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How to build a hybrid campus recruiting strategy

A hybrid campus recruiting strategy uses both in-person and virtual methods. Learn why and how to strike a balance, and reap the benefits of both approaches.

The past few years have put recruiters on a wild and unpredictable seesaw ride. Prior to the pandemic, recruitment strategies favored in-person career fairs, interviews, and events.

But when college campuses (and the entire world) shut down, the seesaw majorly shifted. Seemingly overnight, employers had to change entirely over to virtual recruiting events.

You now know it's beneficial to offer the convenience, accessibility, and reach of virtual recruiting; but you also know the strength of connections you can make on-campus.

Now that in-person recruitment opportunities have made a comeback, employers are left to figure out how to strike a balance with a solid hybrid campus recruiting strategy.

What exactly is hybrid recruiting?

Hybrid recruiting is a custom blend of both both virtual and in-person strategies to connect with, engage, attract, and convert talent.

It means that you strategically allocate your resources and recruitment efforts—the events you host or attend, interviews, and the other ways you communicate with candidates—so that they’re both online and in-person.

By striking a balance between online and on-campus, employers, students, and school partners can reap the benefits of both methods—the high touch and high conversion of face-to-face interactions and the convenience and wider reach of virtual recruiting events.

Here’s the good news about this “best of both worlds” approach: It’s likely something that you’re already doing to some degree. But as with anything, there’s a difference between doing it and doing it well.

Meet early talent where they are: why hybrid recruiting matters

In-person career fairs are making a triumphant comeback. Handshake data found that 82% of career fairs during the spring 2023 recruiting season were in person, compared to 65% in 2022 and 38% in 2021. But that doesn’t mean that virtual career fairs are a relic of pandemic times.

According to Handshake data, so far in 2023, students RSVP’d 3.4x more to virtual events than in-person events.

Hybrid recruiting allows employers to meet the expectations of students and increase attendance for their events. But beyond those two big advantages, there are a few other compelling benefits of a hybrid approach:

  • Build a more diverse applicant pool: DEI is a pressing priority for most organizations. A hybrid approach makes your organization and your opportunities more accessible to all types of talent, especially since students of color show a strong preference for virtual recruiting. Our data shows that, in spring 2023, 65% of virtual career fair attendees were students of color.
  • Expand your reach and boost brand awareness: Even if you wanted to, you simply can’t make it to every college campus. Complementing your on-campus recruiting with virtual efforts provides outlets for other interested students to connect with your organization—even if you don’t have a strong campus presence at their school. When students are increasingly applying to more diverse locations—71% of the class of 2023 is willing to move to a different city for the right job or opportunity—it’s a strategic way for you to broaden your reach and build brand awareness.
  • Reinvent your approach: Particularly for more traditional industries that are slower to change, the sudden shift in the working world provides an opportunity to experiment and modernize your strategy. That’s especially crucial as non-tech companies compete to snag some of the top tech talent on the market. Plus, getting more deliberate with your resources can result in cost and time savings.

Today’s talent, and especially recent grads, have a distinct preference for hybrid work arrangements. More than 70% of the Class of 2023 want hybrid jobs. Find out more Handshake Network Trends about student preferences.

Combine those notable benefits with candidates’ expectations to be able to engage both virtually and in person and you reach this conclusion: Hybrid recruiting is no longer a competitive advantage to secure qualified talent—it’s a non-negotiable necessity.

Putting your hybrid recruiting strategy into practice

Now that you have a solid understanding of hybrid recruiting: How do you not just do hybrid recruiting but actually do it right?

There isn’t one default framework for building your hybrid strategy. If you’re still scratching your head, we have a few steps to help you get started on building a hybrid campus recruiting strategy that strikes the perfect balance.

1. Expand your school strategy

Hybrid recruiting opens the door for all types of early talent to build familiarity with your organization—whether you have an on campus presence at their school or not.

Adjust your school strategy so that there are some schools where you have primarily in-person engagements, some where you pursue a hybrid approach, and some that are virtual-only.

Use Handshake’s School Explorer to filter schools and more easily identify the ones that match your growth needs.

Remember, your hybrid recruiting strategy can’t just swing the door open for talent—it needs to actually invite them to step through it.

Your school strategy will help you approach your career fairs and events strategy.

2. Determine your career fairs and events plan

The reality is that in-person fairs and events will likely demand more of your time and resources than their virtual counterparts. So it can be helpful to plan those out first as the cornerstone of your strategy, and then build in virtual opportunities around them.

A solid approach to hybrid campus recruiting will incorporate other types of employer-sponsored events too—both virtual and in person. Examples include:

  • Hands-on learning workshops
  • Hackathons, pitch days, or other competitions
  • Informative panels, seminars, and Q&A sessions
  • Low-pressure and informal social events
  • Office hours and other chances for one-on-one chats

As you plan out which teammates will represent your company at fairs and events, keep in mind that you don’t have to only send recruiters or members of the hiring team. Leveraging alumni, ERG members, company leaders, interns, or other early talent as advocates can help you establish even deeper connections with students who are eager to learn from people who have been in their shoes before.

Learn how CVS Health invites a mix of employees to engage and connect with students at events.

It’s easy to host your own virtual events on Handshake and engage your target segments across schools. To keep track of all of those touchpoints and stages of the candidate journey, Handshake Events’ end-to-end system helps you schedule, evaluate, and track your candidates—before, during, and after your event activities.

3. Foster and maintain relationships virtually

Gen Z and early talent actually see a lot of value in virtual connections. Nearly 7 in 10 Gen Zers said in a survey that they don’t need to meet in person to forge a professional connection. Whether you’re hosting events on campus, online, or both, you need a plan to foster those connections before and after—most of which will likely happen virtually.

For example, before career fairs or other recruitment events, you can:

  • Personally invite students to your booth
  • Send a messaging campaign to invite students to follow you on Handshake
  • Aggregate questions from candidates to answer live

And following the fair or event, you can nurture those relationships virtually:

  • Follow up with qualified candidates and move them to the next stage quickly
  • Provide additional information you mentioned during the event
  • Keep them updated on new roles and company happenings
  • Introduce them to advocates or like-minded peers so they can get a first-hand impression of life at your company

It’s hard to substitute the sense of familiarity and connection you get from face-to-face conversations and in-person recruiting. But you also can’t overstate the diversity, accessibility, and convenience of virtual efforts.

Benefiting from the best of both worlds

A deliberate hybrid recruiting strategy is what helps you balance the seesaw and reap the benefits of both virtual and in person recruiting. Don’t be afraid to experiment to find the approach—or combination of all of the approaches—that works best for your organization. The power of hybrid is its flexibility for early talent, and for you.

Remember, students are exploring career opportunities both online and in person. That means your organization needs to be present and actively engaged in both places too—or risk losing out to your competitors with recruitment strategies built on what students want.

Talk to Handshake for more suggestions on building your hybrid campus recruiting strategies.

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