By Saj Haji, Senior Recruitment Advisor

During my time in the recruitment industry, I’ve operated in many different environments. I started out at a recruitment agency, then owned and operated my own recruitment company for a while, and now am working in Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO). These experiences have given me the ability to share with you some of the major differences I’ve noticed in working at an RPO firm vs. a staffing agency.

The Staffing Agency Experience

Working for a staffing agency, you are expected to support multiple customers in identifying talent and making placements. Typically, you compete against other agencies and have just a small window of opportunity to source candidates who have a specific skill set. The primary objective is to identify potential candidates, obtain their CVs, and submit them to the client. In essence, the staffing agency plays the “middle man” in the talent acquisition process, making the introduction between candidate and client.

There is a huge sales aspect for any staffing agency consultant working in a 360-degree role, which involves (a) developing new business and (b) servicing accounts, making placements that ultimately result in generating revenue. You are expected to sell your agency services to potential customers as well as sell jobs to relevant candidates. The position is typically commission-focused where the more hires (or placements) you make, the bigger your pay at the end of the month.

This more ad hoc structure plays into an agency recruiter having the luxury of picking and choosing a vacancy they wish to work on, with the option of walking away if it doesn’t look like it’s going to pan out.

The RPO Difference

The situation is very different when it comes to RPO firms, where the level of engagement and commitment from the client is much higher. Recruiters are dedicated to hiring for one organization. So, while a staffing agency recruiter can select which vacancies to fill at which companies, an RPO recruiter must keep working until the requisition is filled, regardless of how challenging the circumstances may be. Above all, various metrics – all predefined in client agreements – must be closely monitored, such as time-to-hire, cost-per-hire, source-of-hire, customer satisfaction, and retention levels.

This singular focus assures that RPO recruiters will know the ins and outs of each one of their clients to a degree that is simply impossible for an agency recruiter. By the time RPO recruiters submit candidates to clients for consideration, they are expected to have undergone a much more rigorous and specialized vetting process than what would be done via a staffing agency.

This gives the RPO recruiter a stronger ability to promote the employer brand for the client because they can ensure the right message is going out within the marketplace.

Personally, having to focus less on sales and more on what I’m delivering to clients works great for me. As rewarding as it can be working within an agency role where you are constantly wearing multiple hats, I very much enjoy my current role working in RPO. I am seen more as a trusted advisor who is consultative and able to deliver on my promises.


Though often used interchangeably, “talent acquisition” and “recruitment” are two very different things. While recruitment often addresses short-term, situational needs, talent acquisition refers to long-term strategies that affect the entire organizat...

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