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How to write an RFP for ATS to select the right vendor

This guide will help you write an effective RFP for an ATS, including tips on getting information on the different ATS options and making an informed choice.

Nikoletta Bika
Nikoletta Bika

Nikoletta holds an MSc in HR management and has written extensively about all things HR and recruiting.

how to write an rfp for ats

If you’re a recruiting professional or company executive thinking to invest in recruiting software, you’ll reasonably want to know which one is best. The Applicant Tracking System (ATS) market isn’t short of options, but not all of them will suit your company and hiring needs.

To help you decide on the right software, you can send out a request for proposal (RFP). And RFP for ATS is a good way to collect useful information about each of the competing systems and get insight on how they can help you meet your recruitment goals.

Don’t have the time to send out multiple RFPs? This quick run-down on the best applicant tracking systems in the market can help you make the right decision.

What is an RFP?

A request for proposal is a document created by a company that’s looking for new software or other services. It includes questions to vendors about important requirements – such as questions about features and pricing.

Send the RFP for ATS to multiple vendors and compare their answers. This will not only help you select the best software for your company, but will also give you information you can present to your company’s decision-makers – in other words, an RFP will help you craft a compelling business case.

How to write an RFP: Process steps

Here’s a 5-step process you can follow when preparing an RFP, including the possible sections of an RFP for ATS. (Although we refer specifically to applicant tracking systems, you can use this process when writing an RFP for other types of software too; the philosophy is the same.)

1. Know what you want

To select the right system, you need to be sure why you need it. For example, if the reason you decided to shop for an ATS is that your hiring process isn’t efficient enough, you need a system that’ll optimize your recruiting steps. If, on the other hand, you want software that’ll boost your sourcing efforts, asking about sourcing capabilities should be a priority when writing an RFP for ATS.

Discover your priorities by consulting with those who will be regular users of the system, as well as those responsible for the company’s overall hiring strategy. For example, ask hiring managers what challenges they face and what they might hope to gain from new technology. You could also ask executives what their vision is for the hiring process — perhaps making it more efficient or building more diverse teams.

Make a list of goals that come up often and prioritize them. For example, reducing time to hire may be essential to your company, while conducting background checks via your recruiting software may not be a must. Decide which goals are strictly necessary and which are merely optional.

Discover the best ATSs

What makes a good applicant tracking system, anyway? Scope out the top ATS features and compare companies.

Compare ATSs

2. Develop specific requirements

Based on your list, start fleshing out your specifications. For example, if your teams said they need more candidates, there are a number of ways recruiting software might help: such as sourcing and advertising features. Or you might have talked with executives who expressed their desire to implement an effective referral program; in that case, your recruiting software should help you attract and organize referred candidates.

Also, your system should check certain boxes, irrespective of your unique needs. These boxes are usually:

  • Security. Depending on your location, data protection laws can be strict, so the vendor needs to be fully compliant.
  • User experience. If your colleagues find it truly useful and easy to use, you will have made a worthwhile investment.
  • Scalability. You want a system that can support you if your recruiting efforts become more frequent and complex.
  • Support services. You want to ensure your vendor will be there for you should you need help with their system.
  • Candidate experience. If your system makes the application stages or interview scheduling processes difficult for candidates to navigate, this can reflect negatively on your company.
  • Existing customers. It’s useful to know whether that system is being used by companies similar to yours in size or industry.

Some companies also include universal requirements for vendors. You may want them to have a global outlook, to be healthy and sustainable as a business or to have a strong future product roadmap. Determine what you want to know and include it in your list of requirements.

3. Draft the RFP for ATS

Some companies prefer hundreds of yes/no questions, while others opt for a few open-ended questions. It’s best to avoid yes/no questions because they don’t leave much wriggle room for vendors to explain how their system works; unless they’re about something very specific like “Are you ISO certified? or “Do you integrate with this HRIS?”

To make this process easier for you, we’ve created a complete RFP for ATS template containing 6 important sections:

  • Information about the vendor
  • Hiring process and integrations
  • Candidate and user experience
  • Implementation and sustainability
  • Security and data protection
  • Reporting

Modify these sections and the questions they include based on your needs. Add questions that address your unique specifications.

Write effective questions

When crafting questions, you’ll usually want to know “how” something works. Avoid excessive questions about specific features: each system can have the same functionality in various ways and you’ll also miss the opportunity to learn about features you don’t know exist.

Instead ask how the system does something and let the vendor describe that aspect of their product. Here are some example questions:

  • How does your system help us communicate with candidates?
  • How do you ensure compliance with GDPR?
  • Do you offer custom integrations with different systems?
  • How does your system support an offer letter approval process?

In general, make sure your RFP for ATS asks for all necessary information, but doesn’t get too detailed or complicated. If the vendor satisfies your basic requirements, you can ask them for a demo or a free trial to assess specifications in detail or the nice-to-haves.

4. Write an introduction

Provide some important information to the people who will complete your RFP. Some companies include a lot of detail like their growth plans, their office locations, descriptions of their products or services, market research and more.

Usually, it’s best to keep it short and sweet; include only information vendors truly need to answer your questions properly. For example, ATS vendors might not need to know what your product does in detail, but they could use clarity in the issues you face when hiring or an in-depth explanation of your requirements. You can use all the internal research you’ve already collected on challenges and goals.

Here’s an outline of the introduction including information about the RFP process itself:

  • Why you’re sending this RFP. For example: “Acme Inc. needs new recruiting software to manage candidates and advertise jobs in multiple locations.”
  • The RFP timeline. For example: “Please submit this document by 10/12/2019.”
  • Information about your company. For example: “We recently got $20 million in funding and we’re planning to hire 70 people in the next two years.”
  • A concise explanation of your requirements. For example: “We want to be more efficient, get more qualified candidates, and have access to accurate reporting.”
  • Instructions on how to answer your RFP. For example: “We’d like simple but comprehensive answers. Link to further resources if possible.”
  • How you may evaluate answers. For example: “We’ll consider software that satisfies at least 70% of our requirements.”
  • Who to reach out for clarifications. For example: “If you have clarification questions, feel free to reach out to [Name] at [+010000000] or [[email protected]].”

Flesh out these sections with information you think would be useful for vendors. Try keeping the introduction to-the-point though; it’s important not to confuse respondents with unnecessary details. A maximum of two pages might do the trick.

5. Add space for a Unique Value Proposition

At the end of your RFP, you can ask the vendor to give you their Unique Value Proposition; in short, their strongest pitch. This will be a box in a document where the vendor will be able to write freely and explain what makes their services stand out from other vendors. This will be your chance to understand what the vendor values about their own product and what will probably be their most significantly unique contribution to your hiring.

6. Send the RFP and make your decision

You might have already conducted some research on the options out there; send the RFP for ATS to systems that you’ve heard or read about.

Once you’ve received responses, compare answers of different vendors (and possibly score them). Shortlist vendors that seem promising and head for the next stage in your ATS selection process: a demo with an expert from each vendor. The RFP will give you important information, but actually seeing how all features work together is vital to making an informed choice.

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