What does it mean to try to embed values and culture in practice throughout our organisation to help further our mission to build a more equitable, collaborative society?

This has been an ongoing question regarding our recruitment practice over recent years. We knew that we needed to try something different to diversify our team, to better reflect our society and the changes we want to see in it.  

We started – in the spirit of collaboration! – by talking to a range of other organisations about their approach, including some of our partners. One early useful piece of advice from a colleague at Cambridgeshire County Council was to drill deeply into the key priorities and purpose behind the recruitment. It sounds obvious, but we’ve learned it’s an important way not to default to what’s been done before, helping to prioritise the person specification and think through what really needs to be on the ‘essential’ list, ensuring applicants from different backgrounds believe they can do the job and ultimately apply for it.

Further research and conversations (thanks to Dartington Service Design Lab, Social Change Agency and Snook in particular!) led us towards experimenting with anonymous (or blind) recruitment, to reduce the impact of conscious or unconscious biases. Anonymous recruitment means that non-material personal information is not made available to someone reviewing an application before it is necessary. This means ditching the conventional CV and cover letter approach which tends to favour formal qualifications and high levels of confidence in ‘selling oneself’. Instead, anonymous recruitment uses customised questions, which can also be separated from one another, to do more ‘showing’ and less ‘telling’ of the candidate’s abilities.  For applicants with less work experience, or who are making a career change, this approach can help demonstrate how their strengths  as well as skills and experiences equip them to do the job well.

The logistics of this can be a bit tricky to manage, so after initially using Google Sheets we successfully trialled BeApplied recruitment software, which has the added benefit of giving a good applicant experience, giving individualised feedback to every applicant. 

Further work has involved creating more inclusive job descriptions, carefully considering language choices and developing a moderation process to ensure fairness and consistency in our scoring of applicants’ answers. We also involve the majority of our team members in our recruitment process to bring the widest possible range of perspectives, while also building investment in the new joiner across the team.

We’ve also found conducting a webinar for all candidates to be really helpful. Here, two members of our team explain what Collaborate does, why we’re recruiting and what the role is on a day-to-day basis, answering potential applicants’ questions and generally seeking to humanise the organisation to all interested candidates. We understand that we need to entice the person to want to work for us and answer their questions too!

Accessibility and inclusivity also includes being upfront about the timeline for the recruitment process and ensuring that the tasks requested are completed within the interview time slot, not requiring prep in people’s own time. These points can be really important to level the field for those with caring responsibilities or less flexible working patterns. 

We also now offer a separate conversation outside the structured interview process to discuss salary expectations; part-time or full-time preferences; flexibility requested around working days or hours; practical considerations around time spent in office vs working from home and related expenses; and/or access or support needs. In these conversations we are able to address concerns in ways that support inclusion of a wide range of candidates with different needs, as well as challenge our own organisational practice. And we invite feedback from all candidates. Some applicants have said they had never had these conversations with potential employers before!

All this is to say there is always learning for us and this thinking is ongoing and continuous. Diversifying a team with care and authenticity requires individuals who are willing to be different in an organisation – identifying great candidates is only the first part of the work. A new joiner will look at our organisation and our work in new – and sometimes challenging – ways. They will form a whole web of new relationships in the team. And so we seek to understand what they bring and how the organisation will evolve and change as a result. 

We’ve therefore also been working hard to improve our induction process and focusing on building these new relationships across the team, and we will continue to make improvements and adjustments going forward. There’s never time to rest on your laurels!

And so we continue to review our recruitment process, observing to what degree our approach has increased the range of candidates applying and how we can continue to improve. If you have suggestions as to how we can achieve a more inclusive recruitment approach, or are also grappling with your own recruitment, please get in touch with me, at htomlinson@collaboratecic.com.

I am always keen to learn from others, and the best ideas often arise from conversations and pooling suggestions. I would love to hear from you!