RPO Providers Are Not Built Equally – Understand the difference between high complexity and high volume providers.

Let’s get past the marketing fluff… What can a RPO provider deliver?   For the sake of this article, I am only going to focus on “full life cycle” recruitment process outsourcing as defined below.

}  The RPO Alliance, a group of the Human Resources Outsourcing Association (HROA), approved this definition in February 2009: “Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO) is a form of business process outsourcing (BPO) where an employer transfers all or part of its recruitment processes to an external service provider. An RPO provider can provide its own or may assume the company’s staff, technology, methodologies and reporting. In all cases, RPO differs greatly from providers such as staffing companies and contingent/retained search providers in that it assumes ownership of the design and management of the recruitment process and the responsibility of results

Today’s blog posting will focus on the difference between “high volume”  and “high complexity”  RPO solutions. At the highest levels both require requisition management, sourcing, screening, interviewing, offer and on-boarding practices.  However the detailed processes, the people and where the most time is spent, will vary based upon complexity.  So just because your RPO fills call center roles really well, does not mean they can do high level professional roles and vice / versa.  Let’s talk!

High Volume / Low Complexity RPO

We need a lot of people, quickly!!   Can you breath, can you pass an assessment and do you have the basic skills?  Okay I am exaggerating, but these are typically roles that are “volume” based and there are either many applicants or it is considered more of an entry level role.

The Recruiting Process


–          Is all about the numbers.  (I need so many prospects in my funnel to create enough out the back end.)

–          Strategy will focus on how talent has been successfully attracted in the past based upon the data.

–          Gaps will be address through very closely monitored sourcing strategies

–          Recruiters must do xx interviews per day for x period of time

–          Expect at least 10 – 25% drop off due to offer rejection and background check failure rates

–          Hiring managers will have to allocated xx amount of time based upon the ratio’s of interviews to hire

–          Mass or round robin interview schedules may need to be established to meet the hiring demand

–          Onboarding may be automated to expedite the process

Requisition Management

–          Approve multiple positions on a requisition

–          Hiring manager discussions focus more on timing, geography, interview scheduling and the ability to provision talent once they onboard


–          Depending upon the talent types, sourcing strategies may include:

–          Feet on the street activities

–          Local market outreach

–          Resume mining and demand generation activities

–          Job posting

–          High volume, yet targeted advertising strategies

–          Employee referrals


–          Skills tests, personality tests, online questionnaires with auto ranking in the ATS is a must

–          Interviews are fairly scripted for consistency and timing

–          Screening interviews may be facilitated through an online self scheduling tool to reduce time spend chasing down talent


–          Scheduling interviews and coordination of events are template

–          Managers may do a round robin to facilitate the volumes or a have a weekly hiring day

–          Those who pass the interview will go to pre-offer stage

Pre-Offer Stage

–          Facilitate background  and drug checks through online tool

–          Facilitate e-verify through an online tool

–          Facilitate reference checks  through a shared services group or online tool such as Checkster


–          Very prescriptive and template

–          Not much negotiating wiggle room

The high volume recruitment processes are administrative, prescriptive, template and can be delivered in a shared services model.  Candidate experience focuses on the process and meeting basic needs.  The recruiters are lower level but focus on 30+ hires per month.  The process is driven by the numbers and is tweaked based upon the interview to hire rates.  Basically this is a very transactional process that is heavily leveraged through technology.

High Complexity RPO

In the six sigma world, this is the process where the most time can be spent sourcing for the “right” talent, calibration with hiring managers and closing candidates.   More variation in position types, therefore a recruiter may not be able to leverage requisitions.   A recruiter may have a quota of 3 people per month in some complex recruiting areas.   More time is spent building pipelines, relationships and the candidate experience.

Requisition Management

–          Requisitions are unique and fit is based upon skill, industry and experience combined.

–          Hiring manager calibration is critical.

–          Recruiter must be knowledgeable of the industry and be able to push back when the manager is requesting someone that does not exist or is a purple squirrel.


Pipeline Building

–           There is pre-work in this area where pipelines and communities of talent may need to be built.  Social media and CRM strategies are super helpful.

–          Good pipelining does not equate to “hires”, it relates to “shorter time to fill”.

–          Pipelining is expensive and cannot be baked into a cost per hire pricing model.

Active Sourcing

–          Sourcing plan development

–          Inbound sourcing – these are the candidates in the ATS

–          Employee referrals

–          Past hiring success sourcing

–          Direct sourcing through pipelining, community efforts, linkedin, internet research and direct sourcing

–          Time to effectively source candidates can be as low as 10 hours and as high as 52 hours + depending upon complexity.


–           The phone screens cannot be scripted. They must be experiential.

–          Questions must tie to the industry and the needs of the business unit.

–          A higher level recruiter with industry experience, must get a true read on these types of candidates capabilities, skills and cultural fit.


–          The candidate experience is critical.  These individuals are interviewing the organization as well as the organization interviewing them.

–          Custom schedules, with thorough candidate preparation with all participating in the interview process

–          Feedback loops

–          Calibration sessions that may trigger a new sourcing strategy / plan.

–          Time sensitive

–          Candidates require feedback

Offer Stage

–          Knowledge  of current compensation bands, what it will take to close candidate, benefits and potential escalation should an exception be required

–          Offer approval processes much more structured

–          Offer may be verbally provided by both the recruiter and the hiring manager – this gets defined in the upfront RPO process.

–          Issues must be mitigated to get the candidate to close or say yes

–          Relocation may need to be engaged

–          Interview expense reports managed

–          Background / pre-employment verification process must be initiated

Hire and On-boarding

–          Candidate outreach prior to start date from hiring manager and peers

–          On boarding is more than provisioning, it is to make sure that assimilate well into the new role and culture.

The high complexity RPO has invested in sourcing, higher level recruiters, industry knowledge, company knowledge and may leverage a shared services group for additional sourcing, advertising and candidate outreach support.  Potential failure modes within a complex recruitment process are greater, especially within the hiring manager relationship and the ability to effectively managing the process.  Most recruiters who support the high complexity recruiting process do not support volume hiring and vice versa.  RPO pricing for high complexity recruiting is higher and there may be “special resources” or “programs” that are billed on a time and materials basis or a transactional services fee to effectively attract, recruit and hire those with complex skill requirements.

The processes, people, organizational structure and activities within each step differ.  Your RPO should be able to articulate the difference.  Unfortunately I see too many clients select the wrong RPO to execute a process where they do not have domain expertise and both client and provider fail.

Key takeaways:

1. Understand your needs

2. Clearly articulate to your supplier community the services required

3. The RPO provider should be able to demonstrate proven capability

4. Calibration and alignment is always required in a people driven process

Tracey Friend, tfriend@brightfieldstrategies.com Building Successful Solutions That Work!


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