Double delight as online delivers for Debenhams

The introduction of a recruitment portal by Debenhams has helped the
department store increase its volume of applications by 50 per cent.

Those who don’t register the importance of this couldn’t possibly have been
around at the tail-end of the 1990s, when internet recruitment generated more
administrative problems than it solved for HR. Just publishing an e-mail
address on a job ad was enough to invite a tidal wave of untargeted and
unmanageable applications.

Debenhams’ increase, however, is a 50 per cent rise in the right kind of
candidates, largely because of improvements in recruitment software, as well as
the ‘human’ screening process behind the site. A freelance panel of ex-HR
personnel assess the candidates using a unique scoring and assessment criteria.

The other big difference with internet recruitment this time around is how
companies are approaching the implementation of digital processes in general.
No longer are new technologies merely bolted on to existing models. Nowadays,
new processes are built around them, they are embedded into the company culture
and, crucially, have to be justified on a business level.

"We’ve reduced time to hire by 10 per cent already, and know that we
can do better than that," says Michelle Newman, Debenhams’ recruitment
adviser, retail and campaigns, who explains that developing an online strategy
was also important to the organisation’s brand. "The marketplace was
telling us that we needed to go online and yes, we wanted to step up the
recruitment process, but we also wanted to be at the forefront of things. We
wanted something to mark us out as the best, and make us a point of
difference."

Debenhams employs 23,500 people, 64 per cent of them part-time. It operates
in 12 countries at 115 locations, and deals with more than 13 million customers
each year. Prior to online recruitment, it received a high number of
speculative paper applications, plus 2,000 graduate applications each year.

Rather than set up a separate website, Debenhams built the recruitment
portal into its corporate site and opted for Resourcing Software’s Web-cruit, a
job-posting and tracking system that allowed it to incorporate its screening
criteria as part of the application form.

It was also imperative that the system interfaced to the retailer’s PS
Enterprise (PSe) HR management system (HRMS) from Northgate Information
Solutions (formerly Rebus), since part of its sell to the board was that the
investment would build on results already achieved through this. As soon as a
candidate inputs information into the portal, it can be downloaded to the HRMS
system, and then put through the various stages.

"This has saved us a huge amount of administration," says Newman.
"It’s given us an ease of accessibility when it comes to information, and
made applying for jobs much easier. Eighty per cent of our applications for the
management training programme now come online."

This figure is ahead of target and above the same time last year for the
programme. Around 1,600 online applications were received for the Bullring
store in Birmingham – the highest number of applications ever received for a
new Debenhams store.

Not only does the portal provide the retailer with another channel through
which to develop its recruitment and marketing campaigns, but because it is
integrated into the corporate site, candidates can also find out everything
they need to know about working for Debenhams. Other useful features include
the facility to fill out an application in stages.

Debenhams’ plans include moving to self-service HR, but at the moment, it
wants to ensure the recruitment process is as slick as it can be.

Its measured approach is more typical of the way large organisations are now
approaching e-HR, says Steve Foster, manager at the business consultancy group
at Northgate.

"Everyone has to define their own starting point when it comes to e-HR,
and then put it in the context of a bigger plan or roadmap. It could be
recruitment, but equally it could be flexible benefits," he says. "We
all want the killer application that will get self-service out there."

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