Best Business Women in Recruitment 2019
We interviewed Sophie Milliken, winner of Best Business Women in Recruitment about her business and why awards are part of her marketing strategy in her recruitment business.
What drove you to start your business?
I started my career in the John Lewis Partnership on the graduate training scheme, moving through a number of management roles and falling into HR. In my final role there, I managed the graduate, placement and internship offering and won multiple awards for the company. Following a series of successful initiatives, we rose from number 74 to 9 in the prestigious Times Top 100 Graduate Employer list.
I completed my MSc HR Management while at John Lewis, which, along with my experience, enabled me to apply to become a Chartered Fellow of the CIPD. This qualification gave me credibility within the industry as well as access to useful resources and information.
I achieved my CMI Level 7 certificate in Leadership Coaching and Mentoring in March 2019.
While at John Lewis, I met my co-founder and we shared a vision to provide an outstanding service for graduate recruiters and universities of all sizes. Following several strategic planning sessions and a leap of faith, Smart Resourcing Solutions (now SRS) was born in 2013.
In 2017, I took 100% control and responsibility for the business. This led to a year of significant change which brought new opportunities and two record financial years.
What does your business do?
We specialise in graduate recruitment and employability consultancy. We write assessment materials for employers and support them with recruiting their graduates. Working with universities across the UK, we aim to embed employability into the curriculum to ensure students have every advantage to help secure that all-important graduate job.
Working with all of the groups in the graduate recruitment chain keeps our knowledge fresh and allows us to deliver high impact solutions for each client. Our personal approach, expertise and insight help all our clients match the best talent to the right opportunity.
Our first business success was securing an application screening contract with dunnhumby, global leaders in customer science data. This was quickly followed by a contract with Boots to redesign the assessment and selection process for their graduate scheme. We also made progress by supporting Kingston University with several employability initiatives. Since then, we have provided services to JP Morgan, BP, Marks & Spencer and have a presence on over 30 university campuses across the UK.
The university division has enjoyed a boom period; we are into our seventh year of working with Manchester Metropolitan University on what we believe to be the largest scale UK employability one day event which highlights innovation in our field. We take 450 students through an assessment and selection simulation, which prepares the students to apply for graduate jobs. After a realistic and bespoke exercise design, we require 40 assessors to support this project! We run the simulation at the Etihad Football Stadium which provides excitement as well as replicating an employer’s head office effectively.
We invite prospective clients along to observe as part of our sustainability plan. After inviting a representative from the University of Hertfordshire in October 2015, we piloted the programme with their Business School in 2016. In 2019 our programme was rolled out to over 3200 students – our largest yet! The innovation within this area of the business is the large-scale format and using football stadiums for our delivery. It is also the only award-winning assessment simulation in the UK, with recognition from our industry body the Institute of Student Employers (ISE). We won the award in the Best Preparation for Work category in March 2018 in their awards.
We are also the leading supplier for digital assessment centre simulations which is how the majority of our 2020 events are being delivered.
Why were the awards part of your strategy?
They have always been part of our strategy because we know how important it is for our growth. I waited until I had some concrete results behind me before entering awards. We started in 2017, and I got to be a finalist in a few awards. I then created a system within the business to capture feedback which has strengthened our award entries. I pursued re-entering because as the business grew, we had more to share. I wrote a book ‘From Learner to Earner’ which was published in 2019 which aims to support students get their career on track and I included this within the award entries.
What have been the benefits of the awards?
Being a winner is a wonderful feeling, and it’s great to be validated for the work you do. The award wins have contributed to building my profile.
We have found awards have contributed to our credibility as a business. Clients have noticed we have won awards and often mention this. Awards also get added to our pitches and we include the information to showcase.
As a result of the award wins in 2019 I was asked to do a TedX talk. Most people have to apply, so I was honoured to be asked! So, I decided to go for it and wore the dress I wore at the Best Business Women Awards!
My talk was called ‘The Truth behind the Show Reel’ as I was asked to share my back story. Many people saw me as this award-winning businesswoman, but I wanted to share how I got there to highlight the hard work behind success and encourage others.
After I this I embarked on writing another book. This will be aimed at young women to encourage them to accelerate their careers sharing lots of advice and information which helped me to succeed.
Another benefit of my award win has been connecting with other winners. I met Ayesha Nayyar, who won Best Legal Services, and I have recently interviewed her about her success. She is a very inspirational and successful businesswoman and I feel very fortunate to have met her via the awards.
What is your advice to anyone who is thinking of entering?
Go for it! If you do not take opportunities nothing with happen! Awards should be a key part of your marketing strategy for so many reasons. Its such a great way to gain exposure, raise your profile, validation of your work and your great team. In addition, we’ve found that the recognition helps us to continue to build the business.
You can watch the interview with Sophie here
Watch the 2019 Final here and find out why Sophie won the award!