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How Companies Identify Talent with Sophie Milliken & Kage Spatz

HR Strategy Series, Real Human Resources

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By taking consistent, and at times bold action, positive change will follow…

As a part of my HR Strategy Series, I’m talking to top experts in the field to teach prospects what hiring managers are actually looking for, while also supporting business leaders in their hiring and retention strategies. Today I had the pleasure of talking with Sophie Milliken.

Sophie Milliken is a recruitment and employability expert and founder of SRS. She has worked with employers such as M&S, JP Morgan, Expedia and AXA to design and deliver their graduate recruitment campaigns. Sophie has been a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development since 2013 and was awarded a Fellowship of the Royal Society of Arts in 2019. Her first book, From Learner To Earner, published in August 2019, earned bestseller status on Amazon in two categories. As a businesswoman and proud mum, Sophie also sits on the Boards of both Age UK Northumberland Team Kenya.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! First, please tell us what brought you to this specific career path?

I don’t think anyone sets out to work in graduate recruitment and employability. After university, I joined the John Lewis graduate scheme with an ambition to be a Buyer which was quickly thwarted when I realized that involved living in London. I held a variety of management roles before falling into HR and a role in learning and development. To progress my career, I ended up making the move to London where I gained a couple of promotions and again fell into a new area — graduate recruitment. This role coupled with the completion of my MSc in HR Management gave me lots of exposure to the wider graduate recruitment industry and my passion for this area grew. I set up what is now SRS in 2013 and we have scaled up significantly in the last two years, merging with GradTouch in September 2019. SRS designs graduate schemes and assessment materials for large employers, often supporting them with the outsourced delivery of these. We also work with universities to run large-scale assessment center simulations for thousands of students each year.

Can you share the most interesting or funny story that happened to you since you started this career and what lesson you learned from that?

An interesting thing that happened early on was an opportunity to pitch to former Dragon James Caan. Only six months into setting up SRS, I spotted an advert James had posted on LinkedIn which was the first round for his Recruitment Entrepreneur competition. The prize was 500K and mentoring by James which I thought sounded fabulous. I pitched the idea to my then business partner and we entered, making it through to the final stage in the boardroom with James. We didn’t get the investment, but it was so much fun meeting him and developed a mantra for me that you should say yes to every opportunity which has stood me in good stead since.

Wonderful. Now let’s jump into the main focus of our series. Hiring can be very time consuming and difficult. Can you share 5 techniques that you use to identify the talent that would be best suited for the job you want to fill?

1. Clearly define the role. Candidates need to know what it is they are applying for so try to make this clear showing both the great parts of the role and any parts which might be less appealing.

2. Stipulate the entry requirements or desired qualifications and experience. Make it obvious what you are looking for. Be as open as you can be to encourage applications from a diverse candidate pool. It’s often stated that women only apply for roles where they match all of the criteria so be mindful of this.

3. Have clear criteria to assess what good looks like. This helps when multiple people are assessing applications and provides a robust framework to ensure fairness.

4. Use a recruitment process that helps talent understand the role and business better. Don’t simply rely on an interview to assess your talent. Consider including a task or exercise which reflects the role they are applying for and also the organization. This helps build rapport and makes sense to the candidates, allowing them to decide if you are right for them as well as them for you.

5. Make the recruitment process challenging. Many candidates say they like to feel challenged by the recruitment process as it makes them want the job more. A vigorous process allows you to test the candidates thoroughly too so it’s a win-win.

With so much noise and competition out there, what are your top 3 ways to attract and engage the best talent in an industry when they haven’t already reached out to you?

1. Develop a strong employer brand. Often candidates are attracted to a brand before the role which is ideal as they are more likely to be a better fit and to stay. Spend time articulating your brand so that talent can see what it would be like to work with you. When roles come up that interest them, they will know they want to apply.

2. Be responsive to candidates who show an interest. If candidates reach out, respond to them. You might not have any immediate roles that are suitable, but it gives a good impression of your brand to be polite and friendly when responding and they might be so talented, you can create a role for them.

3. Be visible on social media. Everyone uses some sort of social media now and potential talent will look at your channels. Do they reflect your brand accurately and do you post regularly?

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I have a huge aim to see employability embedded within each year of every university course in the UK. This would see students leave with relevant work experience, able to articulate their strengths and a good knowledge of the recruitment process for their chosen industry. I wrote my first book in 2019 to support this aim — From Learner to Earner — and am currently working on a textbook version as a resource for academics and career services.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” and how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Positive action leads to positive change” a term which was coined by my friend Clare Talbot-Jones and is something she believes I embody. It simply means that by taking consistent, and at times bold action, positive change will follow and that has certainly been my experience.

We are blessed to have some of the biggest names in Business, VC, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have a private lunch with, and why?

It would be great to have lunch with Education Secretary Gavin Williamson as my big goal is to see employability embedded into every course at every university in the country. This would improve social mobility and level the playing field for students from all backgrounds when applying for graduate jobs.

Thank you so much for these fantastic insights!

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