The Power of RPO: What Engineering Businesses Don’t Know they Need

February 23, 2015

While working with a medium sized R&D organization, Drew Johnson realized that the company’s recruiting needs couldn’t be solved through typical staffing or contingency models.

The company’s limited bandwidth for recruiting led Johnson, the principal of Forrest Johnson, to conclude that their dependence on outside staffing agencies and recruiting firms was actually unhealthy and costly.

Compounding the problem, the company’s concern about increased overhead and the uncertainty of project-driven hiring needs kept them from forming their own internal recruiting team.

As someone who helps small and medium engineering and technology companies find and hire the right talent, Johnson came up with an unexpected solution to the problem he was facing: Transferring some or even all of an employer’s recruitment process to an outside service provider, or recruitment process outsourcing (RPO).

Out of the box solution

“I’ve seen distrust in the hearts and minds of business owners towards recruiters,” he said.

“They need the help of the recruiter but they know the recruiter is selling them just as much as they are selling the opportunity to the candidate.” A recruiter’s goals always include speed, Johnson said. The faster they fill positions, the more profit they can make.

“But put yourself in the shoes of the business owner,” Johnson said. “They want to hire the best person possible. Certainly they want to do it quickly, but they don’t want the time to fill it to impact the quality of the hire.”

Additionally, staffing agencies and contingency search firms can be costly and do nothing to help a company develop their own employer brand or talent pipeline, Johnson said.

“Most recruiting organizations are hammers looking for nails, only offering static products to those companies, i.e. retained and contingency search or temp-to-perm staffing solutions. RPO is not in the vernacular when you talk about options,” he said.

Johnson thinks RPO can end the stalemate because it is an integrated solution which puts emphasis on the employer’s needs.

RPO is a broad concept that could mean hourly contract recruiting for one or more positions; management of the employer’s career site; posting new positions and processing incoming resumes; coordinating interviews; extending offers; even onboarding in some cases.

Evolving need for personalization

The need for such a nimble form of outsourcing is a result of many businesses’ modern staffing realities which can be traced back to the 1980s, Johnson said. Larger employers cut back on their recruitment teams in that decade because they weren’t doing a lot of hiring, he said.

As the economy finally began to support beleaguered companies, the need to hire employees grew but there wasn’t a great desire to add headcount to recruiting, Johnson said.

“Smaller clients [especially] are making cost-driven decisions,” he said, and those that hire engineers and scientists desperately need RPO to get crucial talent.

Small businesses want and need the same talent as larger companies, but they don’t typically have the internal recruiting competencies to compete effectively, Johnson said. Instead, they rely on their own internal networks.

“Referrals and personal networking can be a low-cost and effective part of a recruitment strategy as well as posting a job to targeted job boards like,” Johnson said, “but what do you do when your recruitment needs grow beyond your supply of good referrals?

That’s a big problem for a small business to have, essentially needing consultative help and recruiting help, he said.

Communication and expectations

Johnson is quick to point out that communication is key when negotiating such a customized recruiting solution. Clearly defined client needs and what portion of those needs a firm is going to meet are essential to short and long-term success, he said. “The worst case scenario is [an employer] thinks RPO is a silver bullet and immediately, overnight, their recruitment problems go away,” he said.

But when client expectations and a firm’s capabilities are on the same page, RPO can make great things happen, he said.

RPO can deliver the staff to execute recruitment tasks as well as the technology that will support and facilitate a custom methodology for recruiting, Johnson said.

“It can also help in reporting,” he said. “If [an employer is] ever audited or a claim is filed against you, you’ll be able to show you complied with any EEOC requirements. You can also see how many people are applying to the job, moving forward to different phases of the job process and see how long it takes to fill the job. RPO can offer metrics to determine your effectiveness.”

Aside from increased speed in filling positions, better candidate quality control and scalability, perhaps the most important products of RPO are ownership of the recruitment pipeline and employer branding, Johnson said.

“When you hire a firm, they’re promoting their own brand even though they’re recruiting your positions,” he said. RPO offers employers the closest thing to in-house recruiting, thereby sowing a company brand that will support recruiting needs for years to come, he said.


Photo credit: timothy.gregory/ Flickr