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How to create an applicant tracking system RFP

So you’ve got executive buy-in for new talent acquisition software. We’re talking ATS, candidate relationship management, onboarding, maybe even recruitment marketing automation capabilities. The only problem is, you inherited your last recruiting system when you took this job. You need to create an RFP to send to potential vendors, but questions abound. What should you include? When should you expect it back?

Fear not. The RFP process doesn’t have to be complicated. To help, we’ve outlined a few of the top things you should consider when creating an RFP. Keep reading to the end for an RFP template you can use to get started right now.

What is an RFP?


A request for proposal (RFP) is a procurement document that announces and describes the needs of an organization for specific goods or services. This document is sent to vendors to fill out, giving the requesting organization insight into the vendor’s capabilities. RFPs are not binding contracts; rather they are designed to help potential customers determine if a vendor can meet their needs.


Top considerations when writing an RFP

1. Define your goals and expectations

Creating an effective RFP starts with understanding your project’s requirements. We don’t just mean high level goals, although those are important. Your RFP should get super nitty gritty – all the details of what you need this recruiting software to do for you and what you can expect from your vendor of choice.

This means asking a lot of questions. If there’s something you need your new ATS to do, no matter how seemingly minor or insignificant – include it. The best way to get started is to engage in discussions with stakeholders, including recruiters, HR leaders, hiring managers and IT. Ask them to define the project scope as they see it, their goals and objectives. Get granular. Success and failure in the RFP process is determined by the details you provide – and understanding your own needs.



2. Provide your evaluation criteria

Once a vendor fills out your RFP, it’s your job to grade them. That means creating a rubric of sorts. Some RFPs will go so far as to list each need or desired feature with an indication of how important it is to the procurement decision. For example, you might prioritize a robust, built-out CRM that’s fully integrated into the rest of the hiring platform. You might also need name redaction on resumes. AI-generated shortlists may be preferred, but not a dealbreaker. Video incorporated into the onboarding process may be a non-negotiable.

The more clarity you provide, the more vendors will be able to provide details about what they can and can’t do – and possibly make suggestions of their own.

The language you use in your RFP also plays a role in setting clear expectations. From specific deliverables to milestones and performance metrics, leave no room for ambiguity. A well-defined set of expectations is the cornerstone of a successful partnership with your future vendor.



3. Set a timeline and milestones

Scientists will tell you time is relative, but that’s not true of the RFP process. In fact, your RFP should outline a realistic timeline for your project, including when you want the RFP returned, a due date for your decision about considering the vendor further, a final decision date, and a deadline for implementation.

While timelines can and do change, setting out a framework helps with managing expectations and keeps the project moving. Additionally, being transparent about deadlines and expected timeframes is key to attracting vendors who can align with your project’s demands. If you need a new system up and running by end of year in preparation for an expansion in your workforce, but a vendor’s implementation time takes two years – that vendor may not be able to best support your needs.



4. Provide your budget and scope of work

Everyone’s favorite topic: cash money. The financial component of your RFP is important in determining if a certain vendor is the right fit. Clearly outline your budget considerations where possible. A well-defined budget not only provides a clear picture for vendors but also sets the stage for a mutually beneficial partnership.



5. Specify submission guidelines

Ease of submission is often the unsung hero of a successful RFP. Make it simple and straightforward for vendors to present their proposals. Provide clear guidelines on formatting, submission methods and any specific requirements.

What to ask ATS vendors in your RFP

If all applicant tracking systems were the same, selecting one would come down to customer support, pricing, a slick interface – and personal preference.

Ultimately, not all ATS are built the same. Most ATS and recruiting software vendors are going to lead with benefits. Those are important. But they aren’t the full story, at least where your organization is concerned. A good RFP needs to cut through the marketing slogans and dig into the nitty gritty of features and capabilities.

For example, you may want to ask about details specific to your use case, such as integrations, support, security, training and more. It’s also not a bad idea to ask for references and examples of success from organizations with similar challenges and needs.


From a feature standpoint, at minimum you should ask potential ATS vendors about:

  • Job management and requisition creation and management
  • Candidate profiles and search capabilities
  • Communication features, such as video and text, along with any integration requirements
  • Process automation, such as interview scheduling and communication reminders
  • Workflows for recruiters and hiring managers, configurable based on team or individual needs
  • Reporting and analytics, including configurable dashboards by role type and DEI metric tracking
  • Native or integrated AI capabilities, such as generating talent shortlists, candidate-job matching and assistance with recruiter tasks

This is far from an exhaustive list, and a leading ATS will offer quite a bit more.

For a full list of questions we recommend, download the RFP template.


How to structure your RFP

What you include in your RFP ultimately depends on the scope of what your organization needs. If you only need a new ATS that integrates with your existing HCM, questions about the capabilities, features and quality of integrations are going to matter most. But an ATS is rarely the only recruiting software organizations need or already use. Many organizations opt for a full talent acquisition suite, complete with candidate experience management (CRM), career site software, video interviewing, text capabilities, offer management and more.

Below is how we structure our RFP template. It covers the features and capabilities that most enterprise organizations need. These are just the main categories; strip sections out or add to it as you need.

Download the full template for all 640 RFP questions, organized around the topics below.


RFP template structure for ATS and other talent acquisition software

Overview and RFP Instructions 

1. Vendor’s information 

  • Contact information
  • General company information
  • Company stability and financials
  • References
  • Pricing

2. Functional requirements

  • Attract
    • CRM and event management
    • Job creation and sourcing
    • Employee mobility (internal hires)
    • Referrals
  • Marketing automation
  • Engage, hire and advance
    • Candidate experience and application
    • Applicant tracking
    • Interview management
    • Offer management
    • Onboarding and hire
    • Mobile app

3. Security requirements 

  • General information
  • Security policy and organizational security
  • Backup and disaster recovery
  • Incident response
  • Risk management

4. Platform and analytics requirements

  • System configuration
  • Integration and extensibility
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Automation
  • Reporting and analytics

5. Implementation and post go-live support requirements

  • Implementation
  • Account support and success
  • Release management
  • Ongoing training

Get started with this RFP template

Those are the basics needed to get you started. However, creating a thorough RFP takes a lot of time. There’s a lot to consider, especially when it comes to product features. It’s easy to overlook something important.

Our best advice: don’t start from scratch.

Download our RFP template

Click here to download our RFP template.