Nationwide is now assessing the competencies and potential of graduates in a more engaging and meaningful way, says Hannah Crawley.

At Nationwide, we’ve enhanced our graduate selection process to help us recruit 65 graduates each year, from 3,000 applicants, who can hit the ground running, work effectively in teams and become our future leaders. We’ve introduced new screening tests and a redesigned assessment centre which includes an innovative ‘escape room’ challenge that assesses relevant competencies and behaviours. Our new selection process is engaging and scientifically-robust – and it has already proved successful.

Traditionally, our graduate recruitment focused on core competencies such as teamwork, agility and problem solving. Applications were restricted to those who had a first-class or a 2:1 degree. However, this year we decided to broaden our applicant pool by including ‘potential’ as part of our hiring criteria.

For us, potential is a combination of the three pillars of emotional intelligence; aspiration and drive and intellectual capacity. Research shows that these aspects predict high performance and successful leadership. Our challenge was therefore to evolve our selection process so that we could assess the competencies and potential of candidates in a meaningful way.

Student challenges

We’re very aware that some students have to juggle multiple jobs whilst doing their degree; others may be single parents or they may have been caring for relatives at home. These aspects can impact on their final degree result. For us, it doesn’t matter what classification someone achieved in their degree; if they’re the right fit for us, we want to give them an opportunity to come and show us their potential.

To help us evolve our selection process, we partnered with assessment specialist cut-e. Working with our occupational psychologists, who had analysed the job requirements, cut-e recommended that a verbal reasoning test, a problem-solving ability test, a values assessment and a personality questionnaire should be used to initially screen our graduate applicants.

These assessments helped us to identify candidates who share our values and they also provided insights on aspects of our model of potential, such as each individual’s aspirations, drive, emotional intelligence and intellectual capacity.

Candidates are also assessed on a statement that they submit and a telephone interview. At the end of this initial screening stage, all candidates, both successful and unsuccessful, receive a detailed feedback report that explains the outcome of the assessments they completed – and how they can use these insights to consider their future career choices. We are particularly pleased with this feature of our process, as it supports our commitment to enhancing the candidate experience and providing developmental support to those early in their careers who have shown an interest in joining us. The successful graduates are then invited to take part in an assessment centre.

A new style of assessment

Working with cut-e, we redesigned our assessment centre to incorporate a new suite of exercises including an ‘escape room’, in a nod to TV game shows such as The Crystal Maze and The Krypton Factor. For this, candidates are allocated 25 minutes to solve a series of clues which help them uncover the padlock combinations to five boxes, the last of which holds the key to escape from the room. The clues require candidates to solve a series of logical challenges, including code breaking, crosswords and spatial puzzles.

As well as testing the problem solving and creative thinking abilities of candidates, the escape room assesses how they collaborate and work together. cut-e designed the assessment centres to be fun and engaging throughout. There are several different elements, so candidates are given a good opportunity to showcase their skills in a range of settings. We trialled the concept initially through pilots with existing graduates. This proved to be a very useful team-building process and it confirmed that the exercises directly measure our desired traits and attributes.

The assessment centre is paperless. Candidates are provided with iPads highlighting the itinerary and exercises. Assessors make notes directly into their laptops. These notes are then quickly compiled to create detailed and useful developmental feedback reports for each candidate.

As well as undertaking the escape room exercise, candidates conduct a Dragon’s Den-style individual presentation at the assessment centre, where they have to pitch a fictional business plan to an investor. They also have a one-to-one strengths-based interview.

To date, we’ve run ten assessment centres, in Swindon and Northampton, with five candidates attending each centre. More assessment centres are scheduled. 48 hours after each assessment centre, the job offers are made and candidates are sent their feedback report. We look forward to the successful candidates joining Nationwide in September.

Stronger pipeline

Feedback from our hiring managers reveals that cut-e’s initial screening assessments have resulted in a much higher conversion rate in our assessment centres. The quality of candidates coming through the process is significantly higher than previously and, as a result, the pass rate from our new assessment centres is almost double our previous figures. This is very encouraging from an efficiency point of view and it provides an early indication of the benefits of our newly-embedded screening process.

We’ve also received positive feedback from candidates. For example, Harry Dhillon, a successful inductee, told us: “I’m used to competency-based interviews, so this assessment centre was a refreshing change. I enjoyed the escape room challenge and the digital aspect of the tasks. It was the best assessment centre I’ve attended. The process allowed me to showcase my skills and it was a truly rewarding experience.”

Feedback such as this is the ‘Holy Grail’ for recruiters – to hear that candidates are enjoying the process whilst knowing that we are collecting and analysing data that will help us make the best hiring decisions.

Having successfully changed our graduate selection process, we’re now planning to run a similar process to help us select apprentices in the coming months.

When assessing job candidates, it’s easy enough to find activities that will be engaging but you have to ‘look under the hood’ to ensure that there is scientific rigour underneath. We’re confident that we’ve achieved this in our new graduate selection process. As well as improving the candidate experience, delivering a stronger pipeline of graduates and helping us make some really great hires, this process has enhanced our reputation as a modern, forward-thinking organisation.





Rebecca joined the HRreview editorial team in January 2016. After graduating from the University of Sheffield Hallam in 2013 with a BA in English Literature, Rebecca has spent five years working in print and online journalism in Manchester and London. In the past she has been part of the editorial teams at Sleeper and Dezeen and has founded her own arts collective.