How has HR software helped increase candidate quality at CAFOD?

Written by
Changeboard Team

21 May 2013

21 May 2013 • by Changeboard Team

Recruiting for a cause

CAFOD is the official Catholic aid agency for England and Wales, with a mission to ‘bring hope, compassion and solidarity to poor communities, standing side by side with them to end poverty and injustice.’

Celebrating 50 years in 2012, the organisation employs 450 staff – 300 of whom are based in the UK, and the rest overseas. Each year, the HR team is tasked with filling over 100 vacancies per year in all parts of the globe.

Recruitment manager Marcos Martinez joined CAFOD in September 2010. He believes that the driving force of candidate attraction is the organisation’s mission and values, yet admits the company does face recruitment challenges due to the origin of its work.

“The word ‘Catholic’ carries a lot of baggage, so one of our main goals in recruitment is to strengthen our employer brand and give candidates clarity over what it actually means to be a Catholic development agency. We may otherwise risk pushing away candidates before they even get to read the job description,” explains Martinez.

Getting down with software

In 2006, prior to Martinez joining the organization, CAFOD decided to implement a new recruitment platform. According to Martinez, the business case was driven by professionalism, efficiency and ownership by line managers. He says:

“We didn’t want to be perceived as less ‘professional’ by potential hires (and risk attracting fewer good candidates) so we needed to match what was out there.

“In addition, we knew an automated platform would shift away the role that HR plays in recruitment (especially from an administrative point of view) and let managers feel that they own the recruitment more.

“In terms of efficiency, the general trend in HR is to move away from operational tasks and eventually fill a more substantial, strategic and more advisory-natured role. Having an automated platform is a step in this direction.”

As part of the process, several software providers were approached and CAFOD chose Bond Talent; a decision made based on price and customisation possibilities. It went through several consultations (internally and externally) and the project was decided upon in 2009. The recruitment platform was officially launched in 2011. “It was quite a lengthy process,” comments Martinez.

Although Martinez admits that ‘the platform has potential to do more things that we currently use it for,’ CAFOD use the Bond Talent platform in a variety of ways:

  • To advertise jobs
  • For receiving applications
  • To maintain a database of candidates with specific interests in different regions
  • To manage and share candidate’s status
  • For mass emailings (in particular regret emails)


Challenges faced

Implementing the software has not been without glitches. For Martinez, the main challenge has been the focus on perfection. He explains that the process came dangerously close to stalling on occasion: “There were concerns over minor problems, such as not being able to sort candidates alphabetically. Or to format text in applications. Or having spell check. Or being able to print an application. As a result, parts of the organization didn’t feel confident enough to launch the platform.

“We realized that we needed to take some (calculated) risks and launch the platform before it was perfect. Only then could we know which elements were really crucial and which were less important.”

Having the platform hosted on an external server belonging to the software provider proved difficult, too. This means any changes, improvements or fixes are out of CAFOD’s own control. Martinez says: “It’s required a lot of on-going communication with developers, something which was not fully considered before launching the platform.”

Positive feedback & communication

Despite initial problems with the system, the reaction from the rest of the business has been hugely positive. Martinez explains that in order to fix and address issues, open feedback and criticism on the platform has been actively encouraged throughout the process. 

“We have not ‘sold’ this as a new way of recruiting, simply just a tool to make it easier for candidates to apply. This has had a positive effect, as many non-HR staff have realized the importance of the tool.”

The advantages have been many:

Improved experience for candidates

It’s now much easier for candidates to apply (and reapply). Because the system is web based, candidates have global access to applications from any computer or device which has an internet connection, explains Martinez. This means they can go in any time and update their application. Plus, once a candidate applies, their profile is created and it’s saved on the system, should they apply again in the future. 

Less administrative burden

There’s also been a significant reduction in admin across the whole HR team. Previously, HR admin staff had to sort word applications manually, whereas today, the system sorts candidates automatically.

“The focus of our HR department is not as much on recruitment as it was before. HR has been able to focus on more core, business-related issues rather than the pure transactional operations,” comments Martinez.

More line manager involvement

Managers now have fuller control of progressing and regretting candidates in the system. While this is still done in coordination with HR, Martinez says the participation of line managers is much larger than before.

He goes on to explain: “Managers' ownership of the recruitment process has also increased thanks to the online platform, which we believe may lead to better grounded decisions in recruitment and, in turn, better retention. For example, if a manager is ‘given’ a member of staff, without having been involved in the recruitment, chances are that this might not work out in the long term. The selected candidate may have the wrong skills in the manager’s eyes, or they may not get along well. Whenever the manager has a say in the selection, you minimize the risk of this occurring.”

Increased candidate quality

“We used to have a significantly larger amount of re-advertisements (my guess is around 10-20%) whereas this now happens very rarely (under 5%). This is not because we are more complacent with who we employ (rather on the contrary), but mainly due to the fact that more recruitments are successful at the first attempt.

“We also manage to fill posts with internal means (i.e., without the help of recruitment agencies) to a much larger extent. It’s impossible to pinpoint the exact reason, but I think the platform is definitely part of this success,” says Martinez.

Developing a global context

And the future focus for CAFOD? On Martinez’s agenda: “A larger focus on internal movements, fostering the talent that is already in-house, thereby developing our skills and increasing retention.” 

Martinez also anticipates a shift to overseas recruitment. He says: “The number of staff working overseas is increasing, and we must therefore ensure that systems and processes are adapted to a global context. Our new electronic recruitment platform is part of this development.”

The future of recruitment

As HR departments generally move away from pure administrative and operational functions, Martinez anticipates a similar shift within recruitment:

“The role of HR in recruitment will become more business oriented, and recruitment will be seen and approached as one of many talent management tools,” he explains. He sees recruitment as becoming more strategic; linked to proactive forecasting of human capital needs, talent development, succession planning, etc.

Martinez also acknowledges the role social media has to play in the future of recruitment. “There’s much talk about social media and passive candidates,” he states. While he believes LinkedIn and similar networks will play a larger role in recruitment, Martinez feels the fundamental principles will stay the same. 

“Social media will be a tool, like many other tools, which may come and go from one day to the other. The main impact many of the social sites may have, is that candidates will expect simplicity when applying. So the integration between candidate management systems and social networks will increase.”

Thinking of a software solution?

Top tips - what to consider

  1. Keep it simple. It’s easy to be taken away by the possibilities these systems can offer, but a tool needs to be simple enough to be embraced by all users.
  2. Don’t try to copy current processes. Instead, identify what the goals with the system should be - not how it should be done.
  3. Identify a tool that is not locked-in, since things may change very quickly in the sector. I think, for instance, that the integration with social networks will increase.
  4. Consider the flexibility of the system and avoid becoming too dependent on it.

About Marcos Martinez

Marcos previously worked as HR adviser at the UNDP and in the international recruitment team at UNMIS, one of two peacekeeping missions in the then Sudan.