Candidate Immersion: Giving Candidates a Realistic Understanding of the Role

July 28, 2021 Alison Fishlock

Hiring talent is never a one-way decision. Just as recruiters consider the pros and cons of each candidate, so too do the applicants when it comes to the role and the hiring organization.

They look at the likely alignment between themselves and the organization’s values and culture, the opportunities for development and what the role entails on a day-to-day basis. Some of this can be found on career web pages. However, sometimes ‘words on a page’ simply don’t cut it.

Potential candidates want a clear and realistic insight into the role so they can make an informed decision. For some jobs, this is easy; work experience and insider knowledge help form a picture of what a job would be like. For other roles, grasping what the job requires can be difficult.

Those hiring for some of the more difficult to understand roles may need to rethink how they share a view of the job by creating an immersive candidate experience.

Take the work achieved with our client, Serco Group, as it hired its prison custody officers and those escorting prisoners to court.

Serco Group manages six prisons in the UK, employing 1,141 prison custody officers (PCOs) and 1,900 Prison Escort Custody Service (PECS) employees – recruiting 800 people annually overall into these roles.

The prison service sector has its challenges: a high rate of vacancies; comparatively low starting pay; high staff turnover; and hard to meet staffing levels. Its roles are demanding and this makes candidate attraction and job education difficult.

Realistic Job Preview

Recruiting is an ongoing task. Attrition rates are typically high, partly because the role is not easy to realistically convey to potential applicants. It means that candidates get hired and then later leave as they are faced with the reality of the role.

For Serco, rethinking the candidate experience and creating an immersive selection process were paramount to give candidates a realistic preview of the role.

Anthony Kirby, Group HR Director/COO, Serco, told us: “We needed to address the issue at its root cause – recruiting the right people with empathy, resilience and confidence – yet we needed to make it really clear that this role is about making tough choices.”

Role Fit: Important to Candidate and Organization

Aon worked with the Serco team to design, develop and deploy a truly innovative assessment process.

There were two important aims of the project:

  1. Provide potential applicants with a more authentic view of the roles and allow them to decide to which role (if either) they are best suited.
  2. Enable the hiring team to identify best-fit candidates.

By meeting these two aims, Serco wanted to improve staffing levels and reduce attrition of those hired.

Pre-application Assessment to Determine Role Fit

Potential applicants need to understand the jobs and what they entail. Few jobseekers have a realistic view of either the prison custody officer or prison escort roles.

In order to help, Serco created a new careers page. It offers insight into the roles and a short job pathfinder tool developed by Aon.

Serco Career Assistant is a series of competency and preference statements that potential applicants work through in order to learn about the degree of fit or alignment between themselves and the role at Serco. It means that those thinking of applying can understand whether their attitude, mindset and skills are those suited to working within a prison service.

Potential applicants can complete the exercise as many times as they wish to understand the impact of making a different decision or choice as they rate the statements. Importantly, none of this information is passed on to Serco, should they choose to apply. The decision to apply rests solely with the jobseeker – regardless of their scores from this exercise.

Video Footage Transforms Situational Judgement Questionnaire

At the core of the entire hiring process in a chat-based job simulation was a set of Serco-based scenarios brought to life through video.  

Once the applicant applies and passes through some basic qualifying questions, the selection assessment process begins.

The recruitment assessment videos that are the basis of the situational judgement questionnaire were all filmed within the prison environment. Actors took part with the backdrop of prison walkways and cells, capturing the sounds and images of a working prison. The films are intense, professional and cinematic.

Before any scripting or filming could take place, we needed to understand what makes someone successful in their role at Serco – either as a prison officer or escorting prisoners to court.

We conducted a deep dive into situations these officers experience, deploying job analysis and focus groups, and spending time in prisons and prison vans.

These videos bring realism and immersion to the candidate experience. They complete the situational judgement questionnaire and, if there is a strong match between candidate and role, attend an assessment center at which the role competencies are explored further. The video assessment also has another purpose.

Some candidates may realize that the role is not for them and choose not to proceed further along the hiring process and deselect themselves, removing those not likely to accept or remain in a role if hired.

Innovative and Immersive Candidate Experience

The new assessment approach is highly innovative in the world of prison officer hiring.

Jane Crane, Talent Acquisition Director, Serco, comments: “Serco is leading the way within the sector. With our process, candidates get to truly understand the roles so they can either deselect themselves – or potentially go on to find their vocation. We are creating a competitive edge, making the experience engaging and educational, as well as enhancing our employer brand.

“We believe we’ve created a highly innovative solution for talent acquisition. We’re providing an outstanding candidate experience. It also saves candidates’ and hiring managers’ time as well as delivering much stronger shortlists.”

Contact us if you want to develop a more engaging candidate experience built on realistic insight and objective assessment.

About the Author

Alison Fishlock

Alison Fishlock is an Account Manager with more over 16 years’ experience managing multiple bespoke assessment projects for early careers recruitment, experienced hires and talent development. She is passionate about helping clients to make the best people decisions and to date, Alison’s account work has spanned a range of private and public sector organizations.

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