The Secret To Working With RPOs

An RPO wasn’t even really a thing until the early 2000s. Then someone decided that recruitment would be better if everyone just ignored their emails and deleted voicemails without listening to them… I jest.

But after research for this article, it seems agency recruiters aren’t the biggest fans of the RPOs. Some speculate whether they should just be automated. Others tell me they “completely annihilate the art of recruitment”.

One cited a discrepancy in hiring strategies as a potential barrier to doing business:

“Agencies hire with a sales mentality. A quick fix to a much larger problem. RPOs focus more on retaining effective hires”.

The world’s 51st best recruitment blogger makes the point that the value an RPO adds may depend on its scope:

“Some are just candidate processing factories – especially those serving lower skilled roles in very large corporations who think they’re doing the world a favour just by having job vacancies”.

I spoke to recruiters across the spectrum, including a ‘TA partner at an absolutely massive global RPO’ who said,

“The goal is to find the best person for every role. Ideally direct sourcing although this can’t be at the detriment of finding the right person”.

Developing the talent brand of such a large business is tough for RPO Talent Partners. Even improving the candidate experience is tricky if you’re trying to hit targets and don’t control your own workload.

“I’ve never had any less than 15 reqs. Average is 20-30 but I once had 55 on the go”.

You’d think stats like those would make the process blisteringly fast paced. But there’s a huge amount of admin that comes with the process. And being a specialist in several different markets, geographies, or both, is a full time job itself.

“I love the fact I feel valued by my stakeholders. And having sector experience and a proven track record means I feel like I’m adding value everyday. I love that. I’ve been here 3 years and seen candidates I’ve placed promoted multiple times. That’s an amazing feeling”.

I’m pretty sure that’s what it’s all about. Ask anyone why they got into recruitment and it’s either that or the money.

RPO recruiters know their business, the market and how to manage agencies. And there are a few pointers on offer to make it a more pleasant ordeal for those they work with. If that’s you, keep reading.

And mark today in your diary as the last day you ever hit your head against that brick wall.


1) Do your research

This is priceless.

You should know everything about the client. But also the recruiter and the RPO. It’s likely values will differ from entity to entity but finding how you align will boost your chances of engagement before you’ve picked up the phone.

If you’re pitching to work with an RPO there are likely processes to follow. Stay close to the process and don’t try to pitch into a hiring manager. Even if you succeed in getting somewhere, it doesn’t start off a relationship well by side-stepping the correct point of contact.

If you’re pitching to work with an RPO, knowing the correct process is just as important as knowing the business. It’s likely candidates will know the business. They might now know how they operate. If you do, you’re already proving your worth.

2) When to call

So, you’re on the PSL. Or hopefully sold sole supplier status and now have the ear of your target RPO.

The roles are released online and in reality, your need to call is minimal. But should you? And how often should you check in?

“Sometimes the volumes of calls is insane, other times I won’t get calls for weeks”.

If you’re dealing with one person in particular, ask them when they appreciate interaction. You may well find one Talent Partner likes to chat about the workload. Others simply need clarification.

You won’t find out the parameters unless you ask. Equally, it’s incredibly difficult to build rapport over email. So make sure your contact is regular but always useful. That way when they see your number calling (and they will) they’re less likely to screen the call.

Long term, try and keep an eye out for the tricky roles. The ones your competitors might struggle to cover. The absolute headache jobs.

Your stock will rise if you’re the aspirin.

3) Tailor your sales pitch

RPO recruiters are targeted on factors like: Time to Hire, Time to Start and both candidate and hiring manager satisfaction. Take these values into account in your sales pitch.

OK, you’re a specialist.

So’s everyone else.

But if you know the targets of your RPO partner, you know how to sell your service. If you meet every candidate, you’ll know them better and can help Time to Hire targets.

If you work with candidates exclusively you can impact Time to Start metrics. You’re also likely to have strong process. Meaning candidate satisfaction is going to be high.

An RPO Talent Partner would much rather work with someone like this than a Resourcer who sits on job boards. Remember that.


4) Avoid pitching on-paper candidates

“Don’t call and sell in candidates who are easy finds.”

Sometimes best isn’t always brightest.

If a candidate’s perfect, it’s likely they’re already on the radar. Nothing wrong with that, it just means they’re not particularly valuable. And important to remember, RPOs have databases too. And they’ll check these before coming over to you.

This means being more thorough with candidate qualification and imparting the need for both trust and candidate ownership. If a candidate wrongly says they haven’t been sent, it wastes time neither of you have.

The right person for a role might be less than conventional on paper, but have exactly the right qualities off it. For more on this read How to Sell Soft Skills. 

5) Creating “urgency”

Most RPO recruiters share a similar background to you. So chances are, they learned the same things you did, in the same way. Including how to speed up a process. They also want to move just as quickly as you. So barraging them when there’s no news won’t go down well.

Why? ‘Cause there’s no news.

“We might lose this candidate if we don’t move quickly” however true, is the oldest line in the book.

To build a bit of a buzz, you’re better off highlighting the value your candidate can add over more immediate factors like availability. 

6) Keep messages short

Anything that takes longer than 30 seconds to read is likely to be ignored.

One of your main objectives should be to promote how much time you save and that starts with concise communication. If you sold improving their ‘Time to Hire’ metrics in BD and now start every email with a paragraph of frivolities, you’re not doing it right.

The tips in How To Write Winning InMails will sort you out for Business Development. 

Beyond that, think about communicating with a CEO. Sure, you want to be jovial. But get to the point. 

7) Channels of communication

It could be you’re firing out perfect emails but they aren’t getting replied to because email just isn’t the right channel. RPO recruiters might be chattier on LinkedIn or the phone.

Or they’re out of their inbox completely because they’ve routed all comms through an app like Slack. Whatever the case, it may be your method and not your message that needs changing. 


8) Putting the U in USPs

USPs about being market leading or having a gigantic database might sound compelling to clients but probably sound uniformed and dreary to an RPO recruiter.

Unique stories need to come to the fore.

Personal ones. With detail. Not just about filling gaps in teams, but delivering abject perfection in the face of impossible roles. If you know their pain points from above, sell on those.

9) Proactive / reactive

Agency recruitment can be extremely reactive. And RPOs endeavour to be as proactive as possible.

Whether that manifests in regular, low-stakes check-ins or banking candidates in advance of a hiring need, preparing to be called upon is the key to working effectively with an RPO.

It’s worth checking sign off for every role you receive. Ask them whether this is a definite role, or something they might need. Having that information will guide your attitude and process with the market.

Working with RPOs can be a long game.

And it takes a lot to impact the established relationships between an RPO and an individual recruiter.

“I have a small number of very good recruiters who I know I can go to. And even though I may only have one role I place with them a year, the respect we build means I want to work with them when I do have that hard to fill role”.

90 day payment terms at a 15% margin might not seem like the most mouth watering of prospects. But if you can make it work for you, these are the deals that pour the gravy directly into your train. And the amount these businesses hire might just mean, if you can nail the process, you’ll build a steady business working with them.

Interested in making the switch yourself?

These Hunted partners provide an on site offering. Meaning you could be working more strategically, directly with your clients.

Talentful, Create and Adapt, Arrows Group, Propel, WorksHub