Winning Secrets: Citi's graduate recruitment and development strategy lauded for adapting to a pandemic-stricken world

Winning Secrets: Citi's graduate recruitment and development strategy lauded for adapting to a pandemic-stricken world

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As an organisation that prides itself on diversity, Citi introduced initiatives to attract students hailing from non-banking/business backgrounds to apply for its summer internship programme last year, resulting in one of its most diverse graduate cohorts ever.

With a gold win for Excellence in Graduate Recruitment and Development at HR Excellence Awards 2020, Singapore, Citi’s HR team has undertaken an integrated graduate talent approach built upon a cohesive business strategy.

In this interview, Ingrid D’lima, Citi’s APAC Head of Campus Recruitment and Program Management uncovers how the organisation views ROI and the importance of senior leadership walking the talk when it comes to placing the candidate at the core of the business.

Q What is your organisation’s winning HR strategy, and what are some milestones you’ve accomplished along this journey?

At Citi, we strive to create the best outcomes for our clients. In the same vein, our HR strategy for the recruitment of graduates mirrors this philosophy. We strive to focus on the candidates, their experience and needs, and ensuring that we are able to engage and support them through every step of their journey and even before they become candidates.

A case in point -- as an organisation that prides ourselves on our diversity, we introduced initiatives to attract students hailing from non-banking/business backgrounds to apply for our summer internship programme last year. To do that, we put ourselves in the shoes of these students, re-imagined our engagement and recruitment process end-to-end, and asked ourselves ‘How would I want to be supported if I applied to a Citi campus programme?’

With this at the back of our minds, we updated our engagement tactics and recruitment process. We achieved our first milestone late last year when we introduced a new assessment format centred on creativity and logical thinking rather than financial expertise, to level the playing field for students regardless of their academic backgrounds.

Shortly after that, to update our engagement approach, we launched a self-paced Virtual Reality Intern Experience programme – think an internship in the style of Degreed/Coursera – open to all students in Singapore and across the globe to give them a taste of what we do in banking. At the same time, students get to pick up real skills and knowledge to boost their confidence.

We are proud to say that with these initiatives, we welcomed one of the most diverse cohorts for our 2020 summer programme, comprising talented students hailing from over 100 academic disciplines across Asia Pacific.

How has this strategy helped you achieve your HR priorities, and what role has the leadership played in helping make this a reality?

Putting the candidate at the heart of our strategy isn’t just a theoretical exercise for us. Our global leadership team makes sure this strategy is translated into action by setting the tone from the top.

Most recently, right at the onset of COVID-19, our leaders made a global decision to provide guaranteed return full-time offers to all Citi Class-of-2020 summer interns in selected markets (including Singapore), as long as they met minimum internship requirements. This was in recognition of the many uncertainties that interns are currently facing as well as to reassure them about their role at Citi and our commitment to their careers.

Unexpected roadblocks are part and parcel of executing any initiative. What were some of the barriers that you and your team experienced while rolling this out, and how did you successfully get past them?

The biggest roadblock any organisation could have possibly faced this year is COVID-19, and at Citi it was no different. The pandemic threw us the biggest curveball by derailing our plans – plans that have almost become routine and in place for years – for our Summer Analyst (Internship) programme.

For Singapore, the Circuit Breaker meant that none of our interns could even step into our office, much less meet or interact with Citibankers and fellow interns; everything had to go virtual. Truly in the spirit of embracing uncertainty, the Campus team went back to the drawing board, upended the traditional internship model, and conceptualised a pandemic-appropriate model for internships. I’m glad to say we successfully turned this challenge into an opportunity to innovate.

Taking advantage of this virtual-only model, we introduced a brand new element to our Consumer Banking internship – a regional virtual case-competition that allowed our interns to collaborate with their counterparts across our APAC markets and generate new business ideas that were not only appropriate for Singapore, but across the region as well.

As evidenced by the win, this initiative clearly delivered some amazing results. What was your gameplan for measuring ROI? What are some proud achievements you can share with us on this front?

We see ROI in two ways: impact on the candidates and value to the business.

For the former, in our post-internship satisfaction survey, our interns rated us highly across all indicators of satisfaction – beginning from the interview process; onboarding; training; and their buddies and mentors.

As for the latter, other than having successfully welcomed one of the most diverse cohorts we have ever seen through our (virtual) doors, in Singapore, we also saw one of the highest full-time return-offer acceptance rates at over 90%. This is a big win for the business.

Given the talent war, how is Citi constantly innovating its graduate development and recruitment strategy to keep up with industry transformation and market needs?

By watching and by listening. This means constantly keeping our eyes on the market, but at the same time, putting our ears on the ground and listening for feedback from our primary stakeholders: the analysts and the business. There is no one-size-fits-all approach in graduate recruitment and development – not across industries, within industries, or even within the same company – and at Citi we are cognizant of that. To be ahead of the curve, we strive to be in-sync with our stakeholders and align our early-talent strategy with the business’ and graduates’ needs as they both evolve.

One way we’re doing this is to get our analysts more involved in shaping and steering their own programme by getting them to drive conversations and new initiatives for the programme. An engaged and participative analyst cohort ensures that the programme can pre-empt, respond to, and evolve along with industry needs in a sustainable fashion.

At Citi we believe in enabling progress in the communities that we operate in – and this is no different from how we operate internally. Empowering the analysts to steer their own programme is a reflection of this ethos. After all, if you give a man a fish, he eats for a day; if you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.

Photo / 123RF

Read more interviews on why organisations have won trophies for their HR practices - head over to our Winning Secrets' section! 

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