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How graduate employers can navigate through these difficult times

16 June, 2020

With the uncertainty caused by COVID-19, we’ve seen the graduate community faced with unprecedented challenges around how they communicate with and ultimately hire graduates at this time. 

Since the outset of the lockdown, we’ve been in close communication with our partner firms across sectors and industries to understand their common questions and challenges they’re facing. We wanted to collate some of these and share them so that you can better inform your recruitment strategies at this time.

 

Communication

From our annual research we know that communicating with students in a clear and concise manner is important under the best of circumstances, however in the current environment, communication is even more critical. 

Whilst the majority of students and graduates are aware that now is an extremely challenging time, and are broadly understanding of recruitment being paused, or roles withdrawn, there’s a desire for more communication from universities and most notably, potential employers.

As such, during this time, we’d recommend boosting the amount you’re communicating with applicants and offer holders as well as making sure that your messages are as clear and consistent as possible. With the amount of noise being created at the moment it’s also important to look at your communication across multiple channels to make sure that your messages are making it through and not being drowned out.

If there is a pause in hiring, it’s best to be upfront about this and offer as much certainty as possible. Let applicants know when you’ll be back in touch with news and stick to that deadline, even if there’s not much of an update at that time. The importance of structure and building trust with them is essential, helping build their confidence at the same time.

Whether you’re pausing hiring or continuing processes virtually, it’s a good time to build your brand and better position yourself to students. Many employers have materials to upskill students – it doesn’t have to be full courses, but being in front of students with a free resource is a good way to keep on students’ minds, and creates a meaningful touchpoint. Our research shows that only 37% of students and graduates feel prepared for the world of work; the top four skills they want to improve are networking, commercial awareness, leadership and management skills, and coding.

 

Insights and advice

Staying close to a market is always important but now it is more crucial than ever. Understanding what students/graduates are thinking, what actions universities are taking and what other employers are doing will help define your strategy. However, while there’s a lot of messages flying around, it can be tricky to pinpoint the right information to shape your strategy.

To help you out, here’s three things we’re doing at Bright Network that will provide you with key insights:

  • Student polls – we’re continuously speaking to our members to discover exactly what they are thinking when it comes to their career. We’ll be posting new insights on a regular basis on LinkedIn
  • Industry forums – taking place over the next two months, we’re hosting a series of online employer events sharing industry best practices, delivered by expert guest speakers. These are an excellent way to keep your finger on the pulse, and get together with the broader graduate recruitment community.
  • Check in calls – whether you’re working with us, have worked with us in the past or are brand new to Bright Network, we’re always here to offer our expertise. If you have any questions about communicating to students, online application processes or anything else for that matter, we’re here to help.

 

Virtualisation

A month ago, virtualisation was often just a brief agenda point in an annual strategy meeting; but now it’s the buzzword for the graduate recruitment space. The last ten years has seen advancements in online assessment (from video interviews and gamified assessment) and the start of online internships (most notably from Linklaters and KPMG). Over the past six weeks, the need for them has significantly increased.

With that in mind, we’ve put together a guide to virtualisation. To get you started though, here’s five things to think about:

  • Software and how it is used – Zoom and Microsoft Teams have strong functionality and are great tools for building a quick turnaround online assessment centre. There will be an additional need for training amongst your team to use this software to assess, especially when it comes to virtual group exercises and presentations
  • Consistency – many processes have been required to change part way through the application cycle, so ensuring there’s consistency between those assessed in person and those online is crucial. Both groups of candidates will have different experiences, so it’s important to recognise what these will be before assessing
  • Candidates’ online environment – Helping candidates towards having an online environment which is conducive to giving the best account of themselves is so important. Many won’t have completed a virtual AC before, so giving them top tips or extra briefing notes is helpful. Also, someone’s internet will go down (it just always does), so having a process for this occurrence is reassuring for candidates too
  • Group exercises – these are a staple for a majority of assessment centres but possibly the most tricky to run virtually. The tower building out of marshmallows and spaghetti group exercise is obviously off the cards, but running a case study exercise or negotiation task is very much possible. Having software which allows assessors to use split screen functionality to focus on certain members of groups is often a good way to ensure standardised and in depth assessment
  • Candidate management – after the assessment process, there may be a delay on making final hires; especially at this time. Thinking about how you’re keeping candidates warm is so important. They haven’t met you face-to-face or come to the offices, so they may not have had the opportunity to connect with your businesses as they would have in-person. A great communications strategy to candidates after can make them feel really special and looked after.

 

Team Morale

Finally, moving away from graduate recruitment slightly and looking more widely at keeping up morale within your team. Many companies are very well set up for remote working but, in isolation, it’s important to be doing more to keep engagement high and ensure everyone is taking a break. We’ve seen so many fantastic things being done within companies in this space, from online games nights to fitness sessions. 

At Bright Network, we’ve run weekly Yoga sessions, HIIT sessions (which you really feel on the following day’s hour-long walk), pub quizzes and our Friday beer O’clock. Having one non-work thing in the diary each day, even if it is 15 minutes of social time at the start/end of each day, is a nice way to keep the team strong and “together” at this time.