How the pandemic has changed graduate recruitment: Preparing students for a changed & changing landscape

Image credit: Christina Morello

Lucy Everett, Employer Engagement manager at the Careers Service, offers an overview of how the COVID-19 pandemic has utterly transformed the relationship between students, employers, and careers services. How have these stakeholders responded to the rise of virtual recruitment? This post is part of the Learning & Teaching Enhancement Series: Careers and Employability.

Before the pandemic, lots of the attraction and recruitment for interns and graduate roles would happen on university campuses. During the pandemic, this moved online, as all of our work did. Many employers furloughed their recruitment teams in the short term, and restructured towards more digital marketing content to reflect the reality of the scenarios we were living through with limitations to in person activity. From the University Careers side, we also re-invented how we facilitated connections between students and industry: using platforms like EventsAir to create online Careers Fairs. Employers moved to entirely virtual selection with online assessment centres and interviews. Lots of investment, and re-skilling, saw real successes in these new ways of working.

So, what does graduate recruitment and selection look like now?

Employers have seen clear benefits to staffing and travel budgets in being able to reach out across multiple university student cohorts from the comfort of their offices. Delivering recruitment presentations and application advice online enables companies to make these sessions more accessible to a wider pool of students (a significant bonus with diversity being a priority for a lot of firms) and cuts down on travel costs and time.

Some organisations are staying majority online. Some, like PWC, have invested in building virtual environments for recruitment and careers engagement. And in the legal sector, lots of employers are using third parties to help them connect with students.

Smaller and lesser-known organisations have struggled to ‘stand out’ amongst the plethora of activity online. And many employers have described how they have missed the opportunity to meet students in person during internships or final interviews before they offer them the job. Some have quickly reverted to in-person networking dinners or inviting candidates to their offices for insight tours or interviews.

How have students been responding to this?

Like all of us, students have loved and hated having so much content delivered online. For some, it helped being able to watch employer presentations on ‘catch up’, and it increased desire to look for a job that allows flexible working or working from home.

However, for others it increased anxiety and isolation. In the most recent Cibyl survey, our students reported experiencing virtual fatigue, and finding virtual attraction and recruitment campaigns less personal or engaging (and more so than their peers at other UK institutions).

Over the last few years, the demand from students for ‘help to identify where to start’ has increased, implying the breadth of online opportunities has been overwhelming for many. They want us to help them sift through the plethora of activities to find those relevant for them.

Students strongly prefer face-to-face or live interviews, compared to recorded interviews or virtual assessment centres. The jury is still out on various psychometric tests, with some enjoying situational judgement or numerical and verbal reasoning. But, overall, the focus on strengths-based aptitude chimes with our students, an interesting point in the context of current curriculum transformation conversations.

How do we help?

The Careers Service are responding to these diverse push-pull factors by curating a blend of online and in-person activity. Our Discover Careers flagship event in Week 2 is designed to help students find where to start by introducing them to all things careers, and the potential to meet 126 employers over 3 days, in person, at McEwan Hall. There are Career Essentials online talks threaded through the year, alongside thematic campaigns to give labour market insights into cross-sectoral themes, for example: ‘social good’, ‘sustainability’, ‘tech and data’, and ‘creative and cultural’. And much more besides.

What does the future hold?

The 2022/23 academic year will be another year of learning for us all:

  • How will students find getting to grips with balancing their schedules to accommodate both in-person and online activity?
  • Will employers who choose to remain exclusively online still reach the breadth of applicants from afar?
  • Will businesses that choose to come onto campus feel that the benefit of standing out from the virtual noise outweighs the time and costs?
  • And, for university Careers Services, how will we balance responding to both, and using all we have learnt, to facilitate connections between students and industry?

I, for one, am looking forward to seeing how it goes, what we learn, and how we continue to evolve in this new working environment!


5 biggest student recruitment trends of 2021 | ISE Knowledge hub

Cibyl survey

Discover Careers flagship event

Access our knowledge and our expertise | The University of Edinburgh

Lucy Everett

Lucy heads up the Employer Engagement team at the Careers Service. She is passionate about helping students find the right employer fit for them, and future work that will help them bounce out of bed in the morning. She oversees all careers-related student-industry interactions, and works with employers from all sectors and all parts of the world. The Careers Service organise 7 large Careers Fairs, 5 smaller scale events, and 100s of employer presentations and skills sessions. They also advertise around 10,000 vacancies annually. Lucy is also The University of Edinburgh representative in the Joined Up For Business network in Edinburgh, a member of the ISE Scotland and the North group, and co-chair of the AGCAS Employer Engagement Task Group, responsible for sharing best practice amongst employer engagement professionals UK-wide.

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