When Will Campuses Reopen? Your COVID-19-Proof Autumn Recruiting Plan

August 3, 2020

Thanks to the novel coronavirus, the recruiting landscape is rapidly evolving. With travel at a near halt, it’s looking doubtful that any of us will be traveling on a plane or train any time soon—let alone during the autumn recruiting season. This leaves employers with an on-campus recruitment team they’ve typically relied on to visit their core universities and connect with candidates face to face.

Employers are uncertain about what’ll happen this autumn recruiting season.

Will universities return to normal, welcoming hordes of students back into the classroom? Or is this all-virtual landscape something we should get used to? If so, what’ll our on-campus representatives do now? During this time of uncertainty, questions run deep (Handshake’s Katie Mooney offers a few answers).

If things don’t quite go back to normal—which is looking increasingly likely—evolving in the new landscape will require employers, students, and universities to go through an exploration phase to preempt any downfalls. Higher education institutions are proposing a myriad of solutions for how they’ll open up campuses come autumn, with universities around the world adopting entirely virtual classrooms.

Meanwhile, 6 in 10 employers report that they plan on visiting fewer universities this autumn, with some choosing not to go back at all, according to a recent Handshake employer survey. What this means for recruiting teams is the need for a contingency plan that incorporates an entirely different autumn recruiting approach from the one they’ve relied on.

With traditional solutions simply not cutting it anymore, employers are looking for an approach to recruiting that incorporates interest from their qualified talent pools without sacrificing the engagement they typically receive on campus.

One thing is certain: this autumn recruiting season is going to be the most atypical these early talent teams have experienced yet, and ultimately, employers will need to adopt a strategy that responds to the plans of students and higher ed institutions. As early talent recruiting teams work through their questions around autumn recruiting, we encourage you to adopt this six step COVID-19-proof contingency plan as part of your recruiting playbook.

1. Move beyond your core universities approach this autumn recruiting season

If you’ve traditionally relied on recruiting from universities in your backyard, or hopping on a flight to meet students in-person, you might want to reconsider. Employers who do  travel might not be familiar with the new experience—auditoriums and arenas turned into lecture halls, athletics teams playing in empty stadiums, and a completely different career fair with limited capacity and physical contact. Plus, fewer passenger flights and a pandemic that’s cost the airline industry billions is sure to send travel costs upward.

Higher education institutions are considering 15 possible scenarios for returning students this autumn—from delaying start dates to remaining fully virtual and just about everything in between, such as a HyFlex model which supplements virtual coursework with in-person classes to limit the number of students physically on campus.

Employers, too, should consider that this autumn recruiting season will not be the same. And the golden age of on-campus events may be over, at least for now. Instead of reusing travel and entertainment budgets to fly your team and company representatives out to your partner universities, take this opportunity to recognize that qualified talent exists everywhere online.

There are more than more than 100 universities across the United Kingdom. Surely, there must be qualified candidates in the universities beyond your core list. Handshake Premium partner, Under Armour, for example, approached this strategy by expanding their small team’s recruiting presence from a few universities close to their Baltimore, MD headquarters to more than 850 universities across the United States—a 35x increase from their original approach.

University students and recent grads represent your future leaders with the right backgrounds and skills to match the talent profiles you’re looking for. As a result, they are more diverse than the students you typically engage with in your backyard or at your core universities.

2. Proactively find candidates that match your talent profiles

To proactively find candidates regardless of geography, tap into qualified talent from Handshake’s network. Identify your talent profiles first. If you’re hiring a product manager, for example, you’ll want to look for talent with a background in business and skills such as project management and interpersonal communication.

By moving away from your core universities approach, you can reach students you otherwise wouldn’t have met in person. A public university in Virginia, like George Mason University (this content marketer’s alma mater), might have a pretty good writer, but be located in a location you typically don’t recruit from.

The coronavirus pandemic has forced us all to consider new ways of working. Thanks to the technology students rely on to find their first or second jobs, you don’t have to sacrifice fit for location. Why not then consider the core recruiting model broken, and leverage this opportunity to be even more connected with talent—regardless of where they go to school or who they know?

On Handshake, you can filter from our network of active students to tap into talent this autumn by location, course, minor, skills, background, demographic or minority groups, and more. Try the filter out yourself by signing up or logging into your account on Handshake. From there, you can activate your list of talent attributes to yield the number of qualified students you’re now able to reach from universities all over the country, without stepping foot on campus.

Financial institutions, like M&T Bank, are already using Handshake to meaningfully and scalably connect with talent from over 655 partner universities and counting. The students they now reach are more qualified and have demonstrated an interest in living or relocating to their headquarters in Buffalo, NY. Learn how M&T Bank engages untapped pools, regardless of where they live.

3. Restructure your on-campus teams to engage early talent online

Once you’ve found the right students, the next step is to connect with them personally and proactively by repurposing your on-campus talent team. Students are understandably anxious during this time, so make sure your team effectively communicates how you’re handling the situation and supporting your employees through and through. These on-campus representatives have the right skills to be successful here.

As mentioned in the last section, your team can seamlessly personalize their outreach to students based on personal attributes, such as school name and skills. Remember, this team thrives on building connections, which is why you spend budget to fly them out to campuses to build quality connections with students in the first place.

If they typically give out swag at a table or booth, have them send qualified talent they’ve built meaningful relationships with a box of swag and a handwritten note in the mail. Keep in mind that your swag choices should represent the current climate—candidates might value a journal, hand sanitizer, t-shirt, or tool to help them be more productive remotely over a tote bag, sunglasses, or umbrella. Students will no doubt enjoy receiving a token of appreciation from you during this time.

Don’t risk the health of your team by sending them to career fairs. Instead, send the career fairs to them. Your on-campus representatives can help host, facilitate, or moderate your virtual events this autumn, which we’ll cover next.

4. Shift your on-campus events to virtual events, info sessions, and panels

Your on-campus presence is typically your bread and butter. These events are offered over two seasons twice a year, and you savor the experience of giving students unique insight into your company. It’s not only an opportunity where students get to learn about your offerings and the values you stand for, but to see and feel these values in person.

During this disruptive period, creativity is needed. Consider the time it takes to equip your on-campus representatives to secure travel and logistics for their events. They then travel to these campuses, and spend hours on end connecting with students from all backgrounds —many of whom aren’t necessarily the right fit. They board another plane and do it all again.

While there’s no surefire way to replicate visual cues exchanged in-person, you can cut costs this autumn by replicating many components of in-person engagement to a digital experience and still generate meaningful interest from early talent.

Virtual events aren’t new—they’ve influenced employers like IBM to tap into candidates from underrepresented backgrounds, and remain obvious choices in engaging the emerging college talent generation, which grew up on technology, social media, and mobile phones.

Now that the coronavirus pandemic is forcing employers to go digital, virtual events are a critical component of your virtual recruiting toolkit. If you haven’t hosted one already, we strongly advise you host one soon. Why? Because by now, we know that the novel coronavirus isn’t going to stop disrupting life as we knew it anytime soon.

If students do return to campus, it won’t be the same. There will likely be a mix of those who do come back, and those who don’t. During the current spring recruiting season, employers have explored what it’s like to engage candidates virtually. And results from a recent Handshake survey show that 59% of employers plan on increasing digital engagement, including virtual events, during this time.

Over the last couple of months, these employers have tried and tested what it’s like to host virtual info sessions, diversity in leadership panels, office tours, or AMAs (aka ask-me-anything sessions).

They’ve taken this opportunity to explore a different landscape with a unique lens, and have incorporated data-driven feedback from the candidates who’ve attended their events, creating a better framework for how they plan to engage early talent this autumn.

Starting in August, you’ll be able to host and drive attendance to your virtual events entirely on Handshake, eliminating the need for multiple solutions and allowing you to optimize your candidate lifecycle from end to end.

5. Keep in touch with your partners in career services

Your relationship with your colleagues and family has likely shifted online. So, too, should your relationships with your career service center partners.

Keep in mind that your on-campus representatives are the face of your company and employer brand. They thrive on creating meaningful connections and relationships, so they’re more likely to relish the opportunity in fostering better engagement from your career services partners, too.

Invite these on-campus representatives to nurture your relationships with universities by creating online office hours, where career services professionals can come into a virtual call and ask questions. Curate a weekly or monthly newsletter to keep them in the loop on your evolving program, company culture events, and open jobs for early talent applicants.

You can also use this opportunity to survey them and incorporate data-driven feedback into both your program and communications. Our customer success teams at Handshake hold recurring calls with our Premium partners to ensure they’re making headway in their programs. Encourage your representatives to maintain regular virtual face-to-face meetings where they can better get to know each other’s unique challenges and solutions.

Another recurring virtual series we’re hosting here at Handshake brings together early talent leaders and professionals through virtual roundtables where they can sip coffee or taste wine from Napa, CA while getting to know one another better. Think outside the box to create a memorable experience that nurtures all of your connections during this time.

6. Allow your employer brand to work for you

Employer branding has come a long way in the last few decades. It used to be that potential candidates would only know your brand through its word-of-mouth reputation. Talent would then have to connect the dots to figure out what it might be like to work for you—looking up your leadership team or examining your latest advertising campaign.

But nowadays, there are multiple digital tools at employers’ fingertips to tell their company’s story. To do this well, companies need to build out their brand presence in multiple places—first, on their own websites, where some job seekers may look, but also on verticalized job platforms, such as Handshake, where their target audience can be found.

At its core, your employer brand is a reflection of your values. Whether you’re hiring early talent, pausing hiring, or engaging them through project-based work, showcase how you’re responding to hiring during COVID-19 through your employer brand. Students are looking to employers for support during this time, so the more clarity you can provide them with the better positioned you’ll be when the economy rebounds.

For many candidates, your employer brand is their first impression of you. By being transparent about your program, you can foster a greater sense of goodwill and create lasting positive associations from early talent with your employer brand—despite economic or environmental uncertainties.

Hubspot’s early talent career portal on its website is a good example of how to tell your story. Recent college graduates exploring their first or second job can access a wealth of information that can help them understand what a career at HubSpot might look like.

The company pairs its careers page with an “About” section on Handshake that describes the employer’s commitment to its employees. With Handshake Premium, HubSpot shares insights that help early talent get to know them, and are able to personalize their Employer Page to dynamically appeal to different talent segments.

If a marketing student visits their Handshake profile, for example, they’ll see testimonials and an up-to-date Q&A forum from marketers who’ve interviewed or worked at HubSpot. These resources tell a powerful story of how each individual contributes to the company’s core value propositions.

Next steps & takeaways

As you work through your autumn recruiting contingency plan, we invite you to take this opportunity to collaborate with leaders in early talent recruiting to learn how the rapidly changing landscape is evolving, and how your peers are adapting.

Whether you are hiring for the autumn recruiting season or not, employers all have a responsibility to meaningfully influence the next generation of rising innovators, and to explore engagement even in the smallest of ways. The silver lining here is that perhaps early talent recruiting, for the first time, will have no bounds or physical limitations.

Learn more about the virtual career fair and events product we’re building or get in touch with one of our experts to learn more about trends we’re seeing from employers, colleges, and students, and how you can better prepare for a autumn recruiting season that addresses the contingency plans of all of your stakeholders.