Employers Adopt Virtual Tools for Campus Recruiting

By Karen J. Bannan July 27, 2020
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​Every fall and spring, recruiters from Morristown, N.J.-based waste management company Covanta attend between 16 and 20 university career fairs. University recruiting specialist Chelsea Schumacher and her colleagues are looking for candidates for the company's early-career development program, as well as potential interns.

The pandemic put a stop to these efforts, though. This spring, Covanta, like other companies around the world, was left without direct access to students. Looking for an alternative way to connect with students and fill its jobs pipeline, Covanta is readying its own virtual college job fairs, Schumacher said.

"We will be doing a few different things to connect with college students in the fall. Covanta has partnered with Brazen, a virtual-event platform, so that we are able to host our own events and career fairs," she explained. "The great thing about these events is that we are able to connect students with the hiring teams in a quick and easy way."

The company is currently in the process of determining which universities will attend its virtual career fair, but the benefits are obvious right from the start, Schumacher said. "I actually believe having the benefit of hosting our own virtual events will help us connect more with students, as it gives us a chance to target universities that we have not attended in the past."

This may be the biggest benefit for the company's recruiting team, which was constrained by the number of schools team members could physically visit during a short spring recruiting session. Whereas recruiters may have once visited just a handful of upper-tier schools close to company headquarters, a virtual-recruiting platform widens the net, helping them to locate candidates across the country and around the world.

Cost savings is another big benefit of recruiting digitally, since companies don't have to pay to fly recruiters to various schools. Virtual recruiting events can also enable employers to strategically search for candidates and recruit based on actual need, rather than to line up candidates for jobs that might open later.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Staffing in Special Markets: College Students]

Entry-Level Needs

Moving from in-person to virtual events is crucial for organizations that are struggling to find candidates, said Blake Barnes, senior director of product management at LinkedIn.

"Our recent data found that there are still hundreds of thousands of entry-level jobs available across many different industries, with health care, retail and transportation having the most open entry-level roles for new grads," he said.

Virtual college fairs aren't the only option. On LinkedIn, HR managers are "sharing highlights about their company, mission and culture through virtual tours, videos or employee testimonials, as well as posting job openings so that students can easily know what roles are available within the companies they are interested in," he said.

Social media is a good venue to find students and set up job interviews. The 2020 Job Seeker Nation Report, produced by recruitment software firm Jobvite, found that nearly half (49 percent) of all surveyed job candidates under age 40 said they are finding job leads via social media. This compares to 26 percent who said they are using paid resume databases.

HR can also use social media indirectly by asking recently hired graduates to share job postings online, something they are increasingly happy to do, according to the report.

And since students are reaching out proactively on social media, it's up to HR to be vigilant about checking inbound social messaging, said Cameron Jahn, director of product marketing at student job site Handshake. "Half of the students on our platform have updated and shared their resume and are applying for jobs online and reaching out directly to recruiters," he said. In April, Handshake reported a significant milestone, logging more than one million employer-to-student e-mail messages going out in a single week.

Companies also can tap university alumni associations and groups to post jobs, invite them to virtual networking events and source graduating talent. By forging deeper connections with alumni groups, companies can target their exact audience—graduating students—since many associations are focusing on offering career advice and tips on how students can get a job during these challenging times, LinkedIn's Barnes said.

Finally, HR shouldn't forget university career centers. By strengthening those ties and working with the programs, they can get right to students without having to jump through as many hoops. Covanta's Schumacher is currently doing just that.

"I have connected with the New Jersey Institute of Technology's assistant director of employer relations and have participated in their informational interviews," she said. "It gives students the opportunity to interview me and ask me questions about our company to find out what it is like to work here. It is also a great way for me to connect with students and provide insight on our early-career programs, as well."

Karen J. Bannan is a freelance writer based in New York.

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