Sainsbury’s brings graduate recruitment in-house

Strategic HR Review

ISSN: 1475-4398

Article publication date: 20 June 2008



Gidley, J. (2008), "Sainsbury’s brings graduate recruitment in-house", Strategic HR Review, Vol. 7 No. 4.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Sainsbury’s brings graduate recruitment in-house

Article Type: HR at work From: Strategic HR Review, Volume 7, Issue 4

Short case studies that demonstrate best practice in HR

Food retailer Sainsbury’s currently recruits over 60 graduates each year to enroll on one of its twelve graduate schemes, covering key business functions such as store management, supply chain management, HR, information technology and property.

When I was appointed as Sainsbury’s graduate recruitment manager in April 2007 my first task was to review and update our graduate recruitment process, starting with the attraction of applicants, going through to the application process and continuing on to the delivery of assessment centers. The review ensured the business remained focused on recruiting the best people who share our passion for food and our desire to see the business grow and succeed.

Moving the operation in-house

A key outcome of the graduate recruitment review was a decision to bring the management and administration of the graduate recruitment process in-house. The decision makes sound business sense and enables Sainsbury’s people – who naturally have a better understanding of the type of people, personalities and skills the business needs to recruit and attract – to play an active role in graduate recruitment. After all, if the business can attract candidates who share our values and beliefs, the successful graduates will have more fun at work, be content in their jobs and perform well, thereby rewarding the business with a positive return on investment.

Cost was also a key factor in our decision to move the graduate recruitment process in-house. The business had recently launched an HR shared service center in Manchester that offered the capacity to manage the administration of the graduate recruitment scheme, thereby reducing pressure on other elements of the HR team. The costs saved in the administration of the scheme were then available to be reinvested into developing new graduate attraction material. As a result we were able to ensure the recruitment marketing material used to attract candidates communicated the spirit and values of Sainsbury’s to positively engage with the highest caliber people.

A fresh approach to graduate recruitment

The review highlighted the importance of providing candidates with a simpler application and selection process that gave them a real understanding of what the graduate scheme involves and the challenges faced by candidates once on the scheme. To get the project moving Sainsbury’s worked with online recruitment specialists, Changeworknow (, and specialists in psychometric and aptitude testing, SHL ( Our project partners were given the challenging goal of getting the new system live and accepting applications by 1 October 2007, giving them only four months to design, deliver and test the system. It really was a massive project to undertake in such a short space of time. We were able to prevent the development of any significant issues by ensuring all project partners were positively engaged with Sainsbury’s and that regular communications about the project and business objectives took place.

At first glance it might seem that the graduate recruitment process is quite far removed from getting baked beans on the shop floor but that is simply not the case, and it is essential that the process remains connected to the business. To achieve this connection I met with business and line managers from across the organization, enabling me to understand what they need from graduates in terms of academic background and work experience, as well as the skills, attitude and competencies required of future managers. This was an important input to the initial screening tools developed by Changeworknow.

We also worked with SHL to integrate their occupational personality questionnaire (OPQ) into our online selection process for retail graduates, to ensure we would be recruiting graduates for the retail scheme who have a real passion for front-line retail. As part of this we asked 150 current store managers to complete the OPQ questionnaire. The results enabled us to benchmark applicants against successful managers already in the business and helped us to ensure we are recruiting people who are likely to become strong retail leaders of the future. The consultation with the business ensured we had a comprehensive picture of the type of graduate we wanted to recruit and once we were confident with the profile we could ensure we had the right scheme to attract the highest caliber talent.

Candidates control the application

Changeworknow worked with us to design an online recruitment process that met our business objectives, in terms of increasing the quality of applicants and reducing recruitment costs, while also putting candidates at the heart of the experience to project a strong employer brand.

As candidates take part in the application process they are rewarded with immediate feedback on their match to the role selected, as well as Sainsbury’s as an organization. This has obvious benefits for both the candidate and us as an employer; if the candidate is a great match we can tell them and motivate them to continue and complete the application. However, if they are not, it is possible to suggest they consider an alternative role or consider that Sainsbury’s is not the “right” employer for them at that point in time and, in most instances, they chose not to continue with the application process.

By creating a positive experience online and encouraging candidates to deselect themselves we are more likely to maintain a strong employer brand with these applicants and potential customers. This also takes away some of the administrative burden and means time is spent more productively because the graduate team only needs to process the candidates who meet all the requirements of the specific schemes and who are likely to be successful in the process.

Successful outcomes

The success of the new graduate recruitment system is best measured in the caliber of successful candidates who have already been offered roles within the business. Applications for many of the graduate schemes are already closed and feedback from line managers demonstrates the positive change in the quality of candidates since last year. In 2006/2007 we were making one offer to every five candidates attending an assessment center but this year that figure has increased to one offer for every three candidates reaching this stage. It really shows how the online recruitment process is helping us attract the right people to make applications and that we can deliver people who match the needs of the business.

The quality of applications is also evident in the number of applications received. In 2006/2007 the number of completed applications was 8,000. Although it is not possible to make a like-for-like comparison because of the change in the recruitment process, 16,000 people have started applications this year and of this number 3,500 have submitted applications so far. It really shows that people are deselecting themselves and opting out of the process if they do not consider themselves a strong match for the role and the business.

The whole flow of the recruitment process has also improved. By bringing it in-house, and working with Changeworknow to design an online recruitment system that meets business needs, the team is able to take a closer, more personal look at candidates’ work experience and academic background, which enables us to make better and quicker recruitment decisions.

Onwards and upwards

A key lesson to be learned from this project is the importance of the communications with and engagement between the project partners. It has been important that we work together as project partners rather than as separate teams or organizations. It was also critical to have the business managers on board, not only to demonstrate where their investment is being allocated, but also to ensure we are meeting their requirements for future talent.

The graduate recruitment system has been designed so that it can be adapted and tweaked to meet the changing needs of the business; there is no need for us to overhaul it should the values, experience or background of a candidate for a specific scheme change, for example. The investment and hard work in getting the new system up an running has also put us in a strong position to attract and recruit the best talent next year and we are already expecting to open applications about two months earlier than in 2007.

Jo GidleyJo Gidley is graduate recruitment manager, Sainsbury’s.

About the author

Jo Gidley is graduate recruitment manager at Sainsbury’s. She joined the company in 2004 as a graduate trainee and completed various placements before her first appointment in July 2006 as HR officer. Jo Gidley can be contacted at:

Related articles