Quarsh Blog

RPO - Have You Bought What You Think You've Bought?

Over a coffee recently, a prospective client posed me an interesting question. If you have been onsite with your client as an RPO provider for three years, would you suggest Executive Search to fill a senior post? The answer is pretty straightforward: if the RPO provider has done their job well, there should be no need. The candidate is likely to be currently working for an immediate and known competitor. It should be possible to produce a long-list of appropriate candidates within a day or two. They won’t necessarily all be interviewed, interested and ready to talk to the hiring manager, but they should at least be names that we know. Executive Search would absolutely be the best course of action if the candidate might be in a parallel industry, and for all senior posts I would expect to present a shortlist of engaged, interested and qualified candidates that our team has interviewed in depth, but I would categorically would not expect to have to carry out fresh research, in full, from scratch, which characterises Executive Search.

This single example brings into sharp focus how Recruitment Process Outsourcing has evolved over the last few years. It is true that most RPO relationships begin with a transactional approach – there are usually jobs that need to be filled quickly, so they are addressed first – but after the initial influx has been dealt with, it is time to review the long-term strategy. Within six months, or at the most a year, a recruitment team should be able to map out the market and gain a thorough understanding of the industry’s key influencers. This is phase one of Talent Warehousing, or Talent Pooling as it’s also known. At the same time, the recruitment team should be able to talk to hiring managers about their plans for the next twelve months, and ideally someone from the recruitment team will be involved in strategic-level business development discussions so that the general direction of the business can be factored into market mapping and external talent engagement. This does not mean that candidates are going to be promised jobs, far from it; an intelligent and proactive recruiter doesn’t need a job spec and authorisation to get a feel for where talent might be needed in the future.

In the same discussion, we talked about what impact an RPO provider should have in a business. It may sound a little like turkeys voting for Christmas, but our belief is that an RPO provider should eventually make themselves redundant. Yes, they should be able to demonstrate significant improvements to key metrics (time to hire, cost of hire etc) but they should also be able to develop your talent warehouse so that you can maintain it and draw from it yourself should you wish to bring recruitment in-house. You are investing huge amounts, after all; your RPO provider almost certainly charges fees per hire and that investment should deliver long-term returns.

Many RPO relationships fall short of the mark in anything other than a transactional respect. They may be able to get bums on seats, but how are they performing over the long-term? Is your employer branding improving? Are your recruits getting more skilled and more engaged? Is the market talking about you more? Is it getting easier to land the people you want? So challenge your RPO provider, if that is what you think you have. Ask them for KPIs that demonstrate how they have improved your recruitment environment over the last six or twelve months. Ask them what they have done, unprompted by you, that adds value. Things that make the recruitment process smoother. Interview training for hiring managers; careers portals; strategic talent mapping; onboarding surveys; performance reviews - all of these things should be offered as part of the solution and not a chargeable extra as the RPO provider benefits by being able to work more efficiently.  

You have high expectations and you were probably promised great things when you signed up. Make sure you’re getting the service, both short-term and long-term, that you deserve.