The Virgin Media Way to Candidate Experience

WRITTEN BY: Jörgen Sundberg

When you write “Making candidate experience and employer brand the best it can be” as your LinkedIn headline, you pretty much know I’m going to approach you with a mic and a few questions.

Neil Chivers heads up employer branding at Virgin Media and is passionate about a great candidate experience, for successful and unsuccessful candidates alike. Keep reading for a summary of our conversation and don’t forget to subscribe to the weekly Employer Branding Podcast.

Could you tell us about Virgin Media and what you do there, please?

Absolutely. So, Virgin Media, most people will know, is the cable broadband service provider in the UK. We have over 5 million customers. I suppose our biggest competitor is Sky. Most households will know us from that. We have about 15,000 people currently working for us in the UK. And my job, as employer brand marketing manager, really is to help make Virgin Media the best place it can be for candidates and attracting them. But also to ensure that we are consistent in the messaging that we put out and that we have the most engaging and enticing content to get people to find out what it’s like to work here. I then help them in that process as they go through applications.

How do you “make candidate experience and employer brand the best it can be”?

It’s a big statement. I think it’s all about thinking about the end user, thinking about the candidate, and what’s going through their thought process when they’re applying for a role. And even actually trying to understand what motivates them to apply for a job. Is it the brand? Is it working for a Virgin brand? Or is it actually about the job that they’re doing and actually the projects that they’re going to get involved with? The way I like to approach things is very much thinking, not just about, great, what can we offer you as a candidate in terms of benefits and compensation and the working environment, but actually what is it that’s going to make you as an individual want to come work for us? And we all are individuals, and it’s identifying the unique thing that makes that opportunity grow, I think, for you as a person. It’s a very hard thing to do when you’re looking at the volume of recruitment that we do. We hire about 3,000 people a year, three and a half thousand people in the last 12 months. And so trying to tailor that experience to make it as focused as it can be for each individual is a big ask. But what we try our best to achieve is actually giving people something that makes them feel unique and not just the number in a very big process which, to be frank, with over 100,000 applications a year, it can be.

What is Volt and how does it save Virgin Media £4 million?

Volt is our new candidate experience portal or website. It was developed over the last 12 months, really, as a result of some research that we did in 2014 where we wanted to understand what the impact of a bad candidate experience was to the business and actually what we can do to try and turn that around. So essentially, what we did as a business, is to look at the scores the candidate provide us on their recruitment experience. So we used NPS to do that. The kind of surveys that organizations send to customers to rate how they felt during a transaction or a process. We did exactly the same things for candidates. And what we did is look at the negative impact of a bad candidate experience. When we looked at the figures, we saw that of the 140,000 applications we got each year, a significant number of those people that were going through the process that were rejected actually felt that they had a bad experience, so much so the NPS score was minus 29. And when we looked at how many of those candidates that had been rejected that were actually customers of Virgin Media, we were able to sort of attribute a value to them based on whether they as a candidate going through the process were going to leave Virgin Media as a result of having a bad experience. Long story short, we were able to go to our CFO and CMO to say, “Look, of all these people that are rejected, seven and a half thousand of them are going to leave Virgin Media as a result of having a bad recruitment experience.” And that worked out to about £4.4 million loss to the business. This was done on a sample, obviously. But we were able to position to the business if we could improve that and turn it around, make sure that even if people were rejected but have a good experience and they stayed with us, we had saved the business 4 million pounds. And then it kind of evolved in something a lot wider. It wasn’t just about how can we improve the experience for those that were rejected, but also how can we just provide a better experience for everybody, regardless of whether they get the job or not. So just giving some tips and advice on how can you actually learn that job of Virgin Media, but also content on quite straightforward things like what can you do to help ensure you get the job that you want in any business. We’re not recruitment consultants and we’re not deliberately trying to tell people to apply for jobs to other businesses, but this is a way of us saying to candidates, “We really do want them to get a job,” and maybe they weren’t suitable for a job working for us, but they could be suitable for a job in another business. But here are some tips and advice of how they could secure that next job and really help them on that way.

Where can we find Volt?

Candidates that apply for a job will automatically get a link to the Volt site. But if you want to check it out now, you can go to The way that it works is that anyone that’s applying will see that link and they can then get content that’s tailored to them in the recruitment process as well. So if you’ve applied for three jobs, you’ll see where you are in the application process for each of those jobs, and you’ll also then see content that will direct you to what you need to do to prepare for the next stage in the process. So a good example, if I’m applying to a sales job, salespeople are all based in one of our contact centers, and there’s an assessment center as well, the recruitment process. Once you pass that initial screening stage, you will then be told that the assessment center is the next step, but you would then be given links to videos and to blogs and articles to help you to prepare for that assessment center. So yeah, do check out if you can.

What’s a step-by-step guide to success with candidate experience?

I think from my perspective, if I did have that step by step guide, I’d be a multi-billionaire and be selling lots of books around the world. But the way I approach things is kind of always thinking about the candidate. We should be putting their needs first. Yes, ultimately we’re here for jobs and to help our business. But actually, sometimes we don’t help ourselves because we don’t give the candidates every opportunity that they can be, to be the best that they can be. So always put them first. And I think from the inside out, so think about, as a business, where are we trying to go and what are we trying to achieve? Quite often, when we get hiring managers that come to us saying, “I need to recruit for this person.” Well, just because somebody’s left and you need to replace them doesn’t necessarily mean that you should just recruit a like replacement. Actually, it’s an opportunity to think about the future of the business. Quite often, we are encouraging our stakeholders internally to think about future-proofing our business and actually thinking about what’s right for the business, not just today, but in years to come. And another key thing, I think, it’s just being authentic and being genuine. So one of the things that we have a big challenge with is the sheer volume of applications that we get. And partly because people see the Virgin brand and think, “Well, Virgin Media. I know them. I’m very familiar with them as an organization.” They may be a customer or they may know somebody else that is. And their perception of who we are might not actually match up to the reality. I think as a business, I would encourage any employers out there to just be quite genuine and authentic in the message they put across. And actually, the reality is, you’re going to be expected to do some things in your job that actually a lot of candidates won’t want to do or can’t see themselves doing. Don’t be afraid to include that because we’re looking at the amount of people that are applying for our jobs. And to be quite honest, in some areas, the amount of applications we get just is too high and we want to give people real expectation of what it’s like to work here. So by being genuine and authentic, I think that’s one way of dealing with that.

What do you hope to achieve next?

Volt went live at the end of November. So we’ve only been, really, starting to see the results in the last couple of weeks. In 2017, for us, it’s about learning from what we see in Volt. One of the great things that we’ve got is actual, real-time tracking of how candidates are feeling in the recruitment process, not just at the end of the process. We’re able to get insight in terms of, do they feel prepared enough for an assessment center, do they feel that they understand what’s going to be expected of them at the interview stage, face to face or video? They get a chance to say how they’re feeling. Now, there is an argument to say, surely, if you’re applying for a job, you’re going to want the employer to think that you’re the best candidate. But actually, this is all confidential. We don’t share it directly with the hiring manager. We’re asking for a genuine moment in time how you’re feeling. And if actually, we see candidates are saying, “Well, I don’t feel as prepared as perhaps I’d like to be,” and that’s a consistent theme across all the respondents for a particular job or particular business area, we can then try and work out how we need to address that. Now, that could be looking at the materials that we provide to candidates in advance of an assessment center. Or it could just be getting a recruit to keep in touch with them in between stages that perhaps they’ve not have in the past. So definitely, for us, it’s learning from what Volt has to tell us. And then it’s taking it to the next stage. And that for me, is about making sure that the experience we provide in attraction and engagement is consistent through the entire employee lifecycle. And that’s not going to be an easy achievement, really. It involves working collaboratively with a lot of different people within the business, looking at our training and inductions that our candidates receive once they join, making sure especially if you’ve got candidates that might be on three months’ notice, that they feel engaged whilst they’re waiting for their current contract to terminate and they actually start work with us, and just doing everything we can to make sure that we do live up to their expectations and that we manage those expectations. Attrition is a challenge for us in some areas of the business, and there’s probably a lot more that we could do to help reduce that. It’s just ensuring that we understand what those factors are that might be causing the attrition. And why else do I want to put myself out of a job? What I would like to see is fewer people leaving, more people staying for longer. The rules, I think, we need it to be realistic that people do decide to leave for different reasons and we should be supportive of that. But then, going back to the entire lifecycle, ensuring that people that do leave are engaged as alumni, and we have the opportunity to get our message to them and keep them involved in the business after they’ve left.

Where do you draw the line between employer brand and employee retention?

My responsibility is about the attraction and engagement of candidates. But I think if you put everything in at the front end and don’t actually look at what’s going on once they’re on the other side actually, you’re just setting yourself up for a fail. So we do try as best as we can to work with stakeholders within the business to understand what that process is like, how they feel as an employee when they’re working with us. So we have engagement surveys that we conduct throughout the year. All of our employees have monthly one-to-ones with their line managers to ensure that they are on track with their objectives and that they’re comfortable and happy in their role. But there are areas where, I think, the experience somebody receives before joining and after joining can be quite disparate, and we need to do something to address that.

What’s your tech stack for employer branding and recruiting?

There are quite a few different platforms. Some of the big ones, Avature is our ATS. We moved to Avature at the end of 2016, that enables us to source candidates. It’s got all of our jobs on. We can sample from it. We can obviously put in analytics to look at source of hire, which is significantly going to help us in terms of identifying where the best talent comes from. In addition to that, we have relationships with LaunchPad that we use for video interviewing. Probably something that we’ll explore a lot more in 2017, actually, how we can get the best out of that, ensuring that the experience that somebody gets using LaunchPad is just as we would expect it to be with them engaging with us on our career site. So changing the look and feel of it so that actually they get a Virgin Media experience, even though they’re using a third-party provider. We have Meet and Engage for our volume recruitment which enables candidates to have live web chats with recruiters. Yocto our partner is there. And we’ve got a lot of tools at our disposal that we have internally that we’re trying to leverage those relationships that we’ve got with our digital team and marketing team. One of them being an employee advocacy platform called Dynamic Signal, which I know a lot of businesses will use to distribute and share content from their employees to their wider networks. And we’re actually using that to ensure that all employees have access to our Twitter handle and our LinkedIn profiles, so that they can share content and updates that are more career specific and career relevant. And we’re starting to see some great results from that and we continue to do so into 2017.

What metrics do you use to measure ROI?

When we were with our previous ATS, it was quite difficult to get really useful and tangible data out of that, in terms of candidate source. Now with Avature, we expect to see a vast improvement in that. Although that said, our recruiters will mainly track the source of the candidates, and all candidates are encouraged to say where they saw the role. But for me, it’s not just looking at what websites or social channels or other advertising activity generated that candidate application and led to the hire, but also just understanding where our candidates are online and how we can get our message in a more structured way. I think at the moment, we put out a lot of content but we’re not necessarily measuring the effectiveness of that. But we’ve now started to ensure that we’ve got proper tagging in place on any post that go out on social. So we’re able to see which posts are getting the most engagement and what that might lead into in terms of applications. For me, it’s also about just understanding what impact social is having. So at the beginning of 2016, we were getting about 5% of our traffic from social, in terms of applications. Now, that’s about 10%. But what we’re not necessarily doing right now is understanding what pieces of content are the most engaging. So at the moment, the measurement of ROI is pretty much applications and hires, but what I would like to see next year is a case of what exactly is it that’s resonating the best so that we can ensure that if it’s video content, for example, we’re focusing more on that than the written articles. But at the moment, it’s early days…

What brands and organizations inspire you?

I’m going to put it like this. Before we met, I was on the tube. And it was a strange one, but TfL precisely, and not from a recruitment perspective, but just the way that actually their employees appear to have autonomy in terms of how they address customers in some situations. So I got off the tube today, there’s a notice board with a season’s greetings message but it’s been very personalized. It’s got photos of the employees that work there. And some stations, you get people with Thought of the Day and Joke of the Day and things like that. I just like that personal element even though TfL is a huge organization, got lots of different things going on, gets a lot of criticism in the press and especially in London actually. Transport For London employees do really enjoy their work and that shows in that. I think they get transformed the way we get access to content on social. So I can get live updates from the Northern line on the Twitter handle so one of our ought to leave this morning. If I want to see what’s going on, I’m following the Northern line. And I just think the way that they’ve embraced social media is great and has helped to change an industry which perhaps most people would have just constantly criticized to actually to get added value. They helped me out on my day and they’ve brought a smile to my face, ultimately.

In the recruitment space, I would say Three. I really like Three, the mobile network, I don’t know the exact size of their team there, but I don’t imagine it to be particularly big. But what they do with what they’ve got seems to work and seems to be really engaging. So on the career site, it’s really nice, clean look and feel. I like the fact that I can import my LinkedIn profile, and then it will tell me which jobs are the most relevant to me based on what’s on my LinkedIn profile. And so that’s something I’m keen to look at how we can incorporate that into our career site. And the candidate, also the employee journey that they highlight. So you can actually see people in the business but also see where they came from and where they got to and how they got there. So just bringing to life that journey that actually somebody had started in. An administrative role ended up being a category manager role within procurement, so a really nice way of bringing to life the opportunities that that business has.

One brand personally that I really like is Cyberdog. I just love the passion that all of their employees have. The fact that when you walk in there, they’re encouraged to be the individual that they are, and they don’t have to fit a certain type. It’s all about having some personality. If the employees want to get up and bounce on a podium, halfway through the day because there are no customers in the shop or actually, they just want to do a bit of dancing, they can do that. And they’re just really nice, genuine people that work there. And I think it’s a small operation and they’re not recruiting hundreds of thousands, but the way they do things is just really quite nice. So looking forward to popping in after this meeting, actually.

What’s the next big thing for the industry?

I know everybody is talking about content, content generation, how do we get our message in front of passive candidates, moving away from job boards, is it the end of the job boards? I think all of these things are really valid. I think, for me, and the work we’re doing at Virgin Media, it’s about, taking all of that but then going back to why we’re doing this. Ultimately, we’re doing this to help people get jobs. We can chuck as much content out there that we like, but if it’s not going to help somebody get a job, why are we doing it? And so I really want to start focusing on being more authentic. A lot of the content that we as a business produce comes from a very small number of sources within the business. It’s just the way it is, the size of the thing that I have. I’ve got one social media and content specialist that works for me. We obviously have agency partners that help us with our advertising and other content. But actually, our employees getting their voice heard a lot more and getting them engaged in the business as much as we can, and not just having the kind of coms being channeled through one person but actually getting everybody as advocates within the business. So for me, 2017, I think it’s about just being more genuine, more authentic, and actually being more collaborative with resources that we’ve got and thinking about being a bit smarter.

Follow Neil on Twitter @Chivoir and be sure to subscribe to the Employer Branding Podcast.


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