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SOCIAL ENTREPRENEUR INDEX NOMINEE: SRS RECRUITMENT

We meet Sophie Milliken, Managing Director of SRS Recruitment and one of our nominees for Social Entrepreneur Index 2020 who says "By aligning your social passion with your business, you can do so much good!"


What does your social enterprise do?


We work with universities, students and employers to improve graduate employability and recruitment.


For universities, we are the leading UK provider of assessment simulations, run for groups of students from 20 up to over 3000. Our simulations can be stand-alone events or embedded within the curriculum. We create bespoke materials for each university and course. As a recent example, The University of Lincoln thanked us “for providing a well-organised, valuable experience” and a student said ‘I found the experience extremely helpful and I'm now more confident about assessment centres as a result’”


For employers, we design assessment materials and support their recruitment process. We designed an assessment centre for M&S who rated us as “excellent” for both the quality of the materials we designed and the quality, professionalism and attitude of our people. 100% of our clients would recommend us to other organisations.


What made you start your business up?

I wanted to support organisations and individuals to realise their potential. With a background in graduate recruitment, I felt that I was in a strong position to particularly help students. Therefore, we work with universities to create opportunities for the students to practise and prepare for the graduate recruitment process.


How do you measure your impact?


We evaluate impact by reviewing the number of placements or graduate jobs secured by students after taking part in our events. For example, our work with the Manchester Fashion Institute meant that 40% of their cohort secured full time, yearlong paid placements compared to 10% of students across the university.


We also survey the students anonymously to show the increase to their confidence and knowledge of the graduate recruitment process. For example, we work with the University of Hertfordshire to deliver an assessment centre experience to over 3000 students whose overall confidence levels increased by 44%.


What help did you have to start your social enterprise?


In the early years, we had some ERDF funding to support specific growth projects to do with the website and marketing. I was lucky that anyone I reached out to for advice and support was forthcoming. I now try to do the same for others starting out, as a way of paying it forward.


Much of the help I had was in the form of guidance and advice. It was helpful to have a solid group of business buddies that were there whenever I needed specific support and to maintain morale when things were more challenging. How did you decide on what legal form would work best for your business?


The advice from the accountant was to set up as a limited company.


What’s the best thing about being a social entrepreneur?


We help to level the playing field and ensure that every student has the same opportunity to learn and practise for the graduate recruitment process. I never lose sight of the individual and I enjoy the challenge of having to adapt our model to different needs and circumstances.


Personally, I take a lot of pride in improving the career prospects of thousands of students who go on to share their success stories with us. Their positive feedback keeps on driving us forward, “I really enjoyed the different exercises that we were presented with and the in-depth, personalised feedback that I received was incredibly constructive and invaluable.”

What have been the three biggest challenges that you have overcome (or that you’re still working on)?


-  Adapting to the challenge of COVID-19 and very quickly having to move our proposition online. We rose to the challenge and created a series of digital solutions that provide a very engaging experience for students. This includes digital assessment centres, online coaching, free webinars and an online employability course.


- Catering to sometimes very small budgets from our clients. I’m determined that our services should be accessible and affordable for all universities, therefore we have to make sure that we can provide a range of options, such as training their own team to deliver the events instead of us. Our main motivation comes from helping students, and so we always offer a lot of additional free resources.


- The scale of our events has sometimes been a difficult process to manage, because despite catering for up to 3000 students – we still focus on that personal touch. Therefore, I had to quickly build up a team of associates and implement new tech to help us meet this challenge.


What advice would you give to aspiring social entrepreneurs?


Find your tribe – other entrepreneurs with a similar mindset! They don’t have to be in the same sector as you but they do need to share your values. I find social entrepreneurs tend to be well-connected – someone always knows someone – which is super helpful when starting out. Set goals and make yourself accountable by sharing these with your colleagues and/or your tribe. Finally, just crack on!


Why do you think social enterprise is important?


Social enterprise is important, because it is a business with a useful purpose, creating equal opportunities for everyone and with a positive impact on different communities.  If all businesses were social enterprises, more of the world’s problems could be solved while also providing employment for many – a win/win.


What’s been your most rewarding experience as a social entrepreneur?


There have been many! I would say overall, it’s any feedback we receive from students about how our assessment centre simulations have increased their confidence. So many of my Linkedin connections are with students and graduates who continue to update me on their success stories, having secured placements or graduate jobs.


What information sources would you recommend (books, websites, organisations?) to help someone just starting their social enterprise journey?


Anything that inspires you! I find a lot of books inspiring, particularly a good autobiography and there are so many out there now. Have a good rummage in your local book shop or on amazon and read something that grabs your attention.


What’s been the most surprising thing about creating a social enterprise?


I think probably how popular social enterprises have become. The term is everywhere now and you see many entrepreneurs using their profile and business to promote positive change and action.


What are your plans for the next 2-5 years?


-  We always keep abreast of changes in the graduate labour market and ensure that our services reflect the needs of our clients. The chance to practise a realistic employer assessment centre is a fundamental part of the experience we provide to students, and so with COVID-19 having moved graduate recruitment online – we will continue to expand on our digital solutions. - We have also recently become part of the Careerpass Network, a fully integrated talent solutions platform that offers industry-leading creative and tailored employability services. As part of this, we have more scope to have an impact on the graduate recruitment industry – creating more opportunities for employers, universities and students to work together.


- I’m writing my second book, The Ambition Accelerator. This book is aimed at young women who want to progress their careers either within organisations or as entrepreneurs. I’ve interviewed some hugely inspiring and successful women so far and am excited about the impact this book could have on the careers of young women.


What is the biggest change you would like to see in the world?


A big question with many potentially amazing answers! One change I would like to see that is specific to what we do, would be for every university in the UK to embed employability within the curriculum. This would be an especially positive step towards levelling the playing field for students from widening participation backgrounds and ultimately improving social mobility.


What have been your three proudest moments as a social entrepreneur?

  • Securing a contract with the University of Hertfordshire to run our assessment centre simulation programme for over 3000 students per year from 9 different schools. A fantastic opportunity to have an even bigger, positive impact on the career prospects of different student cohorts.

  • Sharing my business journey on stage in Birmingham where I delivered my TEDX talk in March 2020, ‘The truth behind the showreel’. This was a very honest account of how I overcame personal difficulties to become an award-winning entrepreneur, and the importance of saying ‘yes’ to any opportunities that come your way. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=woZ_d3WTtR4

  • I wrote my first book, ‘From Learner to Earner’ which is a recruitment insider’s guide for students wanting to achieve graduate job success. I was very proud to reach best seller status and the subsequent contact from students saying the book helped them get a job.

What would you say to encourage more entrepreneurs to consider the social impact of their businesses?


Everyone has a social issue they are enthusiastic about. By aligning your social passion with your business, you can do so much good!


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