Online interviewing tool boosts recruitment at Proximity London

Strategic HR Review

ISSN: 1475-4398

Publication date: 8 August 2008


Fidgeon, R. (2008), "Online interviewing tool boosts recruitment at Proximity London", Strategic HR Review, Vol. 7 No. 5.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Online interviewing tool boosts recruitment at Proximity London

Article Type: e-HR From: Strategic HR Review, Volume 7, Issue 5

How technology is changing the way HR works

“The characteristic we desire most in team-members is drive. You can often build skills, but you just cannot build drive”, says Amanda Philips, CEO of Proximity London and a contributor to the book Public Relations and Advertising Leadership Strategies for the UK (Aspatore Books Staff, 2007).

Proximity is a 280-employee creative agency and is part of the global network Omnicom. It practices the strategy of “people + product=profit” put forward by David Maister, an authority in the management of professional service firms, realizing that if you have the best people, you will improve revenue. It therefore unashamedly pursues the best people in the industry. One of the agency’s challenges is to look ahead at least three years to future-proof against foreseeable change, as well as working to a 90-day reporting cycle to the USA group. “Nothing”, says Phillips, “focuses a business like having to demonstrate profit improvement every 90 days”.

Employees include creatives, account handlers and producers, digital experts, planners and strategists. Some people, therefore, are big thinkers while others are very structured in their work. The agency has developed a full program to underpin its values – creative, challenging, partnering and understanding – and this program is broken into 20 different behaviors to help managers understand which people are “on-brand” and which could be on-brand with training and development.

Bringing structure to the interview process

Effective recruitment is a vital part of getting the right people at Proximity. In the past, it had used the classic interview process of reviewing the CV, then sitting down and having a cup of tea and a nice chat. As is typical, if a person seemed the best candidate because there had been a “meeting of minds”, then they had later be offered the job. Everything varied from person to person and from interviewer to interviewer. Some interviewed candidates carefully with good notes, while others would go more free-style. To formalize and simplify the interview process, in November Proximity started to use a new online interviewing tool from A&DC, a specialist in assessment for recruitment, promotion and succession. Called CBI-Smart, it enables interviewers to easily create best practice interview guides within 15 minutes from a database of hundreds of questions prepared by A&DC’s team of occupational psychologists. It is a smart tool that can be customized for organizational use, and allows for the addition of company questions and competencies and the storing and accessing of past interviews for reference and re-use.

Competency based interviews are one of the best known way to recruit the right candidates and have been used by HR professionals for some time. CBI-Smart simplifies the process for every interviewer, whether they are in large or small organizations. Proximity has changed its hiring process and has been much more successful in finding the right people by delving a little deeper in interviews. By starting to use CBI-Smart last year and starting to weave it through its growing organization it is seeking to ensure every candidate is carefully and fairly chosen.

Phillips comments: “This system is definitely working for us. It has taught us that someone very good at articulating themselves may not be best for the job. I can think of at least one example where I would have employed ‘candidate B’ from my previous interviewing process, but CBI-Smart showed that they didn’t come out so strongly, saving us from a negative decision and a great deal of money.”

Reducing the risks of recruitment

Recruiting the wrong person is expensive – research shows that the total cost of replacing a member of staff averages in excess of £8,000 (CIPD, 2006). Phillips says: “We can get a very good measure of our applicants now. Even if a headhunter has interviewed the candidate and told us the person’s pluses and minuses, our new system lets us flesh out the real issues and ensure they are going to work well as part of our team. It helps ensure people demonstrate characteristics that are on-brand and that they are able to fulfil our agency values.”

The company handles between 10 and 15 interviews each month. It estimates that CBI-Smart has saved it from at least one miss-hire and thousands of pounds in associated expense. It has also enabled Proximity to start to standardize this HR process, so that it should more than double its chances of hiring the right people, first time.

Phillips sums up: “It stops lazy answers from candidates. It gets people thinking on their toes and we get truthful answers as we’re asking more relevant questions. There’s no room for spin; information can’t be polished. We’ve found it very useful to understand interpersonal skills and the things that make a difference to effectiveness. It was recommended to me by our HR director and I am now a big advocate.”

Rory Fidgeon, BA (Hons), MSc, MBASenior consultant with A&DC. He is a senior occupational psychologist who is an assessment specialist focusing mainly on leadership and senior executive assessment projects. His responsibilities include the design and implementation of assessment and development centers, bespoke exercise design, assessor training, job analysis and competency framework design, competency based interviewing, psychometric testing and feedback. He also specializes in diversity in assessment and development. He can be contacted at:


Aspatore Books Staff (2007), Public Relations and Advertising Leadership Strategies for the UK: Industry Leaders on Maintaining an Edge, Attaining a Global Reach, and Achieving Best Practices for Media Relations (Inside the Minds), Aspatore, Boston, MA

CIPD (2006), Recruitment, Retention and Turnover, Annual Survey Report 2006, CIPD, London