Case Study

Using VBR to expand the talent pool and improve candidate experience

This case study describes how NHS Blood and Transplant implemented values based recruitment and the benefits the organisation reaped from doing so.
NHS Blood and Transplant

10 March 2021

NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) found it was not attracting suitable candidates for a range of roles. It also received high volumes of poor-quality of applications. NHSBT successfully tackled this challenge by implementing values based recruitment (VBR). The organisation has improved its candidate experience and has seen a marked increase in high-quality applicants since the roll out of VBR in 2014/15.

Key benefits and outcomes

  • Increased numbers of times job adverts were viewed.
  • An increase in number and quality of applications received.
  • Recruitment profiles NHSBT now uses are preferred by candidates and recruiting managers
  • Successful appointments resulted in employee’s who demonstrate NHSBT values and behaviours.

What the organisation faced

Although feedback from managers indicated they were satisfied with the recruitment service, there was a perception that NHSBT did not attract suitable applicants for a number of roles, and managers expressed concerns at the high-volume of poor-quality applications received.

The introduction of NHSBT’s core behavioural framework (caring, expert, quality), which outlines values and expected behaviours for all NHSBT staff, together with increased functionality in the NHS Jobs website, provided an ideal opportunity to review its approach to recruitment and selection.

The recruitment team’s ambition was to make the recruitment process values-focused, to ensure high-quality candidates were attracted to work in the organisation. The trust wanted to make changes but to do so with a minimal impact on the workload of recruitment staff.

What the organisation did

Using internal expertise and without access to additional resources, the recruitment team engaged with employees across the organisation to understand perceptions of the current system and the issues that required resolving through customer feedback, activity reports, focus groups and senior management engagement.

After taking on board all the feedback, the following key objectives were identified:

  • re-design recruitment materials to specify NHSBT’s desired values and behaviours
  • re-write recruitment material to increase candidate engagement by using easily understood language for job seekers outside of NHSBT
  • engage with managers to ensure they were included in the changes so that they took ownership of their recruitment
  • ensure a higher proportion of good quality applications with a clear understanding of the role and behaviours expected
  • engage with a wider and more diverse pool of candidates
  • apply the new standards for both internally and externally advertised roles
  • improve recruitment effectiveness without increasing resources.

To meet those objectives the team started from scratch to adapt their processes, looking at the information they provide from the perspective of a candidate.

The team created a two-page recruitment profile. The first page provides a description of the duties in plain, simple language and an organisation structure along with information headed 'About Us' which outlines NHSBT’s core purpose, mission and values. The second page 'About You' contains values and behaviours that apply across the organisation, and some job specific information.

In this recruitment profile, careful consideration is made as to how job roles and duties are described. NHSBT use words such as ‘you’ and describe duties in a way that allows the applicant to visualise themselves doing the role. Information that is not deemed necessary, such as mandatory vaccinations for example, is taken out and included elsewhere – in this example, the contract of employment.

Alongside the recruitment profile, NHSBT provides a benefits information document: this provides information on terms and conditions but is mainly used to sell the benefits of working for the organisation to the applicant. It outlines what makes NHSBT a great place to work.

As VBR is a start-to-finish process at NHSBT, it includes compulsory, values-specific questions in the NHS Jobs application form. The purpose of including these questions is to provide space for candidates to answer questions relating to values. NHSBT pre-screen candidates based on the answers to these questions.

Initially, the team successfully tested this approach with one job role that was traditionally hard to fill in the London area.

Following the success of this pilot, the organisation identified the top ten most frequently advertised posts and focused their resources on working with managers to design recruitment profiles and identify application form questions for these roles.

The organisation now has over 600 recruitment profiles - one for just about every role – as VBR is firmly embedded within NHSBT’s recruitment processes.

A recommended list of VBR interview questions were also designed around NHSBT’s values and behaviours to be used by managers for all posts.

Results and benefits

NHSBT’s main success since embarking on this exercise is to effectively embed VBR into its recruitment processes with no additional resource usage or cost to the organisation.

When NHSBT first began the exercise, it monitored the impact VBR had on job applications and candidate experience. This information was used as evidence to continue the work.

The changes to the recruitment process have brought about many successes for the organisation. All the adaptations were made following the introduction of values questions on the NHS Jobs website as part of the process; job adverts saw an additional 79 per cent increase in views; and the number of applications submitted reduced by 18 per cent.

In an initial review in 2017, feedback from recruitment managers highlighted an increase in high-calibre applications and 95 per cent rated the recruitment documentation as excellent (an increase from 73 per cent before the changes were made). A further review in 2021 found that VBR was continuing to be successful, with 87 per cent of recruiting managers rating the calibre of candidates received as either excellent or good and 100 per cent of recruiting managers rating the recruitment documentation as either excellent or good.

From the perspective of a candidate, in 2017, 81 per cent preferred the recruitment profile rather than traditional job descriptions and 85 per cent rated the usefulness of the recruitment profile as good/excellent. In 2021, candidates were continuing to highly rate the recruitment profiles, with 99 per cent of candidates rating the usefulness of the recruitment profile as good/excellent and 98 per cent of candidates rating the attractiveness of the recruitment profile as good/excellent.

Overall, more than half of the candidates stated that NHSBT’s values and behaviours influenced their decision to apply, and managers believed that 99 per cent of candidates appointed are aligned to the values and behaviours of NHSBT. These findings are still reflected four years later in 2021, with managers reporting that their successful appointments have gone on to demonstrate the values and behaviours of NHSBT.

Take-away tips

  • Make as many in house changes as possible. Organisations can save money and have full ownership of the resources they create.
  • Plan small steps to take over time. This can be an effective way of incorporating values into the recruitment process.
  • Agree your approach with staff side colleagues. NHSBT agreed to send out full length job descriptions and person specifications with all formal employment contracts.
  • Initially, try the process for most frequently advertised posts.