A recent Q&A session with Siobhan McKenna - Talent Attraction Specialist at NFU Mutual – shone a very bright light on the importance of questioning what you do, and why you do it, in order to create a direct attraction model that is planned, measured, results-oriented, story-focused and ever-evolving.

You talk a lot about the power of stories. Why is that?
I think it’s quite simple. Stories help us connect with people on an emotional level. They cut through straightforward content and give people context, or rather ‘real meaning’ to the role we want them to excel in. Storytelling is a fundamental part of our employer brand strategy and it’s been used to great effect over the last 18 months to connect with the people we want to attract to NFU Mutual. Most importantly, it’s a huge help to our recruiters who use them to bring meaning to their conversations and communications.

So what is the NFU Mutual employer story?
The way I see it is this; there are multiple stories. All helping to build a clear picture of what it’s like to work here. But all them connect back to our core objective of being a ‘Great place to work’. The challenge we faced was one of awareness. Most people think we’re a farming community. Which we are. But we’re so much more. Creating a strategy that built on our heritage, demonstrated our vison, and celebrated the incredible work we do through the experiences of the people who do it was carefully planned. Making sure we connected with the right people through the most appropriate channel added massive traction to our plan.

Is NFU Mutual a 'Great place to work'?
That’s the key question. And it’s the one that I, and the resourcing team, ask ourselves every day. We’ve always had a strategic objective to be a great place to work. But we didn’t know if we could really substantiate such a massive claim. We talked about it an awful lot, but there was no clarity about what it actually meant. And most importantly, there was no clarity around what it meant for existing colleagues or the people we want to attract. We quickly realised that whilst one story is great, we have to have multiple and nuanced personal stories from the inside that can align with the motivations of like-minded people. We also weren’t sharing the fantastic things we do every day as individuals, teams and as a business. If people don’t know this, how can they possibly make a positive decision about us as a great place to work?

Where did you start?
We started by looking at things from a different perspective. We asked ourselves a very simple question. “Why wouldn’t they join?” I think it’s so easy to look at why people could and should join your business. But by understanding those elements that could become blockers to positive decision making, helped us realise where we need to turn our attention to. The first question I always start with when I’m talking to a recruiter is, “What reasons do candidates give to you of why they don’t want to come?”

That must have been very difficult to hear the answers?
I was determined to understand where we might not be so good as much as I wanted to understand where we excel. Historically, we’ve never been in an employment market like this and we have to recognise that there are now more jobs than there are people. We knew that we had to look at how we’re creating appeal for the right people.

We looked at how we can translate any negatives and perceived negatives into positives through a mixture of addressing concerns from a business perspective and communicating the positives through a strategy of multiple employer brand outputs. And that led us to identify which messages to amplify for each area of the business, and which channels to use and when. We were determined to cast a wider net of messaging through a larger range of media expressions, so we brought the experience of working at NFU Mutual to life through film, blogs, imagery and graphics. All of which were connected back to our employer brand framework.

This investment in awareness not only brings people in straight away, but as our presence increases, people who might not be ready to move immediately will think of us when they are.

Is your attraction strategy easier now with such powerful digital channels to use?
I think digital channels are great, but you have to use them in the right way. We know that paid advertising on Facebook can be very cost-effective in the right location. And LinkedIn has proved incredibly popular, for the right audience. Specialist job-boards work for certain roles. And then there’s opportunities through specific job-boards like EvenBreak that help us connect with people who have either visible, or hidden, disabilities. Our careers channel on YouTube is performing really well and our careers website is constantly being updated to bring fresh stories to life. This is key. We build things and then we build on things. All these channels are great opportunities to connect with candidates, but only if the activity we do is firstly varied. And secondly, monitored.

Over the last 18 months, we’ve invested our time and thinking into the process of ‘trial and monitor’ advertising. This means that for every job, we can place emphasis on different messages for different media and monitor the results.

We’ve also not fallen into the trap of thinking digital is the holy grail of attraction. Face to face is still, in my mind, a fantastic way to have a trusted conversation. So we place a huge emphasis on events and meeting people to engage with them and get our message across.

Digital is great. But that doesn’t mean traditional is dead.

With so much choice, how do you know what’s right?
I think the easiest thing to say when getting results back is, "Oh, we've got all these applications from a particular job board, isn't it amazing?" But in actual fact, when you look at how many people are actually hired via that job board, it may not be as effective as you first thought. We have a marketing insight team at NFU Mutual who are incredibly good at getting all the data out of our Applicant Tracking System. We’re able to see where all the candidates are coming from and where they drop out throughout the recruitment process.

We've got the data broken down in all kinds of ways. We can see what the source is. We can see which recruiter recruited from that source, so we've got an idea of which recruiters are using which media. Are they using Facebook? Are they using LinkedIn? What are they doing? We’re developing our reporting all the time so that we can see what's working and what's not working. And adapt our approach accordingly.

Is your approach working?
I get real satisfaction from hearing people talk about our films and our marketing, as I know we’re getting the NFU Mutual story across and it’s becoming front of mind for many people.

Over the past three years we have completely changed the way we attract talent into NFU Mutual. Gone is the old recruitment agency led approach, and in its place is a direct sourcing model.

We’re working with different areas of the business to help understand their employer proposition. Identifying what their point of difference is, why people wouldn’t join them and then working with them to bring their unique story to life. And it works. In Pricing for example, we started 18 months ago, and direct sourcing was at 13%. Today it’s 83%. That’s a massive difference in terms of the way candidates connect with our employer marketing and our people, but also a huge saving in terms of agency spend!

All of this is also getting us some very, very welcome award wins! We’ve worked so hard over the last 18 months to build awareness of us as an organisation on the outside, but also our capabilities with teams on the inside. And we’re proving that what we’re doing is working on every level. But there’s always more to be done.

What does the next 18 months hold?
Even in the 18 months since I first joined, the world of recruitment marketing has evolved so much. Post-pandemic, we’re seeing the need for more human connection and I think that’s only going to increase in the next 12 months. We need to increase our reputation as a great place to work. The next steps in our employer brand journey is to look at the overall proposition for NFU Mutual. Anchoring our key employment messages around a core proposition will only help us more in the future. We’ll be looking at what people want from the world of work and how we should evolve the way we go to market in an ever-evolving talent landscape. It's going to be exciting!

Fancy joining Siobhan and the Resourcing Team on their fantastic journey? Take a look at our current vacancies.