Key Considerations When Choosing an RPO Partner

Time to Read: 6.9 minutes

Published: December 12, 2017

The job market is competitive, and without trying too hard you will find plenty of references to a so-called “talent war.” While we don’t wish to paint a picture of hiring managers dashing around with sticks and stones, we do concur: It is tough out there.

Hiring managers are overworked, HR departments are juggling multiple tasks, and many lack the necessary skills and expertise to develop a proactive hiring strategy. Some may not even be equipped to test, interview and appraise candidates for highly technical roles.

Choosing the right recruitment process outsourcing (RPO) partner can be a huge boon. RPO can give organizations access to cutting-edge technology and testing tools, as well as a loaded pipeline of skilled candidates.

It is for these reasons, and a few more we will discuss, that many employers opt to outsource their recruitment needs to experts. Here are a few tips on choosing a reliable RPO partner.

Why Choose an RPO Partner

It’s worth pointing out the circumstances in which an RPO tends to be a better choice than a traditional recruitment agency. As Oli Meagers at Online Recruitment magazine says, organizations might opt for the latter when filling positions urgently. Driven by time constraints, the organization and the recruitment agency act quickly — but perhaps not according to the best strategy.

Many readers will see the above as a reactive approach to hiring. We have, in a previous post, written about the advantages of building proactive talent acquisition strategy. To reiterate, this should be the aim whenever possible.

RPOs, on the other hand, are generally used by organizations that might lack the requisite in-house skills or wish to develop a long-term talent acquisition strategy. The relationship between organization and RPO will be based on exclusivity clauses or sole-supplier contracts to develop transparent and consultative partnerships.

Having an RPO partner doesn’t mean the existing in-house team becomes superfluous, however. It depends on what kind of relationship and organization seeks from its partner.

RPOs Must Offer Customizable Treatment

Randstad Sourceright’s Sue Ruddock, writing at the Staffing Stream, lists four major RPO models:

  • End-to-end, which includes all hiring requirements for appointing permanent employees, as well as value-added services such as contingent workforce management.
  • Project RPO, which is for one-off or repeat projects requiring short-term sourcing needs.
  • Selective RPO, which is used to build upon existing recruitment process.
  • Recruiter on demand (ROD) solutions, which add manpower to an organization’s in-house function.

Whatever the chosen model, Ruddock notes that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Companies need a customized strategy to meet their larger business goals.

Achieving recruitment goals with an in-house team is possible, but it is costly and time-consuming. Ruddock notes how quickly talent analytics and mobile technology, for example, have become essential for an effective talent strategy. Not being on top of this will cause hiring strategies to fail.

An RPO partner, she writes, can help an organization find balance by delivering insights and market experience. It should complement the company culture and be able to adapt to change in size and direction.

For Gajendra Chandel, chief HR officer at Tata Motors, an RPO partner plays a supportive role. While his in-house talent acquisition team focuses on strategy and brand-building, the company outsources to a partner that is able to deliver skills the company doesn’t have, as well as access to a deeper pool of candidates.

While Chandel keeps brand-building in-house, many RPOs can fulfil this function, as well as many other functions.

Hiring an RPO Is Not Just About Filling Desks

As employers’ needs have evolved, so too has the role of RPO partners. Stacey Cadigan, a market intelligence consultant, says RPOs should help organizations build their employment brands, boost passive candidate engagement and make the application process more personalized.

This all sounds positive, but there is sometimes still a reluctance to outsource. Some organizations fear the unknown or a perceived loss of control when bringing in an RPO. This stems from the false belief that the vendor won’t be able to understand an organization’s needs. A good RPO, writes Newton Consulting’s Patty Silbert, quickly gets to grip with a company’s value proposition and can articulate to candidates how it differs from their current employment.

Of course, a solid RPO program will be able to measure whether goals are being met within agreed to timeframes. Using tracking mechanisms and metrics to measure progress, this data will reveal the RPO’s efficiency, as well as help shape and evolve the talent acquisition strategy.

What to Do Before Deciding on an RPO Partner

Larry Myler at Forbes writes that when hiring an RPO partner it is prudent to check their track record. Just as one wouldn’t hire a financial planner with a questionable personal investment portfolio, one shouldn’t hire an RPO that cannot boast a talented and long-serving team working for them.

Myler suggest asking three questions to help decided on the right partner:

  • What is their annual loss rate of employees? Turnover should be less than 20 percent.
  • Do they hire, train and manage their own employees?
  • Do their employees love working for their employers?

The answers to these questions should yield useful insight when choosing the best outsourcing vendor for an organization’s needs.

IBM’s Jacques Bossonney says before choosing an RPO partner, it is worth listing all of your organization’s needs and rank them according to priority.  “Your objectives must remedy your pain points,” he says, “so be specific.” These considerations include

  • RPO partners being able to source and deliver hard-to-fill positions,
  • being innovative with tools and solutions,
  • and being flexible to adapt the service without compromising quality.

Beyond the skills and technological know-how of RPOs, there is another important consideration: An RPO needs to align with the hiring values of the organization. This is what Kimberly Warne, talent acquisition leader at GE, expects from both in-house recruiters and RPOs. They should “manage managers, keep candidates warm, bear in mind diversity programs and a number of other requirements.”

All of the above flows into a major capability an RPO needs to demonstrate: It must be able to customize recruitment solutions.

Eyal Katz at Connecteam says the right RPO will have industry-specific expertise to solve the pain points. It does this through a customized solution that fits an organization’s business needs and strategic objectives.

The Difference Between Good and Great RPOs

Howard Flint, at Recruiting Blogs, deals with an important question: What is the difference between a good RPO and a great RPO? A great partner, he says, will deliver “recruitment excellence” from the beginning and throughout the relationship.

Flint cautions that while RPOs offer interesting perspectives and insight into emerging areas of recruitment practice, they can often be following market trends. This is necessary, but without being proactive in dealing with their clients’ needs, they will not add real and measurable value to an organization.

Great RPOs offer a comprehensive strategy and overarching framework for improvement to deliver a real and sustained competitive advantage. This all needs to happen with minimum hassle and cost. To ensure this happens, Flint advises organizations to test an RPO’s performance using the four criteria:

  • Quality hires through data
  • Service efficiency and positive stakeholder experience
  • Total workforce management
  • Client empathy to honor the company’s culture, values and brand

Picking an RPO Partner Is Simpler Than It Sounds

This may all seem like a lot, but as Quarsh founder Lucy James says, choosing the right RPO just requires a bit of research. She suggests finding an RPO that can up and downscale according to organizational needs.

James also says when it comes to specialized needs such as tech or scientific candidates, organizations will need RPOs with specific skill sets and proven experience in technical fields.

The task may seem daunting, but it needn’t be. RPOs are experts for a reason: They have the experience, the technology and the skills to ensure their clients get the very best resources to build a long-term talent acquisition strategy.

With the guidance offered in this post, hiring managers and employers can ask the important questions from the very beginning as to what their organization needs. The right RPO will be able to lead them to the answers.

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Shanil Kaderali

Shanil Kaderali is a strategic talent acquisition leader with global experience. He's managed and led recruitment functions at companies like Cisco Systems, Symantec, WellPoint, as well as having worked for several Baker's Dozen RPO winners.

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