Reap the rewards of embracing IT in HR


Entertainment retailer HMV receives between 75-100 job applications every day and, invariably, the applicants are also their customers.

It is a fact that is never lost on HR director Liam Donnelly, who insists that candidates are treated in the same way as any customer. “They have a passion for music or games and they are people we need to look after regardless of whether we employ them or not,” says Donnelly, who arrived at the high street retailer as head of HR eight years ago. He cut his retail teeth at the Kingfisher Group and entertainment chain MVC.

“A customer would receive a response straight away and so should a job applicant.”

Donnelly can be confident this is now the case for those who apply to HMV’s network of nearly 200 stores across the UK and Ireland.

Two years ago, HMV embarked on an online recruitment strategy to help manage its high volume of job applications. What began as a simple online application form for graduates has evolved into a full-blown filtering and candidate management system for all HMV vacancies, which tracks applications through the recruitment process. It has enabled the organisation to double the number of graduates it recruits to 50 a year, and over the Christmas recruitment period, reduced recruitment advertising costs by 65%. It also saved around 800 hours of store managers’ time.

Prior to the online system, HMV had a highly decentralised recruitment process with each store manager taking responsibility for its own recruitment.

“We had no idea how well that process was being managed,” says Donnelly.

“We didn’t know whether candidates were being written back to or what shortlisting process was being used. It was very difficult to get any degree of consistency across the business. So as part of our drive to tackle labour turnover issues, we saw it [the online initiative] as a very good way of improving general customer service to the business. It also made sure that not only do we get the right candidates, but that all applicants are responded to quickly and appropriately.”

HMV has one of the most iconic brands on the high street. Donnelly was keen to make sure the branding was right on the site and had the front end designed by HMV’s marketing agency. For the back end, which does all the hard work, HMV worked with specialist online recruitment technology company Changeworknow, whose clients include B&Q and Woolworths.

Applicants answer an online questionnaire designed to assess how well they are suited to HMV and the position for which they are applying. It quizzes candidates on background and qualifications, past experiences (based on a simple multiple choice) and finally asks for personal contact information. The site gives instant feedback on how well they match HMV’s criteria. “Candidates are graded based on detailed, competency-based questions. A lot of candidates get to the point where they realise they don’t have the experience or skillsets they need to continue with their application and so de-select themselves, which benefits us and them,” explains Donnelly. “The system manages this initial stage of the recruitment process which is often the most time-consuming and adds the least value.”

The system also incorporates job profiles featuring real HMV employees, providing an insight into retailing in general, as well as HMV. “Many people don’t understand what it will be like – the long hours, the hard work – so we’ve tried to give an honest view,” says Donnelly.

The Changeworknow system really comes into its own at Christmas when HMV has to recruit around 2,000 temporary staff. Last year, it received 12,500 applications for temporary positions and 13% of these who went through the online process were an ideal match. This equated to 81% of the total volume needed. “Those who de-selected saved us a huge amount of work,” says Donnelly.

He also believes the system has helped to get better people in general and reports that since HMV has been using an online element, staff turnover has been reduced by nearly 10% to 25%.

Selling the idea of online recruitment to the board was relatively easy, says Donnelly. He believes that it makes sense for anyone involved in high volume, multi-site recruitment. “There are massive wins on cost, administration and calibre of people.”

However, the output from the system is only as good as the criteria fed into it. “This was one of the lessons we learned – spend as much time as possible at the beginning of the process and be very clear on your criteria,” he says.

Next Donnelly wants to focus on head office jobs, which he believes the system is currently less appropriate for and continuing to measure its effectiveness. “We know the payback has been pretty huge, but I’d like the measurement to more scientific,” he says. “It’s doing exactly what we set out to do, but we need to measure where the improvements are and ensure it continues to add value.”


Xerox Europe receives an average of 100,000 applications to fill 2,000 jobs in its channel partners network. Known as ‘concessionaires’, the distribution partners account for 50% of the company’s revenue.

Ensuring the top talent is secured from this high volume crop is key to Xerox’s growth, which can be fraught with challenge when you are recruiting across 15 different countries.

“We realised that we had to improve the HR and recruitment strategy and processes,” says Sandrine Geffrouais-Guetin, programme manager, European concessionaire operations. “We wanted a co-ordinated, pan-European approach to harmonise the recruitment strategy and to encourage our 4,500 sales people to develop a pan-European team spirit and loyalty to the Xerox brand.”

Xerox Corporation, a pioneer in document technology, has one of the strongest brands in the IT sector. It was founded in 1906 as the Haloid Company (it became Xerox in 1961) and changed the office world forever with its first automatic plain paper copier, the 914, in 1959.

“The name of Xerox and development prospects are tremendous,” says Geffrouais-Guetin. “The training and development offered to the people is huge and Xerox is recognised as one of the best places to learn how to sell a product, but we have to work hard to communicate and differentiate our value proposition to the market.”

While a co-ordinated recruitment strategy was needed, Xerox also had to allow for some variations in the approaches taken in each country.

After reviewing a number of e-recruitment options, it opted for end-to-end recruitment system, Active-Recruiter, supplied by JobPartners. The system, through customisation of the software, allows a high degree of flexibility. In some countries, recruitment will be more centralised with one person responsible for most of the process. In others, line managers may have a bigger role in it, explains Geffrouais-Guetin.

“With the software you can set up the workflow how you want. You decide who you want involved in the recruitment process. It enables flexibility at country level,” she says. “The benefit of such a solution is that people who are not HR professionals can also be involved in the recruitment loop and these are often the people who will work on a day-to-day basis with those recruits.

“It also allows us to build a big candidate database. Before, a candidate would just be seen by one recruiter – now we can share candidates.”

The way Xerox is using the system is typical of how many international organisations are now approaching online recruitment, says JobPartners’ founder and deputy general manager, Patrice Barbedette. “They want to set corporate rules locally but be able to have some flexibility, too,” he says. “Xerox is a good example of a top down approach.”

Different countries can also customise the criteria built into ActiveRecruiter for pre-screening and scoring candidates. Some may set basic screening to extract information such as whether potential recruits have a work permit or driving licence for that country.

More complex criteria can also be set based around experience and Xerox’s system in turn links to an online assessment and profiling test so the candidate match can be further honed.

Geffrouais-Guetin also believes that the way the system enables Xerox to engage with the different job markets in each country is also a form of screening. “We can link ActiveRecruiter to the appropriate job boards in each country or to universities,” she says. “We can segment and address the job market far better. It acts as a kind of first round of selection.”

ActiveRecruiter, which manages the entire recruitment process, sits within Xerox’s e-HR portal, called eXpress Yourself. A recruiter and Xerox manager gateway can be accessed internally on the Xerox extranet via a set of codes and passwords, and a job applicant gateway allows the Xerox recruiters to post job offers online through different recruitment channels and media partners., which greets jobseekers with the news that Xerox is currently looking for 2,000 salespeople across Europe, is also designed to provide candidates with all the information they need about working for Xerox (this site is available in 22 languages).

“Whether you apply online from Monster, Totaljobs, StepStone or from a university, you land on this page,” explains Geffrouais-Guetin.

“Individuals can watch a video explaining Xerox’s value proposition to the job market, and find out about the culture of the company and what it is like to work at Xerox.” The site also lets applicants discover more about Xerox products and training offered.

Geffrouais-Guetin believes the overall e-recruitment system has helped each country make a reduction in recruitment costs of more than 20%. Just as significant is the reduction in administration work for HR, which has released more time for people development and enabled the function to develop a better understanding of job markets in each country.

Both of these are priorities for Xerox over the coming months. Geffrouais-Guetin wants to continue to develop and deploy the ActiveRecruiter platform to address the job market at a more local level with universities and employment agencies as well as continuing to work with big media partners.

Talent development, meanwhile, hinges on its managers, which is why Xerox wants to increasingly involve them in the recruiting process.

“People are the big source of value for the company. They are the ones delivering revenue. We want managers to realise this,” says Geffrouais-Guetin. “Investing in our people is key. They are our internal customers.”

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