Case studies

The Crown Prosecution Service revitalised its employer brand and became a star hirer

23 Jan 2020 By Elizabeth Howlett

An unfavourable image and the inability to compete with private sector salaries meant the organisation had to rethink how it attracted talent

The problem 

They say any publicity is good publicity. But how does an organisation attract talent when its only brand visibility comes from negative news? This was the challenge faced by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), which was “rarely in the news for good reasons”, according to head of strategic workforce planning Jamie Booth. 

A six-year external recruitment freeze resulted in a 30 per cent reduction in headcount – with barristers and solicitors in high demand. A combination of an unfavourable image and the inability to compete with private sector salaries forced the CPS to take action. 

Attracting the best recruits without the corresponding paycheque is a talent sourcing paradox for even the most stalwart of recruiters. “There was no visibility in the market because the CPS had been out of it for so long,” says Booth. “We were also conscious that even if we did have visibility, it’s not the first choice in the legal sector because of negative connotations.” 

Its outdated recruitment process needed to be remedied, as it struggled with a high candidate attrition rate and longer than average time to hire. This was a triple threat.

The solution 

Together with an outsourced partner, the team talked to external lawyers to gauge perceptions, and existing staff to understand what dissuaded them from taking more financially rewarding positions. “The non-pay benefits were the selling point,” explains Sarah Wainwright, head of senior team HR. “We can’t compete [with the private sector] in terms of pay, but we can compete with the type of legal work that potential candidates may not get the opportunity to do in private practice.”

The CPS created a new employee value proposition (EVP) to communicate the broader benefits as part of a wider aim to change the brand perception of the organisation. The EVP championed the work of CPS lawyers by avoiding sensationalism and telling “the right story”, says Wainwright. “Our lawyers describing their job satisfaction is probably the strongest message we could put out there.”  

Booth adds: “The work that attracts negative headlines is only a small part of the CPS, and highlighting that shows we have been very effective in the vast bulk of our prosecution work. It’s another way to counter negativity.” 

In 2019, the application process was replaced by a system that allowed a bespoke application process for each vacancy. It also added flexibility, enabling candidates to complete assessments and first-stage video interviews from home.

The outcome 

Since the creation of the EVP, the CPS’s social media visibility has increased, gaining 30 per cent more LinkedIn followers, with Twitter engagement up tenfold. This has led to a record number of apprenticeship candidates, meaning the CPS had, at one point, the highest proportion of apprentices – 180 – of any government department.

The organisation has filled more than 1,000 vacancies since the implementation of the revamped recruitment processes, and reached an average time to hire of 35 working days – seven fewer than the Civil Service average.

It also paved the way for the CPS to take home the prize for best resourcing initiative at the 2019 CIPD People Management Awards, with the judges commending it for having a “brave, clear strategic purpose” and producing excellent results.

Think you could follow in the CPS's footsteps? The 2020 CIPD People Management Awards are now open – visit for more information and to download an entry kit

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