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British American Tobacco saves £1.4m after automating candidate selection

British American Tobacco uses custom profiling software to cut the number of applications managers have to screen by half, as part of a major re-organisation of its recruitment processes

A year after transforming the way it recruits employees, tobacco company British American Tobacco (BAT) is on track to makes savings of £1.4m.

The company is using customised profiling software to help it identify candidates with the right skills and the right fit for the organisation.

BAT began re-organising the way it recruits employees in 2013, in a drive to recruit better candidates and to standardise its recruitment processes across 200 countries.

The company, which employs 55,000 people worldwide, recognised that although BAT is well known, potential employees were not applying for jobs in sufficient numbers – partly because some people have negative associations of its products.

But it was also clear BAT was not getting its message across about the opportunities it offers, said Roberto Blanda, group head of talent acquisition and human resources (HR).

“The initial problem was that it’s hard to find people and that we produce tobacco, but that wasn’t the main issue – people needed to learn the true story of BAT,” he said in an interview with Computer Weekly.

The company decided to significantly cut the number of external recruitment companies it used to hire staff, and to bring more of the hiring in-house, as part of its £1m HR re-organisation.

“We wanted to do inside-out marketing. BAT is a fantastic company and our employees really like working for us. There are great stories to tell,” said Blanda, speaking at an HR technology conference in Paris.

Automating candidate selection

BAT commissioned IBM to develop a recruitment tool to help it identify candidates with the skills and personal qualities BAT was looking for.

The tool takes candidates through a 15-minute online questionnaire, which helps managers at BAT to automatically identify candidates who would fit with the organisation.

“The tests become more and more difficult as you get right answers. You pass if you get it done in 8 minutes,” said Blanda.

Candidates coming in for an interview for a leadership role take another 25-minute test, which shows how each candidate fits in with BAT’s preferred leadership profile.

This has helped BAT cut the time it spends on interviewing, said Blanda.

“We will spend an hour discussing where candidates do not match, rather than focusing on where they do match,” he said.

Automation cuts CV review time by half

The questionnaire, launched in March 2015, has helped BAT to screen out 45,000 of the 80,000 applications it has received without human intervention.

The time to recruit candidates has fallen by 2.6 weeks, and the number of new hires leaving the company after joining has fallen from 13% to 8%, Blanda revealed. In addition, the average rating score managers give new hires has gone up from 3.3 to 3.5.

The technology has made it possible for BAT to recruit many more of its employees in-house, rather than through agencies, allowing the company to show what it has to offer directly to candidates.

“When recruiting someone as the company, it is so much more powerful and credible – and we tend to have much lower drop-out rate,” said Blanda.

Seeking out talent

The company selected IBM after putting out a tender request to a range of technology suppliers. IBM had already supplied BAT’s applicant tracking system, which gave it a natural advantage.

The supplier also had a team of psychologists that were able to work with BAT to develop the tests, which examine cognitive skills and verbal reasoning.

BAT has been bolstering its recruitment with a social media campaign designed to encourage more people to consider BAT as a potential employer.

Every part of the business now has a plan for promoting the brand of BAT as a potential employer, which includes making personal appearances at careers fairs.

It is still early days, but the company has grown the number of followers it has on Twitter to 8,000, and the number followers on LinkedIn to more than 200,000 – a 44% increase.

The perception of BAT as an employer is improving slowly, but it is moving in the right direction, said Blanda.

Online recruitment tool

It took IBM and BAT just under a year, from initial discussions to final implementation, to develop the online recruitment tool.

The challenges were not technical, but were instead about overcoming internal scepticism that a computer could replace human judgement in assessing candidates.

“We had to put forward a strong case to convince our internal stakeholders that the tools are reliable and would not be abandoned two years later because it could not do the job,” said Blanda.

The company also had to put in a lot of effort to explain the test and make it a positive experience for candidates, as they might feel negative about the process and that they had been rejected by computer.

Recruiting internally

The company has been able cut the number of external recruitment agencies by around 25%.

It is using a team of 60 internal recruiters to hire the majority of its staff – a much lower number than equivalent companies, claimed Blanda.

Blanda advised other companies facing recruitment challenges to take the time to understand what the real problem is, as it could be down to a lack of awareness of the company, that people simply do not consider applying or that the recruitment systems are at fault.

“Sometimes we jump to conclusions. You really need to know where your problem is,” he said.

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