Like many successful global organizations, Microsoft often faces stiff competition for talent in its local markets. China, Taiwan and Hong Kong are technology powerhouses, with fast-growing companies vying with each other for the best talent, and they are prepared to pay premium prices for it.
Although Microsoft China was very successful at attracting applicants for its Academy of College Hire Program, not enough of them were high quality. Sifting out the large number of unsuitable candidates for its highly coveted sales and marketing positions was costly and burdened an already overstretched HR department.
Vine Zhou, Microsoft University recruiting program manager, says, “We needed to hire the best graduates—not just the brightest but the best fit to the organization—and to do it efficiently, so we lessen the pressure on HR. We also wanted to give applicants a faster, more responsive service. Otherwise there was always a risk that the best ones would tire of the process and approach another employer.”
SHL helps us get first pick of the top tier of graduates and lighten the load on the HR team, helping us process more applications with the same number of staff.
Microsoft worked with SHL to design and implement a more efficient graduate recruitment program that identifies the best applicants fairly, quickly, and in a way that keeps them engaged throughout.
In China, the firm typically receives 6,000–7,000 applications for its Microsoft Academy of College Hire (MACH) program. Now, after an initial manual screen by HR, some 2,000 of these candidates take a series of numerical and verbal ability and personality assessments from SHL.
SHL assessments are mapped to the Universal Competency Framework (UCF), which enables Microsoft to measure the candidate competencies most relevant to the role and the organization’s strategy. And, most importantly, those that are most likely to lead to high performance.
Working with SHL, Microsoft China identified five main competencies that candidates need to succeed with the firm. Three of these relate to how people engage—for example, with other employees and with change. Two relate to how they execute—for example, by applying appropriate technology and expertise to deliver results and meet customer expectations. People who score well in these areas are six times (for execute) and four times (for engage) more likely to be top performers.
Assessments aligned with the five competencies enable Microsoft China to reduce the number of candidates by an additional 50 percent. After a telephone-based English proficiency test, up to 50 are then invited to attend a Microsoft Assessment Centre, where SHL group exercises, discussions, and role playing help establish the candidates who are the best fit to the role and organization.
Candidates reaching the Assessment Centre stage now score significantly higher in the work-related exercises, and Microsoft China has seen a marked improvement in quality of hire. Vine comments, “We regularly see average assessment scores in the upper 25 percent compared to the high-tech benchmark we measure our candidates against. That’s a good indication we are achieving first pick of the top tier of graduates.”
What’s more, recruitment team productivity has significantly increased. The organization is processing candidates more quickly. With the period from initial application to offer now down to as little as six weeks, Microsoft China has seen an average two-week reduction in time to hire.
Vine adds, “Including the assessments has proved to be a very effective screening tool. It’s lightened the load on the HR team, helping us process more applications with the same number of staff, which means we can respond more quickly. Every candidate now gets our feedback within 48 hours of applying.
“Just as importantly, the assessments are recognized widely as fair and objective—so applicants know they’re competing on a level playing field. Giving candidates a much better experience means we are less likely to lose them to competitors.”
For Vine Zhou, the success of the program has as much to do with the quality of the SHL partnership as the quality of the solution: “[SHL] worked closely with us for two years, making sure they understood our requirements completely and engaging our different functions internally to make sure everyone was aligned. Despite a tight schedule and changing timeframes, [SHL] met every requirement.”