Lucy Wilton of EY on how to improve graduate candidate experience

Candidate experience is not a new trend. It’s an ongoing challenge for talent attraction teams across all industries and geographical locations. It’s also something we’re really passionate about at PathMotion, so we ran a Leadership Breakfast series in Paris, London, and New York in February, inviting HR leaders from different backgrounds to talk about the innovative things they’re doing to improve candidate experience.

Lucy Wilton is the Student Employer Brand Manager at EY, a global professional services organisation, and she presented at our London breakfast event. In her presentation, she talked about some really exciting initiatives that EY had implemented in their graduate programme recruitment processes, so we sat down to talk with her a bit more about them and about how EY approaches graduate candidate experience more generally.

Q: Why is candidate experience such an important part of the recruitment strategy at EY?

Lucy:  For EY, it’s more than just providing student programme opportunities (a chance to join EY) - we're trying to give advice on students' careers, whether that’s an apprenticeship, internship, work experience, or a graduate role. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be at EY, we want to give students the best information they can possibly get to help make that decision.

One of the reasons that students say that join EY when they have a number of offers is because of the people they met in the process - at careers fairs, assessment centres, and during the interview process. So, we need to make sure we’re giving them the kind of personalised experience they don’t get anywhere else throughout the process - on social, on the website - being as open, helpful and honest as possible.

What challenges did you face when you started looking at candidate experience at EY?

The biggest hurdle for us is the volume of applications and the volume of hires we make. We get over 35,000 applications a year, which is a huge number of people to provide a personalised experience to. There are things that are automated throughout the process, but we do try to retain that human element even when something is sent through an automated system.

If a candidate is unsuccessful at our online assessments or telephone interview stages, they will receive an automated report that highlights their strengths and weaknesses. And we will provide information about where they can go to get help with their career choices and employability skills. We will send them to jobmi to continue their job search. We try to go the extra mile beyond saying they’re not right for EY.

The needs of university students are also quite different now compared to a few years ago. What they need from employers, what drives them to apply to a company, changes slightly. When we’re talking to candidates throughout the process and before they come to join us, we’re trying to be reflective of what they need and want from an employer.

How do you go about getting internal buy-in? We know it’s something that can be a real challenge in this industry.

We’re very fortunate at EY to work with some really innovative people. Our leaders know that things are changing, and we need to change as well - in the last couple of years we’ve been moving away from being a ‘traditional accountancy firm’, which is our legacy, to a place where technology is embedded in everything that we do. So, while we still recruit for very traditional roles, we’re looking for technologists too, and we’re hiring for new roles in the business - the kinds of roles and programmes we’re offering students is changing.

Getting buy-in from stakeholders can be difficult in smaller organisations, or ones where there isn't already a culture of change in place. If you bring your stakeholders on a journey with you, and provide research and analysis on the student audience and their concerns and needs, it will help with getting that important internal buy-in. 

How have EY changed their approach to candidate experience in the last couple of years?

We spend a lot of time in student recruitment and attraction teams really understanding our audience.

There are a number of ways that we do this:

  • we attend events to get the latest research on what students want from employers and their careers
  • we work with student brand ambassadors at universities
  • we run surveys with our database and students we’ve met
  • and we run focus groups with graduates and apprentices about our own recruitment process to make sure we're constantly improving.

We want to help our candidates make the decisions they need to make to have a successful, rewarding career. We talk a lot about strengths in our recruitment process. Students doing work they’re good at will help them have a rewarding, successful career. And we focus on more than technical "hard" skills - we also look at soft skills and provide mentoring and coaching as part of our development process. In addition to focusing on strengths, we're interested in Future Skills, and how students can strengthen the five core Future Skills to develop their career - whether they join EY or not.

At EY, we look at strengths, not academic requirements. We’re looking for a candidate's passion and motivation for joining a firm like EY. Obviously, academics are important, and students want to do well at university to get those grades, but it might be a disadvantage to students who aren’t as good at exams or who might get a little lost at school or university. Dropping our academic requirements, and the fact we accept applications from any university and degree background, ensures that we have diversity entering into our firm – it’s something we pride ourselves on – the diversity of our people. Students want that as well; they want to be part of the community, to be supported, with a company that matters and does things that benefit the community. We’re working toward the same thing.

What kind of results have you seen from these initiatives?

We spend a lot of time monitoring the conversion from our events. A couple of years ago, we would do them because it’s what we’d always done. Now we look at whether the event is the best use of our people’s time, and if it will be useful for students. We’re constantly flexing what we’re doing and where we have a presence at events. As a result of this focus on monitoring and analysis, we've seen a year-on-year conversion of our Milkround events from 14% to 35%

Having platforms like PathMotion helps with student interaction; we’ve seen a 170% year-on-year increase in student interaction on our careers website (2015-16, 2016-17). We've also seen a significant increase in interaction with the EY and You quiz, a game we developed on our website, in the past 18 months. This proves that students want to speak with our people and they want to know where they fit in our organisation. I think back to when I was a student, I didn’t necessarily know what EY did, and I wouldn’t know the first place to start thinking about where I fit into an organisation. Being able to create a quiz that identifies their strengths and the best area in our business is really helpful. 

What advice would you give to other TA professionals who want to boost their company’s candidate experience?

  1. You need to differentiate yourself from your competitors by offering a more personalised experience. It’s great to have a unique experience - I see a lot of chatter about similarity in recruitment organisations at larger organisations.
  2. Really understand your audience and treat the talent like a customer. The experience of someone coming through your process is important - user experience should be central to everything that’s going on. Make sure that what you’re doing in the recruitment process helps both the business and candidates.
  3. Make sure that you constantly preach about improvements you can make, much like you would with an app! The way someone uses an app should be the way you think about your recruitment process. The talent is your consumer at the end of the day. 
  4. You don’t know if your candidate is going to be a client in 10 years’ time, so you want to have a relationship with them where they come away feeling like they learned something in the process, even if they weren’t successful.

Candidate Experience in 2018: The Leadership Breakfast Debrief

Bringing together proprietary research, market research, and the highlights from our Leadership Breakfast series - this is everything you need to know about Candidate Experience in 2018.

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