Talent Innovators: Serco’s Jane Crane and Rob Ryan

We interview Jane Crane, Talent Acquisition Director and Rob Ryan, Employer Branding & Marketing Manager, Serco to find out which talent project they’re most proud of, and why.

Serco is a complex and varied organisation providing public services across the health, transport, justice, immigration, defence and citizens services sectors internationally.

The innovators:

Jane Crane is the Talent Acquisition Director at Serco, holding deep knowledge in transformation, shared services, resourcing and outsourcing. She is an expert on improving processes to transform operational effectiveness in complex, challenging environments.

Rob Ryan is the Employer Branding & Recruitment Marketing Manager at Serco, supporting recruitment activity across all levels and parts of the business. He’s helped large UK-wide organisations to manage their day-to-day attraction activities and advise on recruitment strategies. 

What talent project are you most proud of?

“We’d have to say our graduate management programme, because it’s where our future lies. We engage and assess graduates from the broadest talent pool possible, without focusing on university, academic courses or grades achieved. Gratifyingly, the programme has even been shortlisted in the UK Social Mobility Awards.

“For background, we work with Aon’s Assessment Solutions and have a candidate-centred assessment process. Candidates start on Aon’s ATS AplyGo, then do three assessments – personality, gamified ability and a bespoke situational judgement questionnaire. Those that pass have an AI-based video interview, and if passing that, we have an assessment centre with an escape room, which is a group exercise, plus a fact-finding task and an interview.

“COVID-19 shut all our graduate recruitment plans down. We needed to switch to an entirely virtual recruitment process – including our assessment centres”

“We started planning our graduate campaign early in 2020 but COVID-19 shut all our plans down, and we weren’t even sure if it could go ahead. It wasn’t until later in the year that we were given the green light but it was clear we had to switch to an entirely virtual recruitment process – including our assessment centres – whilst still providing an experience that would allow us to engage and properly assess the type of candidate we wanted to hire. We know this has been an incredible challenge for talent teams generally.

“It wasn’t something we’d ever previously done, yet we achieved everything we set out to do – from creating videos and a website that reflected the experiences of our current graduates, to having a marketing campaign that focused on inclusion and communicated our values, and then attracting a huge number of candidates to the website where they could find out more about our ethos and culture.

“It’s been a real success story, with great feedback from hiring managers and candidates. We had 4,200 applicants this year – in fact we had more applications in 48 hours than we did in the whole of the previous campaign – and have offered 19 people roles so far. A lot of the graduates hadn’t experienced anything like our virtual assessments, but everyone got fully immersed in them. We were able to replicate the buzz that comes with a face to face by using a two-way video interviewing environment. Senior Serco people came in and introduced themselves; it felt very natural and unstaged.

“We were aware of the need to redefine all the nuances of how we would operate face to face, ensuring we portrayed Serco extremely well”

“In doing this, we were aware of the need to redefine all the nuances of how we would operate face to face, ensuring we portrayed Serco extremely well, while preparing candidates for how it would work. We created an animation video to help them feel relaxed about doing an assessment centre in this new way, letting them know that they shouldn’t worry about it and so forth – all the reassuring things you might say if you were face to face with candidates.

“We were also conscious that we’d be rejecting 70% of the candidates without meeting them and we didn’t want that to have a negative impact on anyone or our brand. We asked one of our HR Directors to do a video, letting candidates know how much we appreciated them applying, that they should be proud of getting this far, that we wanted them to keep in touch as we are always looking for talented people, so to follow us on social media. We wanted to create a softer rejection.

 

Measuring success: the key achievements

 “We’re not worried about universities, degree types or grades achieved, we’re agnostic in that sense. As a company that provides public services, someone’s personal values can be a much bigger indicator of their success in our business than a particular academic background. We also want to attract the broadest possible types of people as we have highlighted our graduate programme as one of the ways we can address a lack of BAME managers within the business. This works, we’ve achieved amazing diversity both in the people applying and attending our online assessment centres.

“We easily achieved our hiring numbers. In fact, the quality of candidates was so good, we could have recruited 10 more. Our UK & Europe HR Director, Paul Gaskin, saw the quality and calibre of the candidates and increased the regional requirement by 3, possibly 4 hires. Our functional requirement also increased, our COO, Anthony Kirby wanted to offer opportunities in our Group Finance function which enabled us to hire 2 more talented graduates.

“It’s not that we’re just making our numbers – we’re getting the right people for our business, based on behaviour, motivation and values.”

“It’s not that we’re just making our numbers – we’re getting the right people for our business, based on behaviour, motivation and values. That drives us and it increases our diversity.

“The graduates tell us how much they’ve found Serco to care. One of our current cohorts said Serco’s process is so different from other assessments. He’d been offered a role at a major financial institution yet decided on Serco because we demonstrate our values so well. We’re not big and flashy, but our values are solid – trust, care, innovation and pride – and we want to make sure that comes across.

 

What did we learn?

“That if you get the approach right with virtual assessments, they work well. We spent a lot of time thinking how to do it in the best way possible. We had a standard assessment centre timetable but wanted to make it informal and relaxed. We didn’t want our graduates to feel it was too intense over video, so we had opening and closing sessions to set them at ease, as well as an informal lunch session with our current graduates. It took place over a really relaxed three days, with the candidates seeming at ease too. They could see that we walk and talk our values. We really care, and it showed.

“We didn’t once target a specific university or degree, but we came out with some seriously impressive and bright people from a variety of backgrounds.”

“Throughout the attraction and assessment process, we didn’t once target a specific university or degree, but we came out with some seriously impressive and bright people from a variety of backgrounds. It’s humbling to see how good they are.”

 

This is the first of a series of profiles on talent innovators; watch out for more.

 

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