a result. This can be avoided by giving a more generous/reasonable timescale for any Q&As and responses from the outset. 
  • Due date of the RFP 
  • Shortlist announcement 
  • Date of finalist presentations 
  • Final shortlist 
  • Negotiations 
  • Final award 
  • Provide feedback for talent providers that made the shortlist but were not successful 
  • Contracting completion 
  • Target implementation kick-off date 
  • Go-live date 

#4: Collaborate with key stakeholders (and recalibrate as needed). 

The whole point of an RFP for RPO is to give outsourcing partners the opportunity to provide a solution for any talent acquisition problems you’re having. To gain a clear picture of what the challenges are, you must speak to all the stakeholders impacted. Then, discuss your plans to engage an RPO partner with stakeholders from the wider business, including those in procurement, finance and the executive leadership team. Each group of stakeholders should not only understand the benefits you see by engaging an RPO partner but also understand the role they play in making the RPO RFP process a success.  

What stakeholders should be involved in an RFP for RPO process?  

  • Executive leadership team (including the CHRO) 
  • Procurement 
  • Talent acquisition and HR leaders 
  • Key hiring managers 
  • Other potentially impacted departments, such as technology 

#5: Format is important in an RFP. 

There is no definitive answer to which format an RFP should be in, but there are a few things you should consider when determining the format.  One of the most important things is to ensure there is consistent data from all partners to allow for a consistent like-for-like evaluation while also allowing respondents to add additional supporting/explanatory information.

First and foremost, and probably the most obvious, is how easy is the document to open? We’ve all been there, waiting for an email that’s stuck in cyberspace because it has a hefty attachment that’s too big to get through. Don’t let your RFP fall victim to email attachment limits.  

If you’re requesting completed RFPs be returned via email, don’t forget to include the contact details of who it should be submitted to and list an additional contact just in case. But, again, be careful of attachment limits.  

Some organizations allow RPO vendors to directly upload their responses to specialized platforms. This can help to reduce the likelihood of formatting issues while ensuring that sensitive data is safe.  

Whatever format you choose, you need to test, test and test again. An RFP should be easy to open, easy to add data to and easy to return.  

#6: The core categories you should include in your RFP for RPO. 

There are some core categories that should be included in an RFP. We’ve outlined them below but it’s important to note that these are just the core categories; your RFP will likely contain more based on your individual business requirements. 

  • Timelines: No further explanation necessary. Read above. 
  • Executive summary: Read on to find out why the executive summary section is so important. 
  • Goals and project overview: This section needs to be as detailed as possible and should include information about what you want to achieve from the partnership. And what key business drivers have led you to RPO. For example, is it to reduce costs, improve attrition rates or have scalability in the process? 
  • Scope of Work (SoW): This needs to be as specific as possible. The more detail you provide, the easier it will be for RPO vendors to produce a solution that works. 
  • Potential roadblocks (if any): Buyers need to be honest about any roadblocks they foresee impacting the RPO partnership. This will allow RPOs to build an element of contingency into their RPO solutions. 
  • Evaluation criteria/scoring matrix: This ensures RPO partners fully understand what they need to do to be considered. It will also give some vendors the opportunity to rule themselves out if they know they won’t meet the evaluation criteria. 
  • Submission requirements: Provide details of how the RFP should be submitted. Does it need to be uploaded or emailed? Who is the main point of contact?  
  • Budget: We can’t overstate the importance of being clear about the budget you have. It can be hard to produce an exact budget as there are so many variables, but buyers should aim to give an estimate of the range at the very least. RPO providers need to know what the budget is in order to develop an effective talent acquisition strategy. And let's not forget that the budget is also another way that outsourcing partners can rule themselves out if they know they can’t meet your requirements. 

#7: Make sure your executive summary is clear. 

The executive summary is one of the first things vendors see when they start completing the RFP. Your summary needs to be clear, concise and written in plain language. It sets the tone for the whole document. It should include an introduction to your organization, details about your culture and a summary of your RPO requirements. Be sure to explain your values as a company too, so providers can determine if you’ll be a good fit culturally.  

#8: Provide enough information for RPO vendors. 

One of the most important aspects of an RFP is the information you, as a buyer, is prepared to share. You can’t be shy about explaining your current challenges or your vision for the future. If there’s not enough detail, potential RPO providers may misinterpret what you’re seeking in a partnership. It has the potential for making the process confusing and time-consuming for both you and the RPO vendors.  

Pro tip: Unsure of what you need from an RPO partnership? Speak to your peers. Talent leaders with experience engaging in RPO partnerships will have plenty of dos and don’ts to share. You can reach out to RPO providers to arrange informal chats as well. Sign a non-disclosure agreement if you want to go into more detail about your challenges. 

The data required to build an effective and comprehensive recruitment solution

 An RPO needs specific information to effectively build and propose a solution for an RFP response. An overview of scope in the first instance is incredibly important. A scope overview should include a summary of what you want the RPO solution to cover; expected annual volume of hiring, geographies, language requirements, type of hiring (volume, generalist, specialist); technology currently utilized and whether the expectation is that the RPO provider will leverage the current tech stack or whether the RPO provider is expected to provide a tech stack or access to a workforce analytics platform. It’s also important to let the RPO vendor know what points in the process you expect their activity to start and end (e.g., approved requisition to offer approved or start date).  

Be transparent in sharing the current challenges you have with RPO vendors. Explain why you’re considering outsourcing talent acquisition (whether it's linked to capacity and/or capability or something else). This information helps RPO providers understand what they need to address.  

If there is no indicative or reliable data to share, provide vendors with your best guesses or estimates as assumptions. This will ensure that the solution and pricing you receive are based on the same information. Vendor-driven assumptions should be avoided wherever possible as the potential disparity will generate vastly different interpretations of the solution needed. For instance, one RPO vendor might assume three candidates need to be submitted for every hire, another may assume five – the latter equates to increased effort, headcount and costs.  

Other key pieces of information required for a specific and detailed response include:  

  • Break down the top-line volume: Split by role/category/grade and location. Anonymized 12-month hiring data is perfect and will cover much of the requirements.  
  • Compensation ranges and grades for the roles in scope: This is essential, especially when it comes to volume hiring.  
  • Preferences in relation to the location of RPO support: Options include onsite, near-site, virtual onshore, or virtual offshore. 
  • Current open requisition volume: This is required because sometimes RPO providers kick off a solution with additional resources to help clear aged/open requisitions more quickly.  
  • Source mix: Provide details on where current hires come from, including the mix of hires from referrals, internal employees, direct external methods and agency.  
  • Funnel data covering key metrics and ratios: Include application volume, time-to-offer/hire, interviews-per-hire and submits-to-hire.  

Pro tip: One additional piece of advice would be to not request pricing for information that hasn’t been provided. RPO vendors often receive bids like this. An example would be where they are asked to provide a fee by grade but have not been provided with the volume by grade, compensation, location or volume – all of which would be needed to provide an accurate price."

#9: Important questions to include in an RFP for RPO. 

A typical RFP contains 82 questions (yes, we did say 82!), according to Loopio’s 2022 RFP Response Trends & Benchmarks report. Repetition is rife in RFPs though and sometimes an RFP will contain a duplicate question worded differently. Be sure to review your RFP carefully and ask some of your key stakeholders to review it and provide feedback. Make updates if required before publishing.  

Once you've finished writing your questions, don’t forget to perform a grammar and spellcheck. Proofread the final version several times to check the flow, catch typos and ask one of your colleagues to do the same thing. 

Pro tip: When you’re performing your final review, start from the end of the RFP and work backward. This can help you spot mistakes that you may have missed when proofreading initially because often by the time you get to the bottom of a document, you won’t be concentrating as much due to information overload. 

There are so many questions you can include in your RFP. We’d be here all day if we listed them all. In lieu, we’ve listed the top five questions (in no particular order) that you simply can’t afford to leave out.  

  1. Do you have case studies? Can I speak to current customers? If RPO partners aren’t willing to share case studies or contact details of current clients, alarm bells should be ringing. 
  2. Can you outline your change management process? Change management is a key part of RPO, so providers should be well-versed in how to manage this process and should have no qualms in sharing details of how they do it. 
  3. Will you conduct hiring manager training programs? Successful talent management strategies depend on strong partnerships between hiring managers and recruiters. RPOs create cutting-edge training programs for their teams and many are tailored for the client. Ask potential RPO companies if they’d be willing to share best practices with hiring managers. This helps to ensure quality is embedded into every stage of the recruitment process. 
  4. What analytics will you provide? Will you be transparent about the partnership’s effectiveness? Sometimes, talent outsourcing providers focus on the analytics that highlight the best results but RPO partners must be transparent with analytics that aren't as strong so they can work with you to make improvements. It’s important to remember that not all analytics and metrics will be show-stopping. Transparency is much needed as it provides the opportunity to continually improve. 
  5. How do you scale your operations to meet increased demand or reduced need? RPO partners are well-known for their ability to deliver scalability during growth periods, but you need to ask potential talent outsourcing partners how they’d operate during a period of uncertainty. The COVID-19 pandemic showed that the requirement to scale down is just as important as the need to scale up.  

[Whitepaper] The value of recruitment process outsourcing 

#10: Include details of your evaluation criteria/scoring matrix in your RFP. 

RFPs are usually scored in two ways: simple scoring or weighted scoring. The former is straightforward and uses a scale of non-compliant to fully compliant to score each response in an RFP. Weighted scoring, however, allows organizations seeking RPO solutions to prioritize the elements of an RPO partnership that matter most to them. Each question is assigned a value based on importance, then the vendor score is multiplied by the assigned value. Weighted scoring is the most common approach in an RFP for RPO.  

Should you include details of your scoring matrix in an RFP? The simple answer is yes. It will give talent outsourcing providers the opportunity to concentrate on the questions that are most important to you.   

Did you know? It takes an average of 17.5 minutes to draft a response to an RFP question.

Loopio’s 2022 RFP Response Trends & Benchmarks report

We also suggest providing a preferred cost structure and pricing matrix in the RFP stage. This will make it easier for comparable pricing evaluation. It will reduce the likelihood of bidders interpreting pricing expectations differently while reducing the need for you to carry out additional rounds of commercial clarifications (with an appreciation of the timeframe you are working in to reach the target contract award date). 

Pro tip: Devise your scoring criteria before you start drafting your RFP questions. This will help to ensure your questions are relevant. 

Recruitment process outsourcing is an investment that can turn your talent program into a strategic, business-impacting function. Simply put, a robust, clear and concise RFP is essential if you want to be RPOptimized™. 

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About Craig Sweeney

As executive vice president, global strategic talent solutions, Craig leads WilsonHCG's growth strategy and new partnership cultivation across the globe. Alongside the trusted consultants at WilsonHCG, he builds market-leading, scalable and customisable RPO solutions. Craig's relationships span all industry verticals and geographies with expertise in technology, business services, financial services, engineering, manufacturing, retail, and media.