VMS: Rightfully Maligned or Merely Misunderstood?

VMS (Vendor Management System) business is one of the most divisive—and possibly misunderstood—topics in the recruitment industry. Is VMS an actual growth opportunity for staffing firms or is it just a necessary evil of doing business with large clients? And can it actually be profitable for businesses? In many cases, the data contradicts the common perceptions. Read on for a deep dive into some of the core questions surrounding the ever-controversial topic.

Who’s Using VMS?

Only large recruitment agencies use VMS, right? Think again.

Two out of five small firms use VMS on at least an occasional basis, and more than half of mid-sized agencies use VMS world-wide.

If you’ve dismissed VMS as a viable opportunity because of the size of your agency, it might be worth reexamining.

Large agencies are indeed the most likely to use VMS, and the adoption rate is especially high among the largest and most profitable agencies. A recent survey of some of the largest recruitment agencies in the world found that 100 percent of agencies with revenue over $100 Million USD did at least some business through a VMS.

While VMS adoption is above 40 percent for businesses globally, North American agencies are significantly more likely to deliver job orders through VMS systems. North American agencies are also the most optimistic about using VMS going forward, with 50 percent of agencies expecting an increase in VMS business in 2019.

Barriers to VMS Success

Why aren’t more agencies using VMS? And what are the top barriers to pursuing VMS jobs? VMS has a historically negative reputation among recruitment professionals, and in some circles, the term has become synonymous with low margins. It may be something of a surprise then, that the top barrier for agencies today is not low margins. Instead, recruiting leaders cite the lack of contact with hiring managers as their biggest obstacle.

VMS systems often make it difficult to get feedback directly from hiring managers and often have very restrictive requirements.

Survey Respondent, 2019 Global Recruitment Insights and Data 

Low margins and an unavailable candidate pool come in second and third, respectively. Although a lack of contact with hiring managers is likely to remain a challenge, leveraging the right tools will allow your agency to improve the barriers that you can control.

Source: Bullhorn Enterprise VMS Survey, 2018

Unlocking the Potential of VMS Through Automation

Technology can help move you a fair amount of the way toward getting the most out of your VMS business. Streamlining your internal processes through automation is a great way to boost efficiency—and there’s a lot of room to do it.


Three out of five recruitment businesses still submit candidates into their VMS manually, even though the majority of recruitment business that automated have noted a higher fill rate as a result. How much can automation actually boost your VMS business? The jury’s still out. Most agencies are undecided on the true impact of automation on their VMS success, likely because reporting remains fairly minimal.

As much as possible, staffing firms must focus on the factors of VMS they can control: internal processes and procedures. 

Measuring VMS

What metrics do recruitment agencies track when it comes to VMS? For many recruitment businesses, the answer is that they don’t report on any metrics at all. A full two out of five agencies don’t track gross margin or the number of requisitions per month.

Hires-per-month is the most reported metric, followed by gross margin. Given how little is known about the real potential of VMS profitability, tracking your base metrics is a good way to measure the true value of VMS business for your agency.

Source: Bullhorn Enterprise VMS Survey, 2018

The VMS Opportunity

Should you decide that VMS is a major part of your business plan in 2019, you may benefit from reduced competition. Just three percent of respondents said expanding VMS is a priority for 2019.

A lot of people are used to working with an old VMS, when you were just throwing candidates at it and would never hear anything back. The VMSes of today are not like that.

Although recruitment professionals are largely expecting to increase investments in technology, placements, and their operating budget, just a third of respondents plan to increase VMS business in 2019—making it the lowest priority of all surveyed options.

The steady supply of available VMS business combined with the reduced interest in pursuing it from the recruitment industry could create a major opportunity for agencies equipped to handle it. VMS business may not make sense for all recruitment agencies, but agencies that leverage automation and reporting tools could be primed to have a huge year in 2019.

Top Priorities for Recruitment Agencies
What are agencies prioritizing in 2019? Candidates and technology lead the pack.

Bob McHugh

Senior Manager, Global Content and Research


Bob McHugh is the Senior Manager, Global Content and Research at Bullhorn. Before joining Bullhorn, Bob spent five years at the digital marketing agency, Brafton, as a Social Media and Engagement Manager. He earned his bachelor's degree from Siena College and his MFA in writing from Emerson College.