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Making first impressions count on the talent journey at Cisco

Janine Milne Profile picture for user jmilne March 23, 2017
Cisco is digitizing the whole candidate journey in a bid to attract, engage and employ more high quality recruits.

Cisco is combating the “bun fight for candidates” in the technology sector  by digitizing the candidate experience, according to Kevin Blair, Cisco’ s global head of talent acquisition.

From the moment someone shifts from applicant to candidate, that person will have access to a Cisco home-grown app or portal which will support them through the interview and onboarding processes.  Blair explains:

It gives you the full journey map. Candidates don’t know how long they are going to be in the process. They don’t know if it’s the second interview of three or more, so we’re able to create visually what the journey map is and how it changes.

This map will provide all the information candidates need until they turn up for work on day one. It will also be an interactive process, so candidates can give instant feedback to Cisco at any point in the process if they are unhappy or unsure.

Although digitization is transforming recruitment, it was not the starting point for Cisco. The aim was simply to create a better candidate experience and it was only once they started thinking about this that digitization became the key weapon in reaching that goal.

The idea originally was to identify “the moments that matter” for employees, from rewards, their exit, their technology. Blair’s job was to look at one of these 10 identified people moments – a candidate’s first impression and try and make that process better.

It’s a quite a complex process in a company the size of Cisco. While the whole process may be handled by one department in a small company, in Cisco this requires cooperation across many teams, including benefits, the offers team, on-boarding, IT, security and CSR. Blair says:

When you break it down, you’re probably engaging with somewhere between 18 to 25 departments in Cisco, and guess what, you’re not going to have a consistent service because not every department is driven by qualitative metrics. A lot of these departments are driven by productivity and quantitative metrics and not being entirely experience led.

So we want to bring all these things together to create a consistent high-touch experience that is uniquely Cisco into this process.

Early benefits

While the worldwide launch is a few months off, Cisco is already beginning to see benefits with the changes to the process it’s made so far. Blair explains:

Seventy-five percent of people got their laptop on day one. With the new processes, before digitization, we’ve got that to 95%. Bearing in mind we recruit between 12,500 to 14,000 people a year, that’s a lot of laptops.

As well as improving the experience for candidates, digitizing the process will also enable Cisco to collect a lot of useful data and insight into the recruitment process. For example, it will give Cisco far more information about why and where in the process candidates drop out, says Blair:

We’re going to ask candidates to rate their individual experiences at touchpoints. So when they come out of an interview, they will get a push to their device – like when you use uber – did the driver go the quickest way and so on?  - we can do the same things.

Usually this is not done in organizations at an individual basis. They would know whether someone has a good or bad experience, but it’s very rare to be able to pinpoint the moment it went wrong.

You’ve got to accept you can’t control absolutely everything, but what this will allow us to do is identify those points where we see that happening and make the relevant adjustments.”

So they may find, for example, that people are having the same kind of interview over and again, or that the interviewer may not fully appreciate that it’s their job to sell Cisco as well as interview candidates:

There can be a little bit of corporate arrogance where people don’t feel it’s their obligation to pitch Cisco to the candidate.

Candidates typically have multiple interviews before they are offered a position, but now the company will be able to judge at what point people become disengaged, or if particular interviewers need some training and support to improve their interview technique:

I can’t wait to go to a specific manager and say: ‘you know what, you’ve got four people interviewing and a couple consistently score a one or two and we need to work with them’. Not that they shouldn’t interview, but we need to work out why they don’t score highly – maybe they are too technical and not about engaging the candidate.

Offers will now be delivered and accepted digitally rather than by post.  Once they’ve accepted an offer, these pre-employees will start to receive content from Cisco, such as a weekly video newsletter. They will be encouraged to take ‘a selfie’ and upload it so their security badge can be ready on day one:

EMEA only has one security office that services the badging for all, so you’re usually badge surfing for two weeks.

They can also complete a strengths-based tool, which helps employees identify their strengths and how they behave in the work environment and they will also be able to see the strengths assessment of their boss.  These pre-employees will also be able to join the collaboration module and start interacting with their new team and schedule their first couple of days and pre-order and configure their laptop and phone.

Cisco is committed to Corporate Social Responsibility, so candidates can also choose and start contributing a local charity that’s meaningful to them. All in all, says Blair:

It’s a high-touch unique candidate experience that’s mirrored in our brand and our culture.

The system only kicks in once someone becomes a candidate. Cisco implemented a new ATS just a few weeks ago to handle applications, but with 800,000 to one million applicants a year, it would be impossible to give them such a high touch experience.

Alongside this candidate insight, it will also speed up the recruitment process. This manual process took about nine days, but now the offer can be generated in a couple of hours, reducing the timescale considerably:

Will we lose candidates because we’re not the fastest at hiring? Yes, that will happen, but will we keep candidates more engaged because of the process – yes. 

Speed is a benefit, but it is secondary to improving the whole candidate experience, says Blair:

This allows us to deliver content that is spread broad and wide from one central place, so we can manage the experience. Having them seeing relevant information also gives us the ability to talk about our values.  So rather than a statement on our website somewhere we can actually live through our values.

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