What does your company do?
We’re a London estate agency but we also cover lots of other property related services, including new homes, block management and chartered surveying. We started out in Brixton in 1977 as a block management company before our managing director, Lee Watts, branched out into estate agency in the early 1980’s.
How many employees are there, what locations does it cover and what’s the annual turnover?
We have approximately 700 employees across our 52 offices in London and Kent and we’re growing all the time. Our annual financial turnover was £60million last year.
When did you join the company and what attracted you to the role?
I was brought in to set up the HR function in April 2001, 12 years ago. It was quite a small organisation at that time and I saw it as a brilliant opportunity to come in, get to grips with how everything worked and make an impact. The company was going through lots of changes in terms of its consumer brand, the way the offices looked, internal departments etc so it was quite an exciting time to join.
When you were brought in, what recruitment challenges were you facing?
When I first joined, there was no controlled or centralised recruitment process and each business service ran slightly differently. Getting the whole thing centralised was one of the first things I did because it was all over the place. Some candidates had, for example, been introduced to different parts of the business without the other parts knowing. It was far from ideal and there was lots of duplication and confusion.
We also had no preferred supplier list (PSL), no strong relationships with third party suppliers and, as a consequence, lots of different service level agreements in place. We were heavily reliant on agencies and third party suppliers so getting a PSL in place was a key priority.
What key changes have you seen or implemented since you joined and what are you most proud of?
The HR team has grown from one to a team of six, including an HR manager, two administrators and two recruitment people. One of the things I’m most proud of is the recruitment team, which we recruited internally. It’s been a long time coming but, now it’s in place and it’s been really successful since it was established a year ago. Our directors desperately needed some help and support with their recruitment but having a dedicated team was a totally new concept at the time.
You implemented a recruitment strategy with Eploy. What did the process involved?
I had a vision to move away from the third party reliance and the culture of using agencies. We identified that we needed to get some support software-wise and a database that was designed specifically for recruitment. It all happened fairly quickly after we met Eploy at a software exhibition. I was impressed with the interactivity of the software. You can text your candidates with a job of the week or give them the option to sign up to text alerts to tell them when a new job becomes available. That sort of thing is quite important to us: the interaction between the website, the candidates and the central team. We also wanted to be able to use job boards and track where our applicants were coming from.
Why did you decide to move away from the more traditional recruitment methods towards direct sourcing?
We wanted more control over the recruitment process. The new software allows us to communicate with our candidates in a very transparent way, and gives us a more consistent approach. Lots of people do like to be able to talk to someone within the company and get a real sense of what we’re like and what we’d be like to work for. With agencies we’re not necessarily in control of what’s being said or if they’re even being told about us. It allows us to talk to people in the way that we want and communicate with them directly. I definitely think there is a place for agencies though and we have a great relationship with some of them. We still rely on them if we’re struggling to identify candidates or if we’ve got a really specialist role.
What business results (ROI, solid metrics etc) has this yielded?
It’s probably a bit early to make a judgement on retention rates but we have seen significant cost savings in the use of agency fees. We’ve made around £120,000 in terms of savings on agency fees, which is huge. If you take out the cost of salaries, advertising, marketing spend etc, it ends up being a £50-60,000 saving in the first six months. We recruited 226 people in 2011 and 236 in 2012.
Employer brand & future plans
How has this enhanced your employer brand?
Again, it might be a bit early to tell but we like the fact it allows us to talk to candidates directly and to be in charge of the message we give off about the company. We try and replicate the experience that our customers and our new recruits have when they join us. The ‘marketing speak’ that we use with our customers should be the same as the way we communicate with our employees.
What have you learned during the process?
The real challenge is competing with other established recruitment agencies. When talent is tight, everyone is trying to attract that talent and get the best people into their company. You have to be on the ball and react very quickly when you’re presented with a good candidate.
What top tips would you give your peers in a similar situation?
If someone was looking at implementing a similar software system, I would say, don’t hesitate, just go for it. I wish we’d done it sooner. If you can get a good recruiter in place, find the right tools, systems and support and make sure you’ve got a strong marketing budget in place, you’ll definitely see results.
What are your next steps, future plans?
Our next steps, in terms of recruitment, are to continue what we started and develop the size of the team. At the moment we only have one recruiter and an administrator in place. I want to expand and branch out to more specialist areas, such as surveying and financial services.