How to Keep Talent Acquisition Running, Even in the Midst of COVID-19

As COVID-19 continues to impact businesses around the world, many of us are adjusting to an increasingly digital way of living—whether by remaining connected remotely through video conferencing or fostering connection through online networks and social media.

For employers and recruiters who rely on relationship-building, navigating an entirely digital landscape is a new experience and may require an up ramp in virtual recruiting best practices. Know that you’re not alone—half of Handshake employers recently surveyed say they’re still evaluating how COVID-19 is affecting their entry-level hiring plans.

Despite these unprecedented changes, employers are continuing to proactively recruit early talent at record scale. Over the first three months of 2020, we’ve seen a 29% increase in students receiving direct messages from employers on Handshake, demonstrating hunger from employers who are eager to reach top candidates through digital innovation.

Set yourself apart from your talent peers during this time by adopting these COVID-19-proof virtual recruiting strategies.

1. Foster relationships and nurture a qualified early talent pipeline online

While you do have a job to do, it’s important to take a step back and consider the situation. During this difficult time, many people—students and candidates included—feel uncertain.

Students are prioritizing their families and health during this volatile time, and understandably so. Although early talent must focus on immediate, pressing needs, more than 3 in 4 students have indicated that getting a good job quickly is one of their top three concerns, according to Handshake’s Rethinking Early Talent Hiring in the Era of COVID-19 report.

Keep these attitudes and sentiments in mind when you communicate and engage with recruits. Now more than ever, it’s important to be authentic and empathetic, so let talent know that you are there to clarify any questions they may have or be their resource regarding how your company is handling COVID-19.

With so many businesses temporarily closing their doors and government-mandated regulations on social distancing, students and potential candidates are worried about the status of their summer internships, if or how they will be recruited, how they’ll interview for jobs, and the implications of onboarding in an entirely remote environment.

Make sure you address these concerns in your outreach and provide all the information they need to feel informed and at ease when it comes to how you’re approaching this pandemic.

In addition to feeling like you care about their concerns, students want to feel like your connection is personal; they want to know that they’re not just one of hundreds receiving a mass message. Not only have we found that 82% of college students and recent graduates actually prefer learning about your company via online communications, but 95% want to engage with employers that send personalized messages, too, according to our Campus to Career report.

Personalization truly is key, and there are many ways to customize your outreach. Some common techniques include addressing a candidate’s name and personalizing your message based on attributes such as their interests and commonalities such as major or school.

Employers can also reach out to candidates who’ve already demonstrated interest in their organization from a past event or outreach. Have any signed up for a former or upcoming virtual information session? Did they register for your now-canceled in-person event but want to remain in touch virtually? These segments are telling you they’re interested, so let them know you are, too.

Employers that are either currently debating or have already implemented a recruiting freeze should evaluate their risks—how much does your organization rely on early talent, and if you freeze recruiting engagement today, will you still have a strong pipeline of candidates or interns when your hiring eventually resumes?

Remaining in touch with candidates demonstrates goodwill and strong leadership. If your internship program is deferred or if you are exploring a hiring freeze, consider providing graduating Gen Zs with micro-internships, project-based work, or short-term opportunities instead. This small gesture can create positive lasting associations with your brand and company.

2. Make use of this time to harness and hone in on your digital employer brand

Students invest time carefully crafting their online presence, resumes, and cover letters to appeal to employers. Likewise, companies must develop their employer brand to establish early consideration from top talent and build reputability in the long-term. In the eyes of prospects, your organization is a reflection of your values, culture, and what you stand for.

If you’re perceived as a trustworthy employer that is empathetic during times like these, you can increase your stream of qualified candidates. The first thing to consider when honing in on your employer brand is that these are not typical times, and employers that are actively addressing COVID-19 risk being perceived as unempathetic. It’s a delicate balance.

Acknowledge the current state we’re in and let candidates know how you’re addressing this new reality. Include information on how you are now recruiting, including virtual interviews and events, through your online profiles and reference the status of your internship program if you have one.

We’ve seen employers detail how they’re approaching the shift to digital recruiting, and anything else that potential candidates may have frequently asked questions about. By doing so, these employers give early talent insight into how their company reacts to the needs of candidates and employees during trying times.

For students exploring their first or second job out of school, your employer brand may be their very first introduction to your organization. This is your opportunity to show why candidates should want to work for you! According to a report from Deloitte, like millennials, Gen Z wants to create social impact and work for a meaningful company.

Consider why your current employees love working for you, and proudly highlight programs that make your employer unique like your employee resource groups (ERGs), mentorship opportunities, or impact.

Candidates may enter your company in an entry-level role, but they aren’t hoping to stay there forever. Our research also shows 75% of students think they should be promoted within a year (and they’re motivated to get there). Show top talent how they can move up, not out, and grow with you as their career progresses.

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By being genuine and authentic in your outreach, communicating to candidates what they want to know about your company, and ways you’re recruiting in the age of COVID-19, you can provide candidates with an inside look at your culture and an honest first impression.

3. Capture interest from qualified candidates through virtual events and interviews

Teams that are now remote amid COVID-19 concerns are adjusting to new ways of working. It’s crucial that employers and recruiters adjust to new ways of engaging with candidates, too, including how they communicate with talent, build a competitive employer brand, and adopt a full shift to digital.

Trademark events that have historically provided a groundswell of diverse talent, such as NSBE, have been canceled. Instead of entirely canceling highly-anticipated recruiting events, employers have the opportunity to shift their in-person events to digital platforms.

And according to findings from a recent survey to students on Handshake, employers are already and increasingly doing so. 43% of employers report that they plan to adopt or increase virtual events, including info sessions, panels, Ask Me Anything (AMAs), and office tours, during this time.

For those students who are still actively searching for jobs, it’s game on. Student attendance for virtual events on Handshake jumped by more than 50% in March 2020, compared to February, and with nearly 60% of students viewing jobs on Handshake, we’re seeing that students are still continuing to apply to jobs and engage with employers.

If you’re planning your first virtual event, first consider the reason you’re hosting one; this will help you set your goals and identify engaging speakers. We’ve found that diverse panels composed of early talent across functions tend to work well.

To keep candidates engaged throughout the recruiting process, ensure your team proactively recruits attendees from your talent segments and that they follow up with qualified and engaged attendees afterward. This can be as simple as a thank you note with a recording of the event or more personalized outreach that hones in on getting to know them, setting up an interview, or seeing whether they have any additional questions.

Virtual events are a great way to maintain engagement and keep your company top of mind for students and potential candidates. How do you progress the conversation with talent you want to hire after? Virtual interviews are the natural next step.

We’ve seen a 2,500% increase in virtual interviews this year compared to last year as employers continue to embrace digital recruiting by shifting from in-person to virtual approaches during one of the historically busiest recruiting seasons of the year.

At Handshake, our recruiting team is delivering creative ways to replicate the in-person interview experience. We produced a virtual office tour and shared this video in our outreach to candidates so they have an opportunity to see what our workplace is all about.

When the interview kicks off, candidates are greeted by a friendly coordinator to address technical issues, and for the last 20 minutes of our virtual interviews, they join once again to conduct a quick debrief and answer any remaining questions a candidate might have. We’ve received positive feedback from candidates so far on the friendly and helpful experience.

As we navigate this evolving time, it’s important for employers to continue to consider how they can offer meaningful experiences for their candidates. This is uncharted territory for almost all employers out there, but with some planning and the proper tools, running a digital recruiting program is feasible with these strategies in mind.

By starting every interaction with empathy, keeping an open mind to new, creative solutions, and prioritizing communication, your organization will emerge even stronger than before!

Kamal is the VP of Employer Marketing at Handshake. A results-driven marketing executive, Kamal has extensive experience across SaaS businesses including with Cisco, PagerDuty, and Uptake prior to joining the Handshake team.

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