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Our Recruitment Process – Optimised by the Technology Team

Job InterviewAPR prides itself on only recruiting the best talent – but to do this, we need a robust recruitment process. From the early days of the business, we have used a process that allows candidates to demonstrate their full potential.

However, as we have grown as a company, so has the volume of applications. We built our original recruitment system ourselves using various tools, but now we have found that more of our time is spent on administrative tasks, rather than the actual value-adding CV reviews and interviews.

Rather than outsourcing this work and losing internal control over one of our most important processes, we handled this through a business-improvement initiative – the APR Technology Team. This is a group of volunteers of varying experience, led by Phil Creswell, who all share a common interest: using technology to develop innovative solutions.

This was a perfect opportunity to convert our recruitment process into a more efficient and future-proofed one, while getting to experiment with a variety of new tools. This article will discuss how we did this, and maybe even give you some ideas to solve issues of your own. So, let us get started!

The problem

We’ve focused on our Graduate Associate Application scheme (details of which can be found here). Below is a diagram of the various stages, annotated with the work needed from the APR Recruitment Team at each step:

Flowchart of recruitment stages


As you can see, this is split into “Admin” and “Value Add” categories. There are many administrative duties – such as adding an applicant to our tracking spreadsheet, sending out Online Tests and arranging interviews.

Year on year we are getting more and more applications, with the number of new applicants exceeding 1,000 for the first time in 2020. Below is a table demonstrating the rough proportion of applicants that make it to each stage:

A quick look at the numbers told us three things:

With the team now fully briefed, it was time to get to work. First, we began with brainstorming various tools to use to develop a robust, cohesive solution.

What Tools Did We Use?

If you learn only one thing from this article, it should be the usefulness of Power Automate. Provided by Microsoft, this is a web-based tool that can automatically complete pretty much anything in Office 365 – and beyond! It works on a drag and drop interface, with each automated process called a “Flow”.

Each Flow begins with a “Trigger”, denoting when the Flow activates. Examples of Triggers include when a new email arrives in your mailbox, when a new file is created or when the clock hits 9am. When these Triggers are activated, several follow-on “Actions” take place, such as sending a new email or adding a row to an Excel table.

Flows are incredibly versatile and can be quite powerful when you get to grips with them. We did not have a lot of prior experience with Power Automate, but the simple user interface means it is a lot quicker to pick up than a code-based solution might be.

Following on from this, we decided to investigate the rest of the Office 365 suite and found some other useful tools. Microsoft Bookings lets you build a user-friendly website for customers to book appointments, based on staff availability. This was a great way to simplify arranging our Telephone Interviews (Assessment Centres were left out of this, as the 3-hour slots needed are harder to sort out!). SharePoint offered file storage security, restricting access to relevant users e.g., Online Test marking staff cannot access the applicant tracker spreadsheet.

Of course, we could not resist the allure of using some Excel and VBA (actuaries and Excel – name a better duo, I dare you). A quirk of Power Automate means it currently does not work with macro enabled Excel files, so we used a workaround with the Power Query functionality of Excel. This allowed us to separate the application inputs and processing, which is always good practice.

We also looked at some third-party alternatives such as 10to8, but the pricing models and functionality could not compete with the Office 365 software we already had access to. Also, this way we could play to our strengths, particularly with the vast Excel and VBA experience we have here at APR.

And finally, a shout out to Microsoft Teams, which really has been the MVP of this last year. The Technology Team has members across APR’s 3 offices, so it is doubtful we could have co-ordinated our efforts without it!

How we solved it

All applications begin with a submission through our online form. A submitted form is automatically sent as an email to our Recruitment Team’s address, with the CV and cover letter attached.

Before our involvement, candidate info had to be manually added to a spreadsheet that keeps track of all applications. We have now automated this using two Power Automate Flows: one which adds the info to our applicant tracker spreadsheet, and another that saves down the CV and cover letter to an organised file system. To ensure no applications are lost, a VBA macro was developed that checks all email applications make it into the spreadsheet.

To ensure only application emails trigger these flows, we have implemented some Outlook rules for the Recruitment mailbox. Various rules are used throughout, to keep our mailbox tidy.

The tracker spreadsheet is where the Recruitment Team manages everything. It contains a “Status” column with various options. For example, when a new application arrives it will be set to a default “New Application” status which then can be updated to “CV Check Passed” or “CV Check Failed”, after thorough reviewing of the applicant’s details.

Upon updating this column, VBA code automatically generates an email to send to the applicant. This will notify them of how their application has progressed and will give further instructions. The Recruitment Team can edit this email before it is sent. It is automatically populated with the application’s status, applicant name and their email address, which saves a lot of time.

When this email is sent, a different feedback email is sent to the Recruitment mailbox, detailing how the application has just been updated. Another Flow moves the application’s files accordingly.

This persists throughout all stages of the process, ensuring that we stay organised. Keeping a folder for each application also makes their information easy to access and review when needed.

As for the Online Test, we give each applicant a link to our test on the ClassMarker website. When completed, ClassMarker sends the test script to our Recruitment mailbox. From there a Flow reads in this email and removes the applicant’s personal information, such as their name and email address.

The applicant’s answers only are saved to a new file on SharePoint. When this file is created, another Flow activates to assign it to a random member of the APR Test Marking team for review. It was quite time consuming before for our Recruitment Team to do this, as it involved anonymising the script and choosing which marker to send it to. Now it happens in a matter of seconds.

The Bookings app comes into play when a candidate reaches the Telephone Interview stage. They are sent to our site to book a 30-minute time slot, dependent on staff availability. APR interviewers can access a “behind-the-scenes” version of this site, to update their availability any time they wish. Of course, to make sure they are available, we notify the applicant at this stage that the booking is provisional and will be confirmed once we check with the booked staff member.

The remaining stages remain mostly hands on, but this is not an issue due to the smaller number of applications reaching this stage. However, the unified approach for all stages now means there is more timestamping so we can keep applications moving, and the almost instant VBA email generation means we can notify candidates easily without taking up too much of the Recruitment Team’s time.

What we learned

In conclusion, we learned quite a few things from this exercise.

  1. There is a reason the Microsoft suite is so popular. This is exemplified by how easy we found integrating Office 365 tools we had little experience with into our solution.
  2. Based on timesheet data, we have saved an estimated 350 hours of manual work per year for the Recruitment Team – and that is only if the numbers of applications remain the same! Hopefully, our growth will continue, and this figure will climb as well, which is a great outcome from the time here and there contributed by our Technology Team!
  3. One of APR’s key focuses is building our people’s skills. Staff from all stages of their careers got to contribute to this project, and our experience with Power Automate and the other Office 365 apps used will give us a key edge if similar issues arise while we are out on client project.

The Technology Team will continue to monitor the use of this tool, making improvements as and when required. Now, we are looking ahead to our next project. We are experimenting with some cloud computing software to give ourselves a leg up if the machines do end up taking over the world, but we are always open to new ideas. If this sounds interesting to you, feel free to get in touch!

James McConnell

March 2021