Case Study: HMV’s Hiring is Top of the Pops

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HMV, the UK’s specialist retailer of music, DVDs and games, is using a retail-specific psychometric assessment to help select candidates for its graduate training programme.

Developed by PSL, the ‘three-in-one’ assessment comprises verbal and numerical reasoning tests and a personality questionnaire. It gives HMV an in-depth understanding of each candidate and it prompts interviewers to ask probing questions about their strengths and weaknesses.

The issue
To further its position as ‘top dog’ for music, DVDs and games, HMV opens 25 new stores each year. Such rapid expansion creates a broad range of career opportunities and the company prefers to fill these positions internally. Nearly all of its store managers have been promoted after completing structured development and fast track programmes.

To attract young people with high potential, HMV has developed a graduate training programme. It recruits up to 50 graduate managers annually, at intakes in April and September, with the incentive that they can be promoted to an assistant manager after 12 months and to a store manager in two-three years.

The action
Not surprisingly, the company receives around 3,500 applications for these intakes. To ensure it gets the right people, HMV has developed a comprehensive selection process.

“The graduate scheme is crucial to the business, it’s where we take on the majority of our store managers for the future,” said Tony Varchione, HMV’s Divisional HR Manager (South), who was previously the company’s Recruitment Manager. “We get a huge volume of applications and we need to sort through them to find the candidates with the right personal qualities and attributes.”

Sifting the candidates
All graduate applicants apply online through a dedicated website. The online application form provides a first-level screening stage, as it helps to sift out candidates who do not have previous retail or customer service experience.

For each intake, HMV’s HR managers create a shortlist of around 380 candidates who are interviewed in stores nationwide, by an HR manager and an operations regional or training store manager. Ninety candidates are then invited to take part in an assessment centre.

HMV runs a series of day-long assessment centres twice a year at its national training centre in Nottingham, where its recruitment, regional and field-based HR managers assess around 18 candidates per day.

The participants undertake a group exercise, an individual ‘in-tray’ exercise, a presentation and a job-specific psychometric assessment: PSL’s Branch Manager Questionnaire (BMQ).

Retail-focused assessment
Developed through job analysis and branch manager profiling, the BMQ is an easy-to-use assessment, specifically designed for branch managers in retail, leisure and hospitality environments. It comprises 15-minute verbal and numerical reasoning tests and a 20-minute personality questionnaire which assesses seven factors:

  • achievement orientation
  • calmness
  • empathy
  • influence
  • rule orientation
  • structure
  • social desirability

“We used to use general verbal and numerical reasoning exercises but we felt these weren’t specific enough,” comments Varchione. “We reviewed products from several test providers, to find something more retail-focused. The numerical reasoning test has elements such as analysing sales figures, so it is much more relevant to the role we’re recruiting for.”

The BMQ is designed to provide an in-depth understanding of a person and their characteristics. Paper-based, it features a re-usable question booklet and single-use answer sheets. The verbal and numerical tests are scored on a computer.

“The BMQ has the best exercises and the right feel for what we are trying to achieve on the assessment day,” added Varchione. “It gives us good quality information to base decisions on and it is also much easier to administer.”

Interview support
HMV’s assessors use the whole day’s exercises and the feedback sheets and profiles of individuals from the BMQ to select 30 candidates for a final interview, with the head of HR and a divisional manager.

“Another advantage of the BMQ is that it creates an ‘interview guide’ for each candidate, based on their responses to the personality questionnaire,” said Tony Varchione. “This is helpful for the final interviews as it focuses on each person’s strengths and weaknesses and prompts the interviewer to ask probing questions to check specific skills.”

After these interviews, the successful candidates are appointed onto the graduate programme.

Achieving targets
HMV is conscious that its schedule for new store openings depends on the success of its graduate recruitment process.

“We have to recruit quality graduates and bring them through the business to meet the manpower requirements of our expansion programme,” said Varchione.

“There’s a direct link between the materials we use for assessment and the decisions we make, so PSL’s BMQ plays a part in helping us meet this critical recruitment need.”

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