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Staffing RFP Process: Best Practices and Red Flags

In today’s modern, fast-paced global economy, the traditional approach to selecting and engaging staffing suppliers has become less prevalent and often more impractical. There are times, though, when the tried-and-true request for proposal (RFP) is still a strong choice. 

Creating and organizing staffing RFP processes or VMS RFP processes requires organization, superior communication, and a clear  understanding of the intricacies of engaging the right suppliers. We want to help, so this post sheds light on when to use – or avoid – RFPs and best practices that can be applied to the mammoth process. Whether you’re an MSP or staffing agency receiving a client bid or the entity providing the candidates to talent suppliers, having a better process will result in a better win rate.

RFP Process: When to Use and When to Avoid

Staffing RFPs, sometimes called recruitment or recruiting RFPs, should be used when a project is:

  • sufficiently complex
  • requires a great deal of technical information
  • requests hard data for analysis and comparison
  • justifies a formal proposal from a potential supplier

They’re best used when you need to objectively compare responses and vendors. With a proposal, you gain enhanced visibility into each bidder’s key offerings and core competencies. A complete response should provide relatively firm pricing models, comprehensive answers to crucial questions, and a robust document that lends itself to more in-depth analysis by your stakeholders.

A common mistake is to send out an RFP because it seems easier than sitting through sales pitches or because people say it’s the “right (or required) thing to do.” 

If you’re already clear about which vendor(s) you’re likely to select from the outset, invite your identified prospects to present their solutions. No need for a cumbersome RPF here.

And avoid using an overly-complicated RFP process to address simple questions that could have been answered directly through a sales meeting. This can alienate prospective bidders who see your overreliance on unnecessary paperwork and bureaucracy as an indicator of your overall business practice. You may be harming your chances of finding the perfect vendor without even realizing it.

The Fundamentals of Staffing RFPs

Transparency matters

When bidders open your RFP, they must immediately understand the background and mutual benefits. Your introductory material can make or break how many responses you’ll receive, and it can also impact response quality.

When you issue your request, it’s wise to include all relevant program details in your synopsis. And if you requested non-disclosure agreements (NDA) be signed and returned, make sure you have those before sharing any additional materials. We suggest NDAs when any sensitive information might come from either or both sides. 

→ DO send out mutual NDAs to all prospects prior to releasing the RFP. Mutual NDAs protect your interests and those of your bidders. They also remove potential objections from privately-held vendors around sharing privileged information you need.

→ DO NOT issue unilateral NDAs. You’ll sound untrustworthy and savvy vendors may just walk away. You could miss opportunities to partner with intelligent, ethical, and risk-averse suppliers.

If you want quality suppliers responding to your RPFs, disclosure and transparency matter. Vendors can’t create account team structures, staffing plans, implementation schedules, solution designs and competitive (or even ballpark) pricing without knowing details like spend, volumes, locations, and worker categories. Withholding details prevents proposal teams from doing their jobs – and wastes their time. The bids you’ll get will be filled with guesses. Everyone in the process will be disappointed, and vendors will lose interest.

Nailing your introduction

To save yourself the hassle of answering clarification questions, write a clear RFP that contains all of the crucial details. When vendors have fewer questions, they can spend their time crafting more complete responses. Be sure to include, at minimum, the following details:

  • Total program spend
  • Spend by job category
  • All job categories you need filled
  • Spend and worker volume by location
  • All locations truly in scope for the program (not what you think might be covered in some indeterminate future or are adding to entice participation)
  • Outlying spend: SOW/project-based contractors, non-billed workers, independent contractors/freelancer, etc.
  • The number of suppliers currently providing services and the number needed (i.e., augmentation or rationalization)
  • Incumbents you have engaged
  • Your biggest pain points (the real reasons for this RFP)
  • The decision makers and executive sponsors for the program
  • Specific legal, regulatory, or compliance considerations a successful vendor must meet
  • The projected start date and implementation plan
  • Whether third-party tools will be used or have been previously chosen
  • Integration requirements between those tools and your existing systems
  • Communication protocols during the RFP process: point of contact, deadlines for questions, process timeline, etc.

And make it easy to find this information. Include it as early as you can (in the first few pages), so suppliers will want to engage with your company. .

Watch out for wired bids

No vendor wants to waste time completing an RFP, only to find out the progress was rigged and there was a favorite supplier all along.  “Wired bids” are just that – documents constructed to ensure the work goes to a favored bidder with ties and deep insight to the client.

Unfortunately, this happens sometimes when companies think RFPs are required or certain stakeholders want to evaluate merit, experience, past performance, and quality – but others want to make sure their preferred vendors win. 

Here are some red flags that may indicate wired bids:

  • Overemphasis on the relevance of experience and supporting material
  • Prohibitions against contracting or rehiring incumbent staff
  • Short and inflexible deadlines
  • Overemphasis on key members of the vendor’s staff
  • Ambiguity that favors an incumbent (for example, requiring a vendor to provide a detailed and customized staffing plan without divulging the parameters)
  • Undefined scopes of work and deliverables, or statements of work that require knowledge of the client’s standard operating procedures
  • Redundant questions and/or overwhelming amount of detail
  • Fixed-price proposals that provide insufficient information about program spend, volumes, the time needed to implement, etc.
  • Unusually brief or lengthy responses to bidder questions, or answers delivered past the promised date
  • “Processes” specified in the RFP that only a vendor with insight and experience could decode

Scoring your bids

Bidding on every RFP available is not a good strategy for success. That approach will lessen your ability to respond well to the important proposals and reduce the likelihood that you will win the bids your best-suited for. So, scoring bids prior to beginning the response process is mission critical. 

Before responding to a bid, you’ll want to first try to identify a wired bid, then decide if participation is warranted. Once you’ve determined that the bid is in the clear, you’ll want to know if it’s worth your time and effort, and how much of each.

Typically, you can evaluate bids through basic scoring or weighted scoring. Basic scoring allows you to make a rudimentary assessment by assigning all sections of an RFP a score of 1-10. With weighted scoring, you can allocate different values to each section based on its importance. For example, client references could be weighted at 10% while implementation strategy merits 30%.

Criteria like the size and scope of project, technical specifications, and costs will affect how you structure your scoring method, but here’s an overview of what both methods entail:

Scoring Method




  • Quick and easy to calculate
  • Doesn’t require much expertise or many resources  
  • Consistent throughout the process 
  • Treats all RFP sections as equal
  • Low chance of modifications or flexibility
  • Not designed for  complex RFPs


  • Comprehensive and accurate
  • Tailored to your capabilities
  • Emphasis is on best end results  
  • Can become a lengthy and complex activity
  • Higher odds of error


The process of figuring out the best method to score a bid will get you closer to answering the bigger question of what makes it the right undertaking for your company.  

Need a staffing VMS RFP template to create your own recruitment RFP? Here it is.

To make RFPs a painless and efficient way for you to achieve your goals, we’ve created a complete RFP toolbox, which can serve as a great starting point for your next round of sourcing.  The toolbox will give you a solid, customizable foundation for crafting a unique RFP that’s  tailored to your company’s needs. We’ve also included tools to help with evaluation, scoring and pricing.

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