Campus Recruiting in a Remote Work World

As recruiters start to realize that virtual hiring stands to massively expand their talent pool, the future of campus hiring is set to permanently change.

Kanika Sharma
February 2, 2022

Last year, employers attended 48 career fairs on average and nearly half of all full time college hires resulted from interviews conducted on campus. 

Those numbers are likely to look very different in 2020, as both career centers at colleges and campus recruiters scramble to find alternatives to hiring processes that have long been the norm.

This year has certainly placed lofty demands on HR folk, only 16% of whom report that they feel prepared to transition to fully virtual recruitment and onboarding programs. 

Despite the rise in remote meetings, recruiters at smaller firms are hamstrung by budgets that don’t allow for the best digital tools to manage virtual hiring and are resorting to keeping track of virtual interviews as best they can using Excel, Google Sheets and e-mail. Worse still, new employees and interns who are onboarded online struggle to feel like part of the team and the onus of engaging them often falls to the same busy HR manager.  

“Preliminary results of our Job Outlook survey for 2021 show that 46% of employer respondents plan to recruit 100% virtually this fall and next spring,” says Andrea Koncz, Research Manager at the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).

“It’s really created a lot of challenges for colleges and employers, because they don’t have that face-to-face contact at career fairs.”

Data from NACE Coronavirus Quick Poll June 2020

Because of the impact to the economy, many employers are also still deciding whether to recruit from campus as usual.

Ryan Edmonds, Director of Employer Relations at Connecticut College said the college has moved away from traditional career fairs and is directly liaising with recruiters.

“We work with a group of high-profile employers to set-up interview days for students to apply and get pre-selected to participate in. As of today, we are seeing a sharp decline in recruiter participation, due to unknown hiring priorities at this time. It remains to be seen how recruiters will change their interview process, outside of substituting video conferencing for in-person meetings.” 

How can recruiters navigate hiring and onboarding students in a remote work world? Recognizing that COVID19 is a trigger point for massive innovation in talent acquisition is key. 

Approaches that have served HR managers for years are quickly becoming redundant and solutions such as the opening up of permanently remote roles, which previously seemed unworkable, are now becoming more attractive.

Many recruiters are beginning to realize that being open to remote work in the long term stands to massively expand their talent pool. Companies are also realizing the advantages of having employees log in to work from different time zones.

When hiring students for internships and full time roles, filtering resumes to target candidates that already have remote work experience could be very beneficial to companies. 

Recruiters and managers will find it far easier to work with students who already have experience being part of remote teams, because they are more likely to have built essential skills like communicating virtually, using remote work tools and engaging in work-from-home practices that boost productivity. 

Further, recruiters are no longer restricted to hiring from campuses that they usually travel in person to. We know that in 2019 nearly 99% of employers recruited from traditional four year universities. But it has long been a practice for employers in big cities like San Francisco and New York to recruit from universities closest to their offices; this might finally be the year that puts campuses in obscure locations on par with their counterparts in the cities when it comes to attracting big employers.

“COVID has caused companies to go from the mindset of, ‘let’s focus our hiring resources on these select schools’, to ‘let’s think bigger!’,” says Jerry Lee, COO of career coaching startup Wonsulting and former senior Strategy & Operations Manager at Google.

“This is a great opportunity for career centers at smaller schools to take advantage of and really prepare their students to stand out in the recruiting process.”

Susie Krueger, a recruiter from Zillow, said the company is redefining it’s interview process and switching to a completely virtual format. Aside from devoting time to online campus fairs, it is also exploring new ways to engage students, including by running a remote externship program with Paragon One to attract and assess potential candidates.

“We hire interns every year and the intern class becomes the funnel for new talent. With the Paragon One project, we’ve been able to take a hands off approach on the day-to-day management of the remote externs, but we still get to peek at the students’ work product and then funnel them into interviews before hiring season even officially starts.”

With a rise in remote internships and other virtual experiential learning experiences for students triggered by COVID19, employers are starting to realize that there are more effective ways of assessing student talent than taking up managers’ time reading through a pile of resumes.

By finding better ways to engage with universities and help them understand what skills recruiters are looking for, employers can actually make sure that higher education plays a bigger role in training students to learn skills they actually need on the job.

Jerry Lee, COO of career coaching startup Wonsulting and former senior Strategy & Operations Manager at Google, believes that for experiential learning to truly work, companies have to work with schools to integrate these opportunities into their academic curriculum.

“While schools give students a foundation, companies know that it is the work experience component that helps students translate that knowledge into actionable skills that are relevant in the job force. Soft skills like how to send an email to a vice president or how to create an effective presentation can only be learned through experience.”

What does the future look like?

While it’s too early to tell what remote work practices will stick long after the pandemic, it is safe to say that many aspects of recruiting will permanently change.

“I think employers have a lot more flexibility when interviewing and hiring if they aren’t travelling physically to campuses, because they can meet a lot more students virtually,” Koncz said.

“I don’t know if they’ll ever entirely shift back to going on campus and interviewing in person. It will probably end up being a combination of both virtual and campus hiring.”

Kanika Sharma

Kanika is a growth marketer on some days & copywriter on others. When she is not working on marketing campaigns, you’ll find her in a coffee shop reading a classic.

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