Podcast: Early Careers Recruitment with Dentons

Early careers has always been a key component of an organisation’s talent acquisition strategy. However, when we talk about early careers, we mainly focus on graduate recruitment. But it goes back further than that. Work experience, internships and apprenticeships as well.

We’re joined by Nic Cole, Head of Resourcing for Dentons – a global legal firm. We discuss the transformation of their work experience programme in response to the COVID-19 global pandemic.

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Martyn Redstone 0:00
Early careers have always been a key component of an organization’s talent acquisition strategy. However, when we talk early careers, we mostly talk about graduate recruitment. But it goes back further than that work experience internships, and apprenticeships as well. In this episode of talent game changes, I’m joined by Nick Cole, head of resourcing for Dentons global law firm to discuss transformation of their work experience programme in response to the global COVID 19 pandemic.

Martyn Redstone 0:46
Hi, everyone, this is Martyn Redstone, and welcome to talent game changers brought to you by Hillary, visit hollywood.com and build talent communities that create long term relationships at any stage of that talents journey with you. Welcome, Nick, thanks for joining me.

Nic Cole 0:59
Thank you, Martin. Nice to be onboard.

Martyn Redstone 1:02
Great stuff. So Nick, why don’t you introduce yourself, your role and a bit about the company, for the benefit of our listeners,

Nic Cole 1:09
with pleasure, as you as you quite rightly say, I’m the head of resourcing at Dentons. And again, to follow a new lead Dentons is actually the largest global law firm by headcount in the world. My role, though, specifically focuses on recruitments into the UK and Ireland. And that is across early careers, which obviously we’re going to be discussing today, and experienced hire recruitment so that everything there from as you quite rightly pointed out graduate trainee apprentices on the career side, all the way through to experienced hires, so that’s on the business services. And on the fee earning side up to partner, we have another team that are comfortable department recruitment. So I’ve been with the firm for about four years now. And during those four years, we’ve been on an incredible journey, in terms of the way that we’ve been looking at the attraction methodologies that we’re using, we’re looking at our processes, the technology, looking at our internal brands and external brands, to ensure that we are an employer of choice across the whole gambit that I’ve just mentioned there. So we’ve been, as I say, looking after multitude of, of actual requisitions. But alongside of that a number of projects to help take us along that journey. And that is why we’ve been partnering with hologram on various aspects of our onboarding, referrals and of course, on already careers, attraction piece as well.

Martyn Redstone 2:35
Fantastic. Thanks for that. And of course, like you said, the reason why you’re here today is to talk to us about your transformation within some of your early careers, recruitment strategy and processes. And the specific reason why you’re here is first of all, congratulations on your award at last month’s HR awards. That was for your early careers transformation. So why don’t you tell us a little bit more about what exactly that award was for? That’d be great.

Nic Cole 3:05
Absolutely. What? Well, firstly, thanks for that, you know, we’re absolutely delighted to have been recognised in this particular category. The actual platform itself that we were recognised for was for our virtual work experience platform. In most law firms, typically, although it is changing somewhat now, a formal work experience programme has been run whereby you actually get individuals coming into the firm, experiencing life as a lawyer, you know, within various practice groups, and of course, it had its value. But the other the other flipside of that was that you were very limited to the number of people that could come through the doors for various reasons. And that also limited the opportunity for those that perhaps didn’t have connections or weren’t available in a set period of time. Because they had other commitments and whatnot. So it was, as I say, it wasn’t as inclusive as it quite possibly could, although it did serve a good purpose. So So we kind of put our heads together as a team and thought, you know, how can we really open this up? How can we reach out beyond our current networks and even beyond sort of students within college university? How can we reach those within schools, so they can start to think about or indeed have some knowledge of who Denton czar or indeed a career within law, let’s take themselves out of it, I think it’s very important that we, that we are attracting as many people to this fantastic profession as possible. So one of the ways we thought we’d approach this is having partnered with Holloway on various platforms that we’re all around the candidate experience engagement, really encouraging people to kind of explore who we were, we decided to come up with the platform that will be fully virtual, an open platform as well. so that anybody could take action could have access to it. And within that platform, we wanted to create an environment whereby you would really get a full understanding of, of the lifecycle of of a matter or a deal, you know, as part of a team, a fairly team within the firm, so, so we had to sort of think, how are we going to manage this? How are we, you know, it’s not gonna be possible for someone to sit online all day for five days, because that’s kind of what our work experience will typically look like. So we kind of had to think about how we can make it immersive, interesting, and also have to have that stickiness, so that people weren’t born just staring at the screen. So it needed to be, as I say, very interactive, as well, albeit, and of course, automated, so that people could sort of jump in and jump out when they wanted. So through a number of internal conversations. And also looking externally see what’s happening in the wider market as well. We decided to come up with a particular subject matter. And that would involve or straddle various practices across the firm’s, so you wouldn’t be just sat there within one office doing some photocopying or whatever it is, you create a word kind of get a sense of, of what you what life would be like as part of that deal. So you start off with a client, but the client piece and then obviously creating a proposal, then going on to having some client conversations and then actually delivering on that piece of work. And that was all staged over several days. And the way the platform worked is that it allowed the user to sort of, as I said earlier on sort of dip in and dip out when they were ready. And at the end of it, or once they completed it, they got some kind of recognition to say, you know, you’ve completed your work experience at Denton. So they think they’ve got something tangible, to take away. But I think the critical thing here is that it is an open platform. You know, over the months that it has now been up and running, we’ve had well over 1000 people through its virtual door. Now you compare that to the former work experience. Yeah, we could call it I mean, it is the reach and the exposure. And again, I guess the engagement levels, as well as it’s been particularly great, the feedback that we’re getting, has been really, really strong. So it’s, it’s been, it’s been a wonderful tool, and lots of hard work, the team worked tirelessly to get it up and running. And you know, and the quality of the actual platform throughout each of those days. It really is a very professional, and as I say immersive experience, and when we think you know, the users get a huge benefit from

Martyn Redstone 7:43
Yeah, absolutely. And that sounds fantastic. Thanks for going through that. That story of of you know, where you went from where you went to what’s really interesting is obviously, like you said, Work Experience tends to be mainly kind of one week, a year where you get you get students coming in and experiencing and like you said, it’s low numbers or limited numbers. Should I say? So obviously opening up all year round, you’re opening up so many different people, it’s fantastic. I’d be really interested in understanding. So obviously, you recognised that this change has to happen. Obviously, we know that there was a pandemics, we had to make things virtual anyway. What’s the what was the process you had to go through internally to get the change through? Do you have to sell it internally? Do you have to persuade anyone? How did that work?

Nic Cole 8:31
That’s a really good question. Because that was probably our our biggest sense of trepidation, is presenting this back to the firm, because law firms are progressing that they’re becoming much, much more more modernised in their approach their outlook, but there are certain things that still, you know that their legacy and work experience is probably one of those. So we needed to ensure that anything that we were going to do to take this out of the firm, because this completely replaces all firmer work working requests. So we no longer have on site work, work placements now. So we needed to make sure that what we were presenting was going to work and actually involved us creating a very detailed and robust paper that we needed to present to the what we call our executive leadership team, which comprises of of many of our divisional leaders who run each of those separate practice groups. So we needed to ensure that everything that we were sort of presenting back to them, not only does it make sense from an inclusivity, and numbers and reach and everything there but also how’s it going to work in terms of the messaging, is it going to be on on point in terms of presenting tensions back? What’s the return on investment going to be? You know, there are lots of other sort of considerations in terms of it sometimes you know, really kind of persuading influencing the Uh, that like fat group that this was a good idea. And through that through the presentation that we gave, the the recommendations, or the facts and figures that we presented back, we also sort of showed a little bit around what the platform would look like. But ultimately, kind of really explaining that, you know, we needed early careers to really kind of go beyond our current reach. And this would be an amazing platform to do that, you know, reaching out to those within schools and really kind of get their interest, right, from right from the get go really, because, as I’m sure you’re aware, Martin, you know, trying to generate interest on campus, university, it’s white noise from the law fairs when they were used to be to run on site. So, so really kind of getting our name out there much more earlier, would obviously be beneficial for us later on in the process. It’s a long game, effectively. So yes, so we so we presented to the to the committee, I’m pleased to say that we didn’t get too much pushback, which was, which was really encouraging. And in fact, and to be honest with you, they were really supportive of the proposal. They recognised its need the benefits. And I’m really delighted to say, you know, the the figures I mentioned earlier, have been testament to success, which we obviously keep the committee updated on. So it’s been that it’s been well received, and it was slightly easier than we thought it was going to be in terms of getting it across the line. That’s great.

Martyn Redstone 11:29
That’s great. That’s good to hear that, that you still have to go through that process. Obviously, it’s not just a case of making that decision. And so many other tire acquisition leaders always have to go through that, that that challenging process of, of selling a transformation internally and actually getting it across with a business case. And you mentioned some of those kind of key areas around ROI and metrics and what have you. So what is it delivery? Now, you’ve mentioned that you’ve had a fantastic uptake, over 1000 people taking part, brilliant feedback from the users. But if we talk about kind of cold, hard facts that an organisation such as dentists would be interested in, do you know what kind of what it’s delivering in terms of ROI? You know, it’s delivering in terms of in terms of metrics around around your business case?

Nic Cole 12:18
Yeah, for sure. I mean, similarly to the kind of numbers I mentioned earlier, the sheer footfall going through the virtual door is one, I mean, the exposure we’re getting there is fantastic. But I think ultimately, Martin, the key thing here is we’re able to pipeline, talent coming through the door now. So you know, those that have expressly given us permission to hold on to their their contact details, we now have got those on a database, which we can now reach out to with various information, data, they’ve obviously got an open door to us now, should they have any questions about, you know, future careers at the firm, and I think that’s really the biggest success, you know, we have, you know, a wonderful list now of engaged individuals that we can reach out to as and when that’s, as I mentioned, it’s a long game, but it just opened this up. So we’re not expecting any of these individuals to come through the door anytime soon, because they’re effectively school leaders. So but as I say, what we will do now is it’s all in all form part of our engagement strategy, to ensure that, you know, we are keeping in contact, keeping communication, ensuring that the Dentons remains, you know, very firmly at the top of their list, should they want to pursue a career in law, of course. So, so yeah, so I think that’s that, ultimately excess metrics that are beyond that are unknown yet, because we haven’t seen anyone come through, but that’s because it’s so early in its implementation, but I’m sure that will follow.

Martyn Redstone 13:52
Fantastic. Well, that’s, that should really be the point of work experience, and internships and all these kind of pieces around starting that long term relationship as early as you can in there in that cycle. So that’s fantastic to hear. I was gonna ask a question about about pipelining. But But you’ve answered that fantastically. Anyway. So thank you very much. So in terms of in terms of the success of the programme, are you thinking about what happens next? Are you thinking about iterating it any further? So yes, so what happens next? Where are you going next with your, with your work experience programmes?

Nic Cole 14:33
Well, I think what we’ll do is we’ll we’ll let this run. As I said, we’re only a few months in we’ll continue to gather feedback. And I think over time, we’ll finesse will it will evolve. We certainly it was certainly will not remain the same way we’ll think of new case studies and other sort of individuals to contribute to the platform. We’ve got a whole host of video content on there from various people around the firm industry. themselves introducing the firm that will change. Dentons is very progressive and its outlook and its strategy, the firm is constantly evolving itself. So we need to ensure that that is maintained and kept up to date, we’ve mentioned around the pipelining. So we’re sure that our strategy in terms of the outreach and longer term engagements is there. And that’s one we’re kind of developing as we go. And ultimately, then I think, Martin, it will be then looking at the recruitment of those individuals going forward. And what we’re looking at the moment is the implementation of sqp, which again, is another step forward in the legal space in terms of looking at the inclusivity, opening up the sector, to as many people as possible. So, so that may well form part of the kind of the work experience lifecycle, if you like, from kind of grassroots all the way through to university students. So we’re really excited about what I mean, the journey that we’re on at the moment, as I say that it will continue to evolve depends on where the firm goes in which direction we go in, year on year, and we’ll make sure that we we adapt that accordingly.

Martyn Redstone 16:11
That’s fantastic. And you mentioned earlier about advertising on campus and, and colleges and things like that. So and this is what I’m really interested in, obviously, the legal sector can be quite competitive from a talent perspective, because obviously, you have, you know, the, the wider regarding magic circle, and all those kinds of things going on in the legal sector. So you’re obviously now almost, I’m thinking advertising almost all year round now, because it’s just a continuous programme that people can jump into whenever they want to. How are you? How are you in terms of your your recruitment, marketing, your employer branding? How are you standing out in that quiet competitive field? In the in the legal industry?

Nic Cole 16:56
Yeah, that’s a really good question. Because as I mentioned earlier, law firms can just be white noise. Lots of you know, look at us, you know, we’re all about the people, we’re all about our culture, and you know, you do tend to hear the same straplines. And, and one of the key words is being different, we’re different, everyone’s different. Which is, which is great, but we didn’t want to be different. We wanted to think about how we can actually, you know, differentiate ourselves. I’ve never said that. To actually we’ve just refreshed all of our marketing campaign, because we did have, why is Dentons different before it was like, No, that’s got to go. So we actually reimagined ourselves. And as a, as I was explaining earlier, around Dentons, being very progressive in terms of its approach and being quite dynamic, and agile, in terms of how it delivers its services and interact with its clients, we kind of needed something to kind of talk to that, and sort of something, a kind of a brand or a message that would actually actually live and breathe as you come through the firm. So we’ve actually called out challenges accepted. And it’s all around, looking at demonstrating Dentons to be really wanting people to come through that wants to challenge the status quo that don’t just want to sit down and do a nine to five and, and just churn out work, you know, day in day out, it’s, it’s really about coming in thinking fresh, adding value, being a voice within an organisation and, and that’s kind of how we are positioning ourselves on campus. Now. You know, yes, we’re a law firm. Yes, we do law work, legal work. But you know, there’s an opportunity here for a few to come and have a wonderful career, meet some terrific people on the road, but my God, you’ll also have a true opportunity to really shape and scope the future of law, repentance. And that’s the message that, you know, has, we’ve been putting out on campus for a couple of years now. And I think it’s really resonated with those that have been, you know, kind of engaged with it, it’s not for everyone, and that’s fine. You know, we’re not trying to appeal to everyone because, you know, we want people that wants to challenge the status quo, if you want to do you know, just go in and do your day job fine. There’s definitely a place for that. But you know, that’s the kind of the message that we wanted to put out. And what’s been really quite exciting about that is it we’re now living and breathing that, you know, the whole challenges. Brand is played through all of our recruitments now actually, into the firm itself, and, and whilst we initially adopted it in the UK, I’m delighted to say that the strap line has now been taken global. So it’s something right. Yeah. So that’s a very long winded way to kind of explain how we’re trying to stand out or or put our heads above the parapet by by appealing to those that wants to become part of something and actually add value to that.

Martyn Redstone 19:59
Now That’s fantastic. And like I said, it’s not work experience where you’re just doing some photocopying, or, or fetching a tea and a coffee, you’re actually getting involved and, and working through the entire process from cradle to grave of, of what happens when you get a piece of work, or even you’re willing a piece of work in a law firm. So it’s totally different. Completely. So listen, last question, before we finish up. If you were to give any advice to somebody else within the time acquisition community around transforming their work experience programme, or indeed their early careers, strategy, or operations, what said what hints or tips would you give them?

Nic Cole 20:43
Wow, that is a big question. Make sure you take others on the journey with you. I think one of the things that was critical to our success was involving key stakeholders from very early stages. So you know, right through from conception to implementation to delivery, and, and getting input and hearing voices from all over not just from leadership, you know, we spoke to trainees, apprentices, future future trainees at the firm as well to run it were to kind of get a view and a sense, because I’m not a millennial. So I can’t think like a millennial, or even generations. So we needed to hear from that population, what’s going to appeal and be prepared to make mistakes, you know, if it doesn’t work fine, then then find another angle. But ultimately be true to your word. There is no point coming up with a strategy. strapline a brand if you can’t live and breathe it. No, that’s marketing. 101. But I mean, it’s absolutely true and critical, because, you know, if we’re trying to promote a challenger brand, and you know, you’re coming in and you’re doing that, that, that, that that, that that day job, that really isn’t offering you as you know, what we’re kind of promoting it to be then it’s, you know, it’s you’re in a hiding to nothing there. So, yeah, so that that will kind of that’s what worked for us. It might be different in other in other firms, but you know, listen, listen to people, do your research and make sure that you can live whatever brand strapline creation you come up with.

Martyn Redstone 22:23
That’s fantastic. That’s fantastic. Well, Nick, thank you so much joining me today, let’s be really really, really interesting. Listening to that that transformation story around your your work experience programme, wishing all the best for the future of the programme. I’m sure we’ll hear more about it in the future. But for now, Nick, thank you very much for your time.

Nic Cole 22:43
Thank you, Martin. Really appreciate it.

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