To drive customer satisfaction and further enhance the performance of its store staff, home improvement retailer B&Q has introduced what are believed to be the UK’s first adaptive situational judgement tests for its Customer Advisor roles. The new tests provide a more engaging assessment experience for candidates and they’ve reduced the average time taken to complete an application by more than 20 minutes.

New interactive job previews, aligned to B&Q’s culture and values, have also been created to give potential applicants a clearer sense of what each job entails. 

Using shorter, more robust assessments that are aligned to the key competencies of each role has enabled B&Q to improve its screening process, make better selection decisions and appoint more customer-oriented recruits who are performing better in the role.

Background

When your purpose is to make it easier for customers to have better and more sustainable homes, your success depends not only on stocking the right tools and materials but also on recruiting staff who are happy to approach and help customers.

Recruiting talented people who can deliver a friendly and efficient service, and provide advice on how customers can turn their dreams into reality, is strategically important for us. All retailers know that the stakes are high in recruitment because every candidate really is a potential customer. It’s therefore critical for us to provide a positive experience to all applicants, regardless of whether or not we’ll offer them a job.

Jo Leggett, Resourcing Manager at B&Q

Each year, B&Q receives 150,000 applications for Customer Advisor roles in its 362 UK stores. It hires 6,000 people. To help sift through such a high volume of applications, the company was using a text-based psychometric assessment.

"It was essentially a list of questions that took around 45 minutes to complete and we knew it wasn’t very engaging," said Jo Leggett. "We decided that we needed to create something that would provide a better experience for candidates and also help us to make better screening decisions."

After a competitive tender, we were delighted to be appointed.

"Having used their personality questionnaire for our graduate recruitment, we knew of their expertise in assessment," said Jo Leggett. "They recommended that we create realistic job previews, to give potential applicants a clearer sense of what each job entails, and that we use situational judgement tests, to determine how potential applicants would interact with customers.”

Ingredients for success 

We began by undertaking a thorough job analysis of the different roles within B&Q’s four Customer Advisor job families: service (e.g. checkout roles), support (e.g. warehouse roles), sales (eg home design consultants) and expert (e.g. plumbers and electricians). We interviewed existing B&Q staff, ran focus groups and conducted research to identify the key requirements and success factors for each job.

"Their analysis showed that there were some common attributes across all four of our job families - such as teamwork, taking responsibility and service-orientation - but there were certain requirements that were specific to each," said Jo Leggett. "This helped us pinpoint the skills and attributes that people need in order to be successful. They then used this information to create realistic job previews and situational judgement tests, which were piloted to ensure not only that they were suitable but also that the terminology, tone of voice and imagery were all aligned to our employer brand."

A realistic job preview (RJP) is a self-assessment questionnaire which gives candidates a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like to work at a company and feedback on job-relevant information. Candidates can then judge for themselves whether the role and the organisation are right for them, before they start the application process. 

We developed interactive RJPs for B&Q’s four Customer Advisor job families. Potential applicants can go through these job previews on B&Q’s careers site before submitting an online application. 

Emily Unsworth, Selection and Assessment Partner at B&Q, said: "They ensured that the four RJPs were aligned to our culture and values. Each RJP shows a series of scenarios that give an insight into what it would be like to work in these roles. The applicants are asked multiple-choice questions and they get instant feedback on their responses. This process helps them to decide firstly whether they’d enjoy working in the B&Q environment and secondly which role is most appropriate for them. It also helps us to create a good impression and build a rapport with people before we meet them."

Assessing competencies

To help B&Q identify the best candidates in its applicant pool, we created adaptive situational judgement tests (SJTs) which assess the key competencies for each Customer Advisor job and provide a truly brand-aligned assessment experience. 

"SJTs are commonly used to determine how applicants would handle situations that they’re likely to encounter in the workplace," said Jo Leggett. "However, most SJTs have fixed scenarios. In other words, every applicant sees the same situations. They have broken the mould here by creating adaptive SJTs for us. This is very innovative because all of the situations that each candidate encounters in our SJTs evolve. Different consequences arise, depending on their previous responses. The benefit is that we can hone in on a candidate’s behavioural tendencies in a more engaging and realistic way."

The four SJTs depict realistic customer-handling situations, using a combination of photography, graphics and animation, in B&Q’s house style, to accurately reflect the workplace and life within a store. Each takes 15-20 minutes to complete and the tests are integrated with Taleo, B&Q’s applicant tracking system. Candidates complete the assessment before the telephone interview stage of the selection process.

"The applicants are scored against each of the key competencies for the role and the results help us to select candidates for our telephone interviews," said Jo Leggett. "The tests are more about the behaviours that people will show at work. We don’t assess a candidate’s DIY or product-related knowledge, as we provide any training that people will need when they join."

Delivering tangible results

By introducing the SJTs, B&Q has cut the average time to complete an application by more than 20 minutes. As a result, more candidates are now completing their application in one sitting.

"People used to drop out of our application process because it took too long and our previous assessment was not very engaging," said Jo Leggett. "Now, we’re using much shorter assessments that are more robust, more enjoyable to complete for candidates and more aligned to the key competencies of each role."

She adds that the feedback from the business has been very positive. 

"Their expertise, their understanding of what we needed and the way their team of specialists worked closely in partnership with different parts of our business all helped to make this a very successful project," she said. "At our assessment centres, we’ve noticed that candidates now have a better understanding of the position they’ve applied for. Our store managers also say that new recruits are performing better in the role and they’re more customer-orientated. Best of all, we feel that our new selection process has helped us to recruit some real stars of the future for B&Q."

SJTs are a robust and effective way of assessing an applicant’s suitability for a role. But we’ve now taken the concept further by creating an adaptive format which evolves the story and lets the candidate see the consequences of their responses. This is particularly useful in customer service environments, where you want to assess how a candidate will deal with customers. B&Q has been the perfect partner throughout this project and we’re delighted to see that, after working with us, they’ve not only speeded up their application process, they’ve also improved the candidate experience and they’re recruiting better performers.

James Beevers, Head of Professional Services at Talent Q (now part of Korn Ferry Hay Group).