Beyond Recruiting: RPO as a Strategic Partnership

From its name alone, recruitment process outsourcing (RPO) could easily be construed as nothing more than a transactional relationship between a client providing hiring needs to a vendor and those needs being checked off. However, there can be (and should be) much more to an RPO engagement than a vendor simply filling seats.

For further insight into what exactly an RPO partnership should look like, we sat down with Evergreen’s Director of Talent Optimization & Management, Scott Cornick, for his thoughts on why a close partnership with clients is so important during an RPO engagement, what clients should be looking for in an RPO vendor to make sure they’re finding the right partner, and how the partnership should be cultivated on both the client and vendor side.

How would you define RPO?

The general definition of an RPO is when a company outsources a portion or all of their full-time talent acquisition to an external vendor. The vendor effectively becomes an extension of the client and supports the entire recruiting process. At Evergreen and Insight Global, some of the ways we look at RPO include:

  • As a talent-focused, strategic partnership designed to drive business results.
  • As a relationship with our clients where we’re accountable for filling a number of exclusive roles and providing consultative results.
  • And as a service that goes beyond “filling the reqs.” For us, this means managing the actual process and providing reporting that’s tied to KPIs and SLAs.

When you say, “a strategic partnership,” what does that look like in action?

Ultimately, it means that we’re working collaboratively with our clients to ensure business needs are being fulfilled.

The foundation for this partnership is laid out in our discovery phase, which is the first pillar of our implementation for RPO. We take this time to understand what our client’s current processes are, what their current tooling is, and any dependencies that we should be aware of. If they don’t have tooling we can recommend a software solution we use internally.

Then we help identify and develop what the client’s hiring requirements are and define what the recruiting workflow looks like, from our team handing off a candidate to a hiring manger, to the client interviewing and hiring a candidate after they’re screened by us.

The last thing we do during this foundational stage is provide our client with best practice recommendations such as crafting in-depth candidate profiles for each role. For example, some of our partners might inadvertently be writing non-inclusive job descriptions. That’s an opportunity for us to come in with our Insight Global DEIB partners and have their assistance in rewriting the job descriptions.

How important is it to get the “strategic partnership” piece right?

It’s critical.

A lot of the time what we see our partners dealing with is a protracted talent acquisition process. Maybe it’s their internal TA team, or maybe it’s another vendor, but the issue is often that the recruitment process isn’t moving quickly enough or offers aren’t being given fast enough. If both sides of the partnership, both the vendor and the client, aren’t on the same page about working together efficiently, then no improvements can be made.

What are some things clients can be doing to build up the partnership on their end?

Fully buying into the strategic partnership is really important. As I just mentioned, taking recommendations from the vendor and adjusting how candidates are handled at each stage in the recruitment process is what’s going to drive meaningful change.

Also, sticking to the communication plan set at the beginning of the partnership is imperative. And not only is it important to drive communication between the vendor and the client, but there’s also an organizational change perspective that needs to be considered. Employees are generally resistant to change, especially if they don’t understand the “why.” Being a consultative RPO vendor is helping everyone who touches the partnership on the client side understand the “why” behind the recruitment process changes and what the expected outcomes are going to be.

Are there any red flags clients should look out for from their provider?

If a provider isn’t willing to bend or take feedback, that’s a red flag. RPO vendors need to be flexible because hiring managers are all different. We need to know what sort of nuances there are in a partner’s recruitment process and support those. If you try to just shoehorn new systems in and create hard and fast rules, there are going to be those who find ways around it. It’s an effort that requires a lot of customization.

Another thing to look out for is a vendor who sees themselves as a replacement for a client’s TA or HR function. RPO shouldn’t be viewed as competition between a vendor and your current talent acquisition team—that’s just not going to go well for anyone.

What are the business outcomes of building a strategic partnership throughout an RPO engagement?

The most obvious one is, of course, the client getting all of the hires that they need. But while these hires are being made, in a successful RPO the client’s internal talent acquisition teams and hiring managers should also be feeling a reduced operational burden.

With the right partner, there should also be an integration of best TA practices. This is going to drive really important process improvements like unlocked scalability, better candidate quality, and a better experience for the folks who are going through the recruiting process.

What is an example you’ve seen that shows how a close RPO partnership can produce real results?

In the last year, we worked with a premier retailer on an RPO to help fill 100+ of their developer and developer management roles. Through our close, strategic partnership, we identified areas of process improvement and coached their TA team and hiring managers on how to be more efficient in the hiring process. Part of this included gaining access to their calendar system and completely managing the interview scheduling process. We also noticed some data gaps in their applicant tracking system and provided recommendations on how to close those gaps.

How does an organization know if an RPO is the way to go? And what are the steps they can take to make sure they find the right partner?

There are some key indicators that any organization might experience, like if the existing TA team lacks the infrastructure or bandwidth to support the necessary hiring volume, or if the bandwidth is there but for whatever reason candidate quality isn’t where it needs to be.

Then there some situational reasons a client might benefit from an RPO, such as:

  • Their organization has a key business initiative or project that requires an effective and efficient ramp-up of FTE headcount.
  • Their organization was awarded project-based work by their end client and need to scale their FTE headcount.
  • They have teams with high volume hiring needs that are also for very specific skill sets or operate within very specific lines of business.
  • They experienced significant growth or a surge in funding and need to scale.
  • Or they are expanding their geographic footprint into new locations.

So if a client is experiencing any of these hurdles, I’ll let my colleague, Evergreen Solution Architect Alex Walker, share his thoughts on how to find the right partner:   

One of the best ways to vet a vendor is just asking them what their thoughts are around a recommended workflow for the entire process—from sourcing to screening to making an offer—and hearing what they have to say. This will let the vendor talk through their perspective and help the client see whether or not is aligns with their expectations.

Another one is just understanding what the partner’s experience or past performance is with the skill sets that the client’s job openings require. Talking through how many placements the vendor has made in the area and what their specialized screening questions or technical assessments are will help the client understand what that partner does to vet the quality of candidates before they even reach the hiring manager’s desk.

And last but definitely not least, asking the vendor what they’re doing from a tech standpoint to reach the widest candidate pool possible.

If you’re seeking a strategic business partner to drive your large-scale hiring needs, our recruitment process experts at Evergreen are ready to help: