Insights into in-house recruitment: Explore Learning

Written by
Rachelle Harry

06 Jan 2016

06 Jan 2016 • by Rachelle Harry

Catherine Stoneman is head of recruitment at Explore Learning.

Please tell us about Explore Learning.

Explore Learning is a national network of education centres providing maths and English tuition to children aged five to 14. Launched in 2001, the business has 118 centres across the UK. It works with over 30,000 children and employs over 2,500 people.

Our graduates join us as assistant directors – it’s a challenging role with a lot of ownership and responsibility. We also recruit part time staff to become tutors in our centres. 

What functions are involved in your role?

In my role as head of recruitment, my team are responsible for the attraction, assessment and recruitment of graduates each year into the business. I head up a full time team of three and we are responsible for delivering the full recruitment process for candidates – including marketing and attraction, social media, screening, interviewing and assessing, and offering the job. I also work closely with a number of external stake holders and strategic decision makers within the company.

How many graduates do you recruit each year?

We hire over 230 graduates each year; this has grown substantially over the last couple of years, in line with the growth and expansion of Explore Learning.

How are you tapping into talent, while ensuring you're reaching out to all relevant genders, nationalities and age groups?

We attract and recruit an incredibly diverse work force. We hire candidates from a variety of backgrounds, experience levels and degree disciplines. We largely recruit based on passion and personality, and are all united by a strong belief in our company vision and values.

We work with over 20 universities for graduate fairs because we believe that face-to-face interaction is vital. While embracing technology is great, being able to talk to someone in the organisation in person is invaluable to graduates. 

To compliment this, we work closely with a number of job boards and websites. Our graduates are very engaged with our social media channels and this is something we actively encourage. Facebook and Twitter are great ways to open communications with our employees and to celebrate our company milestones in a public forum.

Whats your sorting process to select the best candidates for a shortlist?

We always consider applications in full, taking time to look at the candidate’s CV, cover letter and application form. By the time we receive the application, the candidate will have spent hours putting it all together, so it is important to us that we give it fair consideration. 

We have some basic academic requirements at GCSE and degree level, and then it’s really down to how well they’re able to draw on transferable skills in relation to the role, plus how they’re able to demonstrate their passion and drive for Explore. Ambition is crucial – being an assistant director is a challenging role so we’re always on the lookout for candidates who demonstrate gumption and enthusiasm.

How are you ensuring top talent knows about your organisation and its values?

It’s important for us to recruit candidates who align with and understand our vision and values – which are clearly displayed on our careers website. 

Throughout the recruitment process, our values are reiterated. Our UK managing director, Robert Hicks, speaks about their importance in depth at the beginning of every assessment day that we run (currently about 3 per month). They are prominently displayed in our board room where a number of the activities take place, and they are handed out in a welcome pack at the start of the day to all candidates.

We endeavour to be very honest about our ambition as a company. Through displaying and embodying our vision and values in the application process, we hope this will come across to every candidate.

How do you make Explore Learning stand out to applicants against competing businesses?

For the last three years, we’ve featured in the ‘Times 100 graduate employers’ list. This helps us to stand out as an employer of choice to graduates.  

The proposition that Explore offers is incredibly unique: it allows recruits to gain early responsibility and ownership for running what is effectively their own small business. 

We also try to ensure that candidates fully understand all the responsibilities and challenges they’ll face within the assistant director position. As a result we very rarely, if ever, have candidates that don’t accept our job offer; the honesty and integrity we display throughout the process – by responding personally to every application and query – has helped us to establish and maintain a relationships with candidates. That sets us apart from less personal recruitment processes. 

What's the biggest challenge youve faced in your role and how did you over come it?

One of the biggest challenges we face is the rate of our expansion. In 2014 we opened 20 centres in one year; the most we’d previously opened in a year was 13. 

We also opened our first international centres in Dallas, Texas. This rapid expansion meant that our hiring numbers needed to increase from 160 graduates a year to over 230. 

Being on the ‘Times top 100 graduate employers’ list helped to raise our profile among graduates. We brought in a fast track scheme where tutors could progress into management positions more quickly, to foster the talent pipeline. We also introduced a referral scheme for current assistant directors to be rewarded and recognised for recommending the position to friends

What do you think are the best and worst aspects of your role?

The best aspects of my role are definitely the people. It’s rewarding when you’re able to hire the right people and see the impact they can have on the performance of our centres. Being able to see graduates that were hired into the assistant director position be promoted into senior management and head office roles is fantastic.

The task of letting people know that they have not been successful with their applications is always difficult, however, being able to provide each candidate with feedback makes it easier.

Do you have any advice for other in-house recruiters out there?

Treating each candidate individually is really important. If a person has taken the time to apply for your roles and attend interviews then it seems fair that as recruiters, we take the time to provide them with constructive and personalised feedback. 

Also, never underestimate the fact that graduates will talk to their friends and peers about the entire application process, and this will shape perceptions of whether you are seen as a good employer or not.