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How to Write an ATS RFP (Don't Rely on a Template)

Well written ATS RFPs help talent acquisition teams maximize ROI for this key software.

John Zappe
Tech researcher and journalist
Contributing Experts
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Applicant Tracking System RFPs

An ATS RFP, or applicant tracking system request for proposal, details the features, functionality and other requirements of ATS software a company is looking to purchase. The RFP is sent to the vendors being considered and the respondents describe how their systems match up with the RFP, enabling buyers to make apples-to-apples comparisons.

Today, with most recruiting software moved to the cloud, companies license use of applicant tracking systems for as little as a few thousand dollars a year, with free ats systems also commonplace. Because it’s no longer a capital expense requiring an extensive procurement review, few organizations bother with an RFP.

Yet, there are several good reasons they should. 

This article explains why a human resources department should use an RFP and how to develop one when shopping for a new applicant tracking system or for any sort of recruiting software or application.

In This Article

Why Write an RFP?

The most important reason to draft a RFP in the age of cloud-based SaaS is that it compels the talent acquisition team to take a comprehensive look – maybe for the first time – at the hiring process and the workflow. Besides the individual operational steps, the analysis needs to take into account the overall talent strategy and recruiting goals.

A company that relies heavily on internal referrals will want recruiting software that includes that kind of feature or module. A different company seeking to improve the candidate experience and build a talent pipeline will want a system that has a full complement of communication tools. Recruiters spending a disproportionate amount of time on administrative tasks will look for a high level of automation.

The talent strategy, as much as the workflow and user experience, will help decide what functionality is a must and which features are nice, but expendable; especially when price is a consideration.

It will also have your RFP respondents talking about the results and effectiveness of their recruitment software and the overall scope of work, rather than sending you lists of features.

How to Write an ATS RFP

It’s essential that all stakeholders in the selection process, including hiring managers and even executives, give their input on an ATS RFP: What’s been the user experience? Where are the bottlenecks in the workflow? What metrics do you track? And what do you need for EEO and other required reporting?

The human resources procurement team should also contact other companies to ask them what, in hindsight, they should have asked the vendor when they were shopping. Another area sometimes overlooked in the RFP is the after-market experience. Talk to other companies about their experience with customer support, then include a question about that in the RFP.

In companies transitioning to recruiting software from a manual process or stepping up from a dated applicant tracking system, stakeholders such as hiring managers may not even be aware of the expansive functionality available.

Interview scheduling, one of the most common bottlenecks in the hiring process, is a common feature of recruiting software. Automation of job posting to social media and job boards doesn't just save recruiters time, the metrics new systems provide help in choosing where the ads should go. That allows recruiters to focus efforts on the sites that generate the most new hires.

The conversations the ATS procurement team has with the stakeholders will help narrow down the requirements so the evaluation process is focused on what's actually needed to reach the organization's hiring goals and improve the workflow efficiency.

Should You Use an RFP Template?

ATS RFP templates should be used as guides for the process: They are valuable checklists to ensure you’re covering the full scope of work but, ultimately, your RFP should be tailored to fit the needs of your organization.

RFP templates are widely available online. Most cover every aspect of the hiring process from requisitions through onboarding and show how to write an effective RFP.

Some are so detailed they hit every one of the possible touchpoints. These run to several pages, listing multiple questions. 

A woman writing RFP templates

Templates also show you how to format an RFP and a reminder that the basics include the company name, telephone number and other contact information, and a due date for the RFP.

Thorough, but Simple

As much as an RFP should be thorough, it should also be simple. Have the vendors described how their applicant tracking system makes your hiring and selection process better? How does their system improve the candidate experience? Does it integrate with LinkedIn or other systems and recruiting modules? And, of course, what’s the price? Also, have them provide lists of the system features as an addendum to the RFP.

Once the RFP is ready, submit it to the vendors you’ve identified as potential partners. 

What if an ATS Vendor Doesn’t Reply to Your RFP? 

The RFP should not be the first contact you have with the ATS vendors. They should know to expect the RFP and have indicated their willingness to participate. If you're looking for an applicant tracking system for small business with perhaps only a few dozen users, don’t be surprised if the vendor declines to respond or answers only some of the questions. In those cases, use the RFP as a guide for the procurement team during a demo and test-driving of the software.

For large customers with license fees running into the many thousands, a vendor that doesn’t participate should be a red flag. If the sales team is non-responsive to a potential customer, that’s a good indication of what you can expect should you need help after signing. 

Final Thoughts on ATS RFPs

What your respondents say about their ATS system and how they answer the RFP will simplify choosing the one or two or three that best meet your needs. Then it’s time to review the demo, ask for whatever additional clarification you need, negotiate the price and make the contract award.

John Zappe
Tech researcher and journalist
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John is a former newspaper journalist, digital media and tech researcher, and the former editor at ERE Media, a leading information hub for HR and TA professionals. He has over 20 years of experience in developing whitepapers, research reports, and informative articles. John is an alumnus of the Syracuse University College of Law and holds a bachelor's degree in political science from Marist College.

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