Recruitment Process Partnership (RPP): A Buyer's Guide

BY Matt Burton   |  


Whether your business is a service-based organisation with very the way of physical assets, or a manufacturing or engineering outfit operating a vast array of high-value equipment, your people are your number one asset.

After all, your staff are everything from the brains behind your business’s innovation, to the ‘shop window’ you present to new customers and partners. Even in highly automated, technology-driven businesses, people catalyse key processes and keep operations running smoothly.

Little wonder, then, that recruiting and retaining top talent is a major priority for all successful organisations.


While many businesses may manage an in-house recruitment function, outsourcing to a specialist provider is very popular too – either on a role by role basis, or as a complete Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO) solution.


An RPO agreement involves outsourcing some or all aspects of an organisation’s recruitment processes to an external agency on an ongoing, retained basis. Those aspects might be as simple as advertising for, interviewing and selecting individual candidates, or as complex as running assessment centres and multi-stage hiring processes for entire teams or departments.

There are multiple advantages to this approach. The client organisation can concentrate on day-to-day operations, safe in the knowledge that an expert partner is handling recruitment. There may also be substantial cost savings to be made, if the alternative would be a full-time, in-house recruitment team; taking more time out of the HR department; or paying a recruitment consultant on an ad-hoc basis. An experienced recruitment partner should be able to source and negotiate the best talent available and reduce attrition rates, generating a rock-solid and top-quality workforce.

At least, that’s the theory.

But not every organisation has an RPO in place – and of those that do, not every organisation is happy with it. Why?


The principles of an RPO should work for every organisation above a certain size, yet frequently these models are too corporate or too institutionalised to respond to the dynamic, real-life demands of growing, changing businesses. What’s more, they are typically heavily focused on service level agreements (SLAs) – which you might think sounds great, until you realise that this comes at the expense of understanding the culture, existing workforce and softer elements like personality fit and atmosphere for new members of staff.

These limitations are driving a shift towards an approach we call Recruitment Process Partnership (RPP), whereby the focus is not simply on providing a standalone recruitment service but on integrating recruitment into organisations’ immediate day-to-day operations and long-term business goals.

However, even then, following an RPP model doesn’t guarantee an efficient and cost-effective recruitment process. For a start, there isn’t one standard RPP model – there are several to choose from. And beyond that, it’s still important to choose the right provider and go into the process knowing exactly what you require – and what is required of you.


Before you begin assessing prospective RPP models, you should explore a series of issues to ascertain what it is that you’re looking for from an RPP and indeed, whether you need one at all. 

Taking the time to consider these issues will enable you to get your house in order before any outsourcing begins, and therefore set a strong foundation for an effective recruitment partnership. After all, how can you expect a recruitment provider to find you the right talent at the right price if you’re not sure what your growth plan is for the coming months, maybe even years?

The good news is that any reputable recruitment specialist should be able to work through these topics with you as part of a free consultation. This doesn’t mean asking you a list of questions, giving an occasional nod and taking notes. They should discuss these issues in an active way, offering you different perspectives and talking through the pros and cons of their approach.

The result should be a clearly defined set of goals for your RPP solution, ranked in order of importance and each with key performance targets assigned. This will form the framework for not only choosing your RPP solution, but also for continually assessing the performance of your recruitment provider.


This is all about understanding why your organisation is looking to outsource its recruitment processes. Copying your competitors or having a vague feeling that it’s the right thing to do isn’t good enough. You need concrete goals or tangible challenges you are seeking to address. These might be as simple as wanting to cut recruitment costs, or a complex combination of reasons that mean managing recruitment in-house is implausible. Either way, your motivations need clarification.

Bear in mind, however, that RPP deals typically last for several years or more, so seeking nothing more than cost-savings may not be the most effective approach to your partnership. Try to think broadly about the ways in which you’d like an RPP provider to add value to your business.


Your RPP solution will be a contract with a supplier so it is far better to get realistic service level agreements and key performance indicators agreed upfront than to argue over them at a later date.


An RPP deal is, of course, a partnership between you and a recruitment provider, and you need to decide who is going to shoulder and manage which elements of risk, and how any potential rewards are shared and incentivised. For some organisations, it actually works well to offer their recruitment partner a share in gains made from the deal. This isn’t right for everyone, but it is certainly worth considering. 


A key feature of a successful RPP is that they don’t emulate a customer/supplier dynamic.


Such a model implies that either the client organisation or the recruitment provider has more control than the other, when in fact, working as an equal partnership enables a fairer approach to problem solving and more visibility for all parties. Nevertheless, from a management perspective, it is important to understand issues like, who is the first port of call for different functions? And how will particular decisions be made?

To help you navigate RPP we have developed a Decision Tree that will lead you to the right conclusion.


Broadly speaking, there are three basic RPP models to choose from:


This model is the closest to a traditional business/recruiter relationship. It flexes and alters according to the recruitment needs. There may be weeks or months when no recruitment takes place and therefore no services are used – then there may be a period of time when dozens of staff need hiring at once. At that stage, the RPP provider operates like a super-flexible extension of the organisation’s own in-house team, immediately allocating the appropriate level of resource and getting the job done.

What makes this different from a traditional recruitment arrangement? First, the foundations are far deeper; the RPP provider knows the organisation’s brand and messaging, business goals, culture and the results they need like the back of their hand. As such, no time is wasted on briefing, accuracy rates are far higher, and attrition rates far lower. Second, a contract is already in place, so there is no negotiation on rates and no engagement with cold-calling agencies. As such, it is a lower maintenance and more cost-effective solution than traditional recruitment, ideal for organisations where hiring needs are particularly volatile.


This model is a comprehensive outsourcing of all the recruitment needs associated with a particular department or business function. The organisation will still maintain an in-house recruitment individual or team, but they need nothing more than top-level visibility of the element being looked after by the RPP provider. The relationship should be close and knowledgeable enough to guarantee that the function or division in question gets the staff it needs, when it needs them, smoothly and seamlessly.


This holistic model involves the RPP provider taking control of every aspect of an organisation’s recruitment. Even then, this can range from a simple package of role-by-role advertising, interviewing, negotiating offers and making hires, through to highly sophisticated solutions involving combinations of contract and permanent resourcing, long-term workforce planning and even some aspects of training and development.

Whichever model is chosen – and they can, of course, be tailored to be bespoke to the needs of the organisation in question – the benefits from partnering with an external team that truly specialises in recruitment are plenty. What’s more, you have access to a wealth of resources such as specialist candidate databases and recruitment software if, for example, the HR director wants to make a hire themselves. The result is access to a huge breadth and depth of expertise and resources that wouldn’t otherwise be available.


When constructed and managed effectively, RPP deals can be the holy grail of recruitment outsourcing, combining the expertise and resources of an external provider with the deep organisational knowledge and strategic thinking of an internal recruitment division.

But they don’t work for everyone. To maximise the success of an RPP solution you need to:

  • Prepare meticulously, to understand what you really need.
  • Choose a model that strikes the right balance between outsourcing and in-house management for your needs.
  • Choose a partner who can provide the right solution, tailor it to suit you, and flexibly adapt on an ongoing basis.

Once you’ve chosen your partner and your model, it’s time to work together to define the rule framework for the RPP agreement. This is where the insights from those discussions at the beginning of the process come into their own.

It’s important to remember that the best RPP partners won’t simply nod and agree to all of your requests – they will push back where necessary, sharing with you the challenges that you are likely to face and underlining when a goal you have set is unachievable.

Next, it’s a matter of setting metrics to track performance against this framework, striking the right balance between covering all the important aspects while reducing unnecessary management overheads by setting too many. A process for regularly revisiting and reviewing those metrics should be built in at this stage. Weekly reporting is typical and online, real-time reporting can allow much more clarity and visibility. Your RPP partner should also have a clear framework for updating and reporting on their activity, and here, quarterly or once every three months is typical. 

Don’t forget to build in a mechanism for reviewing and updating the metrics themselves, returning to your original goals and checking that everything is still relevant. How often this is required varies hugely depending on the growth strategy and dynamism of your organisation – it might be anywhere from quarterly up to once a year.

The point to remember is that RPP agreements should be flexible and dynamic, continually updated in line with your changing goals and objectives. Allow your RPP deal to stagnate, and that’s when you’re likely to start losing both efficiency and cost-effectiveness.


A quick guide to some of the acronyms you might come up against in your recruitment journey.

RPP – Recruitment Process Partnership

An agreement between an organisation and a recruitment provider to integrate and manage recruitment activities like an extension of the in-house function.

RPO – Recruitment Process Outsourcing

The outsourcing of part or all of an organisation’s recruitment activities to a third party.

ATS – Applicant Tracking System

Software that tracks applicants from initial contact through to a hiring decision, and sometimes through the negotiation period also.

EVB/P – Employee Value Brand/Proposition

Key factors in attracting and retaining your workforce, these cover how your organisation is seen, understood, valued and experienced by your employees – current, past and potential.

FTC – Fixed Term Contract

A temporary contact of employment, fixed for a predetermined period of time. Typically used for interim or project works, or maternity cover.

JD – Job Description

Used both externally as part of job adverts, and internally as part of recruitment and remuneration strategies, this should cover everything from responsibilities and requirements to application process and benefits associated with a particular role.

PES/PEV - Pre-Employment Screening/Vetting

Background checks carried out on candidates as part of the recruitment process. They can include criminal and credit history, or simple reference-checking with past employers.

PSL – Preferred Supplier List

A list of eligible agencies that an organisation engages with for recruitment activities.