To ‘take the King’s (or Queen’s) shilling’ was the slang term once used when someone joined the British Armed Forces in return for payment. Reaching its height in the 18th and 19th centuries, the practice gave recruits an incentive to enlist – although, in the case of the Royal Navy, force was sometimes deployed too.

Fortunately, recruitment tactics for the armed forces are much more civilised today, and those who join do so because they see it as a vocation.

However, like other organisations today, the Ministry of Defence operates in a highly competitive job market – exacerbated by its challenges, such as diversity targets and the volatile geo-political climate.

NATO countries are experiencing similar problems too. This summer, US Army Chief of Staff, Gen. James McConville, warned that the country is facing a ‘war for talent’ and needs to align people’s skills with roles better and promote a better work-life balance.

Back in the UK, the government recently launched its tri-Service recruitment programme for all three areas of the armed forces. It has pledged to ‘place the candidate at the heart of the recruitment process while ensuring the Armed Forces achieve the right quality and quantity of candidates to satisfy demand while remaining agile and responsive to change.’

How to improve candidate journeys in armed forces recruitment and win the war on talent!
How to improve candidate journeys in armed forces recruitment and win the war on talent!

Mapping the candidate journey

Thanks to recent innovative advertising campaigns, the British Army has seen a rise in website traffic and applications and a shift in perceptions. Candidate-centric initiatives like this mirror the investment in customer experience daily in the commercial world. This approach is now well-proven in retail and other sectors. Companies that prioritise customer experiences are typically 60% more profitable than those that don’t.

But in the digital age, the candidate journey is far from linear. Between the initial research stage and the offer of a place, someone might interact with the armed forces multiple times across various online and offline channels over six months. During this time, there’s a danger that talented candidates, once keen to enlist, will drop out simply because they can’t find a suitable role or their experience is generally poor.

Another problem is that recruitment campaigns sometimes focus almost entirely on digital interactions at the expense of the more complex interactions in recruitment centres and assessment locations.

So how can the armed forces reduce friction across the candidate journey and use their digital capabilities to enhance experiences in the real world? Applying data, gathering insights and creating engaging interactions can underpin successful talent attraction strategies.

Data: understand your audience

Effective engagement is driven by a deep understanding of candidate behaviour, requiring quality data from every touch point – including online behaviour, candidate events, socio-demographic data, geolocation, offline candidate data, feedback and output from analytics.

Insight: apply advanced analytics

You can continually fine-tune engagement with real-time decision-making and personalisation by using advanced analytics – including artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) – to enrich candidate data. Types of analytics could include:

  • Predictive models: deliver personalised communications and content based on how candidates are likely to behave.
  • Recommendation algorithms: match candidates to roles and offer interesting alternatives.
  • Reinforcement learning: candidate journey optimisation.
  • Analytical segmentation: tailor content to align candidate segments to roles.
  • Abandonment modelling: predict and reduce candidate abandonment.

Engagement: link the digital and physical worlds

Creating relevant in-the-moment candidate interactions at any point in the journey requires two components – an event trigger followed by delivery of relevant communication or content.

With smartphones linking the real and digital worlds, event triggers can come from various online and offline touchpoints such as the website, app, call centre or geolocation triggers from recruitment and assessment centres.

Measuring success

By investing the people, process and technology needed to deliver an optimal and seamless candidate experience, we’d expect the armed forces to see the following results:

  • Acquisition costs down by 10-50%.
  • Recruitment abandonment down by 5-30%.
  • Candidate recruitment acceleration and increased conversion up by 5-7.5%.
  • Candidate experience and nurturing (e.g., net promoter score) up by 10-20%.
  • Candidate engagement (qualitative and quantitative) up by 10-30%.

Joined-up approach

The armed forces, like any employer, need to make it as easy as possible for candidates to find the most suitable role and engage meaningfully with them at every stage of the recruitment journey. As we have seen, combining data, insight and timely engagement on the proper channels will help them do this.

Find out more about how SAS can support recruitment and other activities in the defence and national security sector.


About Author

Jonathan Opperman

Principal Systems Engineer

Jonathan has worked in the customer intelligence and marketing technology industry for over 25 years. His predominant areas of interest and experience are digital analytics and insight, real-time analytics and personalisation. He has worked in financial services and retail in the private sector and has recently joined the SAS UK Public Sector team to harness this experience to spearhead Citizen Experience transformation in Gov UK.

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