Giving up the 9 to 5 to help graduates and employers make the right career choices

Life comes at you fast sometimes, as Sophie Miliken found out when she went from starting a career through a John Lewis graduate scheme to founding SRS - an employability specialist that focuses on helping graduates and employers find the right match .

Giving up the 9 to 5 to help graduates and employers make the right career choices

Life comes at you fast sometimes, as Sophie Miliken found out when she went from starting a career through a John Lewis graduate scheme to founding SRS – an employability specialist that focuses on helping graduates and employers find the right match….

After entering the world of work through a John Lewis graduate scheme and then establishing a market leading HR consultancy on the brink of international expansion (all while caring for a baby), Sophie Miliken brings valuable first-hand experience to her entrepreneurial back-story.

The move from graduate recruitment and then on to steering her own ship, was something of a happy accident after a chance conversation with a fellow graduate recruiter (during an HR restructure at John Lewis) coincided with a need to strike a more manageable work/life balance. It lead to her quitting a weekly commute from Newcastle to London to set up SRS in the North East of England.

The company specialises in helping employers find suitable graduate candidates, designing assessment materials and supporting them in the delivery of their recruitment processes. 

We also work with universities to put their students through mock assessment centres, explains Miliken. The business has grown a lot and we merged with GradTouch in 2019 and became a brand with the Careerpass Network. I now have a dual role as both MD of SRS and Chief Strategy Officer for Careerpass Network.

Not that success was instant. There were a few personal hurdles along the way and it was a good while before the company became established enough to start paying the rewards commensurate with the effort put in. 

Getting to work with universities, students and network with other graduate recruiters was so much fun, adds Miliken. But I was trying to grow the business while working out how to keep my house. I had a couple of years of being absolutely skint and working every hour I could but even though this was a challenging time, I had faith that my situation would improve – and it did!

Another significant hurdle was my business partner leaving a few years into our journey. At first, this panicked me and I didn’t initially want him to leave. Once I had time to digest the idea, I realised it was right for him and it gave me a new lease of life on the sales side as well as full autonomy to take risks, which massively paid off. 

A breakthrough moment came when a former contact from Miliken’s days at John Lewis days asked SRS to run a mock assessment centre for 850 students over two days. 

It was a first for the firm and revealed a clear need for that type of activity within every course at every university. 

Our events are now run in football stadiums (or digitally right now) and give students a realistic experience of an employer’s assessment centre which is an invaluable learning experience for them, says Miliken

We retain our USP in this niche area by continually improving our offer. We are the only supplier of this service who owns their own digital assessment platform and also offers students a Level 3 in Employability Skills which is accredited by AQA.

Miliken believes there is still a huge amount of growth in the assessment centre simulation market and has established SRS as a leading supplier in the sector. 

We’ve broken into the international market with these now seizing the opportunity that digital has presented this year. Our digital assessment software has proven to be popular with employers also, creating a new income stream and compliments on the assessment centre design work we do.

The pandemic has created an opportunity in the digital market with SRS utilising its own specially created digital software in its online assessments, which it is now able to sell to employers as well. 

And it’s in taking its assessment model to the international market that Miliken sees the most potential. The firm recently did its first event (at 5am)! With a university in Australia and has events booked in with Dubai and Qatar universities. 

The automated aspects of HR are now de rigeur in corporate recruitment and are seen as a vital component in shortlisting extensive lists of candidates. But, particularly with young people making their first attempts to establish a career, the personal approach is still vital, believes Miliken.

It is SO important. Even with automated processes, there can be some human element even if it is just a real person from the company doing a video before a student needs to answer questions in a pre-recorded video interview or an online test being bespoke to the organisation and including real scenarios. 

Employers should be warm and friendly during the assessment centre and/or final interview and provide a great candidate experience with feedback at each stage for unsuccessful candidates.

Key to Miliken’s success has been her ability to strike a balance that caters equally for the needs of employers and jobseekers alike, making sure that both are receiving as much necessary information during the process.

We create assessment materials that will test what employers want from their graduates but we also want these to provide opportunities for all graduates to showcase their skills and not advantage one type of person over another, she explains. The work we do with employers feeds into the work we do with universities to prepare their students for the reality of applying or jobs so we are lucky to be able to use all the work we do to benefit each group.

Customer service, so vital for any people-oriented business is also at the heart of Miliken’s philosophy, ensuring repeat business and reputational momentum.

All of our team work really hard and care about the work we do. This is so important in terms of both enjoying the job and also providing an outstanding service for our clients. I ensure that the work we do for clients is to a high standard and always delivered with exceptional customer service.

With a winning formula that couples bespoke technology with consultative, people-focused support for employers and candidates, SRS is set to chart a course of expansion on a number of fronts and is proving to be just the job for HR departments looking to cherry pick the best graduates.

As managing director of Smart Resourcing Solutions (SRS), Sophie Miliken is both a category and overall winner in the Great British Entrepreneur Awards, winning Services Industries Entrepreneur of the Year for the North East region and the overall award for the North East.

Ronnie Dungan
Ronnie Dungan

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