Recruitment Process Outsourcing: The Ultimate Guide

The recent downturn led many organizations to scale back their workforce, but as things turn around, now they are looking to hire. As a result, Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO) is on the rise.

The current economic climate calls for a new talent acquisition model; one that is scalable, flexible and more cost-effective than the internal recruiting departments of yore. RPO is a compelling departure from traditional methods, making it a logical choice for growth-oriented businesses large and small.

What Is RPO?

The Recruitment Process Outsourcing Association (RPOA) defines RPO as “a form of business process outsourcing where an employer transfers all or part of its recruitment processes to an external provider.”

RPO firms essentially serve as an extension of a company’s human resources department and can manage all or specific parts of the recruiting process. Their solutions are customizable depending on need and available resources, and they typically offer services ranging from job profiling to the on-boarding of new hires.

RPO services differ from those offered by staffing companies and contingent or retained search providers in that RPOs assume ownership of the design and management of recruiting processes and responsibility for the results. In addition, RPO firms promote the client company’s brand rather than their own.

Is RPO Right For You?

In the hands of a skilled provider, RPO can offer a lot of benefits, including improved hiring time, increased quality of candidates and the provision of verifiable metrics for the recruiting process. In today’s competitive marketplace, these factors can give businesses a significant competitive edge.

Whether you need a little bit of help with hiring or would prefer to outsource the entire process, there are a few things you should consider when evaluating an RPO solution for your company:

  • Why your company needs help with recruiting.

It is important to understand your company’s need for hiring assistance before seeking outside help. Doing so will set the stage for the selection and management of a suitable RPO, as well as expectations for your internal human resource, management and executive teams. Begin by exploring specific reasons and rank them in order of priority.

Examples include:

– Internal resources are over-taxed.
– You foresee an increase in hiring activity.

– Your management team wants a more accountable and/or consistent option than traditional internal recruiters, contract recruiters and agencies.

– Metrics related to recruiting quality, speed and cost are unknown.

  • The type of assistance you require.

RPOs typically provide three levels of service: project outsourcing, program outsourcing and total outsourcing.

If you need help hiring a few salespeople, that’s project outsourcing. If you just inked a government contract and need 200 people immediately, that’s project outsourcing. If your entire HR department needs support, that’s total outsourcing. Identifying the type of assistance you require will help determine if RPO is right for you, and will go a long way in helping you select a provider who can fulfill your specific needs.

  • The specific problems an RPO can and cannot solve.

    Although cost savings is an eventual advantage of outsourcing your recruiting function, it should not be your primary reason for considering this type of arrangement. RPO is a highly consultative function with vast differences in structure, focus, technology and cost.

    Where RPO firms excel is in their ability to improve candidate quality, increase recruitment responsiveness and implement a best-in-class recruitment process to carry your company forward. They cannot, however, be expected to solve your existing problems with fewer resources than you are currently allocating.If your company has inefficient processes and infrastructure in place, focus on the end results you desire, rather than your immediate need to cut costs. In the end, hiring employees who perform at a high level and retaining them will dramatically improve your company’s bottom line.

How Do You Select An RPO Provider?

After deciding whether or not RPO is the best solution for your company, you will need to evaluate your options. Here are a few things to consider when choosing an RPO provider:

  • Size of the RPO firm:
Depending on your needs, you can choose between a small, mid-sized or large RPO provider. Small providers are regionally based and may recruit nationally, but tend to be focused on a few specialties. Mid-sized providers are regionally or nationally based, recruit globally, and cover a broader spectrum of industries. Large providers are similar to mid-sized firms, except they are often owned by a professional employer organization (PEO) and can provide other HR outsourcing services beyond RPO.
  • Service structure:
The recruiting industry is advancing at a rapid pace, and RPO providers differ greatly in the technologies, processes and staff they employ. Some RPOs will refine your current processes and work with your existing infrastructure and staff, whereas others prefer to implement a more complete end-to-end solution. Ask questions, explain your desired outcomes and evaluate service agreements closely to determine which provider will best meet your needs.
  • Company background:
You should ensure that any RPO you’re considering is established and has a track record of quality customer service. It is wise to ask for references from other clients, preferably those in your industry or geographic area.
  • Cultural fit:
It is important to choose an RPO provider whose staff you like and work well with. The RPO will serve as an extension of your HR team, so trust and likability are key to a successful long-term relationship.
  • Cost:
Depending on your recruiting needs, the initial cost of partnering with an RPO may be more costly than doing the hiring yourself. However, the long-term benefits that come with strategic recruitment processes—including improved quality of candidates, increased retention, and consistency in employment branding and hiring practices—can equate to significant savings in the long run. In addition, your company will be spared the high overhead costs of implementing new methodologies or technologies in-house and will further benefit from the scalability an RPO can provide. Both you and your staff will be free to focus on core business tasks while your recruiting needs are handled by a dedicated team of professionals.
  • Commitment:
RPO is not a “set-it-and-forget-it” solution. Your relationship with the provider you select will require an investment of time, especially in the early days of implementation. You should also be prepared to give your RPO six months to a year to achieve results.


As the business landscape continues to evolve at a rapid pace, it is important for your company to stay abreast of new talent acquisition models and recruitment processes to maintain a competitive edge. An RPO can provide consistency, scalability and quality in hiring practices that your internal team may be unable to achieve. Most importantly, an RPO can help you find people who are a better fit in a fraction of the time.

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