Strategies to Recruit Students Where they Are this Spring

Learn why 97% of employers are going all-virtual or hybrid this spring.

Nearly two years into the pandemic, employers are struggling to adapt to an uncertain social and economic climate. Yet to build a diverse workforce, recruiting Gen Z—the most diverse generation yet—is more important than ever. As the largest early career network supporting 9m+ active job seekers, Handshake is uniquely positioned to offer insights into the early career job search to help employers succeed in the busy season ahead.

This spring, higher ed has fully embraced virtual recruiting, with 90% of Handshake’s 1,400+ partner institutions opting to adopt an all-virtual or hybrid strategy, which includes a mix of virtual and in-person fairs and events; 63% of these institutions plan to conduct at least half or more of their fairs and events virtually.

For employers, 97% have said they will adopt an all-virtual or hybrid strategy, with 82% planning to participate in at least half or more of their fairs and events virtually, according to a poll of 314 professionals at a recent Handshake webinar.

These decisions come after months of soul-searching and questioning—”Whether virtual, hybrid, or in person, what is the right recruiting model for my goals and how do I prepare for the unpredictable?” For actionable insights, we went to our network to query and analyze the attitudes and behaviors of 9m+ early career job seekers.

Read on to find out what we learned.

Tapping into the power of digital to recruit Gen Z

In fall 2021, Handshake surveyed more than 1,200 alumni and rising graduates to gain insight into Gen Z’s approach to building professional relationships and finding jobs. We explored recent recruiting results and consulted our network of higher ed partners to match the findings with self-reported information.

Of the students we surveyed, what stood out most was the preference for connecting virtually. There were a number of reasons for this—namely, benefits to psychological safety, privacy, accessibility, and convenience.

Gen Z’s predilection for remote connections, especially in new relationships, manifests as preference for connecting via email (92%) and short calls (82%). Considering that 54% of students agree that at least half of career events should be virtual post-COVID, Gen Z shows confidence in the job-landing power that stems from creating and reciprocating online connections with employers:

We also discovered that women and people of color prefer virtual fairs and events over in person, citing greater accessibility and flexibility as prime benefits and signaling a step in the right direction towards radicalizing equity and balancing gender parity.

It’s no wonder that these perceptions are influencing more decision makers to meet students where they are with a hybrid recruiting model for the spring in order to capture the vast majority of candidates who are looking to build relationships online.

5 strategies for hybrid recruiting

Despite the unpredictable nature of the pandemic, virtual recruiting has been constant. Over the fall 2021 recruiting season, we explored how Handshake Premium partners were responding to these student trends, seeing that the possibility for greater accessibility and untapped pipeline potential associated with virtual recruiting has lent itself to more intentional targeting, partnership, and outreach strategies.

Due in part to their familiarity and comfort with the virtual recruiting process, this spring, employers are overwhelmingly embracing a hybrid recruiting strategy to meet Gen Z where they are—on their time and terms. Employers that are comfortable connecting in person are augmenting digital engagement with targeted in-person career fairs and events to capture candidates who may be interested in local opportunities.

The following are a few tips for hiring success in the hybrid recruiting season ahead.

1. Broaden your partner school strategy

When employers decide to recruit at a limited number of schools using the Core Schools method, they inadvertently limit themselves to students who are likely already aware of their brand. These schools tend to be representative of leadership’s alma maters, but recruiting at these schools alone leaves a lot of qualified candidates on the sidelines.

As a first step, for example, employers who are looking to connect with more African American or Black students might venture to partner with some of the largest Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs). But it’s worth noting that a full 66% of Black and Hispanic students pursuing Computer Science-related majors on Handshake aren’t attending HBCUs or MSIs.

Recruiting at those institutions alone isn’t going to make a sizable impact. Employers need to go a step further and widen their outreach. For example, employers using Handshake Core can lean on School Recommendations—Premium partners can use School Explorer—to visualize which potential school partners have a large population of students that meet their job requirements. They then can tap into a broader audience.

Turn on multi-school targeting for your events and fairs this spring to widen your reach and candidate pool.

2. Plan your hybrid career fair participation with Handshake

If the fall 2021 recruiting season offered any indication of what to expect for the spring, it’s that higher ed and employers will continue to improve on their engagement and relationship-building strategies.

A core piece of that strategy for employers this spring will be career fairs, both in-person and virtual. Over the fall 2021 recruiting season, 62% of all career fairs hosted or promoted on Handshake were virtual. And compared to the previous year, multi-school virtual fairs—in which multiple schools participate at once, benefiting employers with in reaching a wider audience at lower costs—made up a higher percentage of fairs. 

The Wisconsin Private Colleges Career Consortium (WIPCC) Workforce Fair, for example, was a successful spring 2021 event involving 50 different schools, and fostering 2,700 student-employer connections. Each school that participated was able to tap into the large student population drawn to the event—many more than they would have been able to engage on their own.

With Handshake Fairs, employers can view all career fairs hosted by their partner schools and get a detailed overview of the fair and schedule before submitting their registration request. Planning early is key here so you’re able to tap into partner schools and fairs that’ll help you reach your target audience.

Employers can submit a second request for school approval after making necessary changes if their first request was declined.

Not all fairs are created equal, and neither are all educational programs. For example, you might find that recruiting developers or programmers is a top priority for your team this season, and even though you’ve attended the same fair year over year, their program might not have as many students as you need. Consider broadening your reach.

Keep in mind that career fairs aimed at helping underrepresented groups don’t occur only at HBCUs or MSIs—they can happen anywhere, including multi-school and niche fairs where target candidates may be looking to work in specific industries or utilize specialized skills. This type of targeted approach can make way for a more personalized experience for employers and students alike.

In addition to attending school-hosted career fairs, it’s a good idea to complement your engagement strategy with targeted employer-hosted events—55% more employers, for example, are pursuing employer-hosted events outside of career fairs on Handshake YoY, and 87% of these recruiting events are still virtual.

Regardless of whether these fairs and events are happening virtually or in person, we recommend sticking to a specific theme for each session—such as DEI, mock resume workshops, etc— and creating interactive content that allows students to build their network, learn about jobs, and make more informed decisions.

3. Experiment with different event types for different audiences

Employers on Handshake are finding success with new engagement formats outside of career fairs, like quick screens, office hours, and 1-on-1 information sessions or Virtual Info Chats. These engagement formats are a lower commitment for students, and can reach a broader range of applicants.

Quick screens on Handshake, which are 15-minute chats between a recruiter and potential candidates, have increased by more than 40% YoY, and there were over 3,000 office hours and 1.8M virtual information sessions or Virtual Info Chats scheduled last fall.

Employers increased their participation in virtual 1-on-1 slots by 20% year over year to meaningfully connect with qualified candidates individually, with many industries reporting a high percentage of 1-on-1 slots filled: Electronic & Computer Hardware (68%), Investment Banking (65%), and Government (63%).

To build your employer brand long term with future talent pools such as including freshmen and sophomores, consider experimenting with various event types besides career fairs to attract their attention.

Less formal interactions—such as early identification programs, quick screens, skills-based training, panels, and social events—can spark relationships with early career job seekers. You can schedule these either before or after fair season to keep your company top of mind, and to help showcase your brand in a more memorable and authentic way.

As an example, let’s say you’re looking to boost representation at your company by engaging the LGBTQ+ community. Last year, P&G did this by hosting a ‘This is Love’ virtual event in order to empower the community to explore careers in Columbus, Ohio. To set themselves up for success, the team invested quite a bit of time consulting their employee resource groups to identify and create content that would resonate.

The result? P&G featured a panel of LGBTQ+ leaders and allies from the company and community for an open dialogue on career progression. The event fostered a sense of inclusion and networking, piqued Gen Z’s interest, and resulted in over 500 applications from candidates who attended the event.

Learn how P&G drove over 500 applications from LGBTQ+ candidates and allies at their ‘This is Love’ virtual event.

Employer-hosted virtual events on Handshake provide students with flexible, unique experiences to connect with a wide range of speakers and deepen relationships through real-time video.

Once created and produced, this rich interactive content can then be converted into video clips to showcase on your Employer Page, a blog, or digital pamphlet that gives insight into your unique culture. Additionally, the content can be repurposed for future marketing and promotional use.

4. Abate “ghosting” by making recruiting a team sport

Thanks to the “Great Resignation,” also known as “The Big Quit,” recruiting has become more challenging during the pandemic, resulting in a hyper-competitive landscape for employers. Qualified candidates can more frequently fall out of the recruiting funnel by “ghosting,” or wordlessly accepting offers from other companies.

The best way for employers to counteract this trend, and thereby differentiate themselves, is to establish and build on personal relationships with qualified early career job seekers. If a candidate believes that they are ‘just a number,’ they’ll be more likely to behave accordingly. If they feel personally connected through some of the relationships they’ve built, they will be more likely to honor their commitments. 

The best way to meet students where they are is to connect them with who they want to meet—the people in the roles that they feel comfortable with. Gen Z’s  preference is to hear from hiring managers and peer employees in the same role over recruiters, and are more likely to accept one job over others based on the personal relationships they form during the hiring process.

Since the average recruiter already speaks with 13,000 candidates each year, involving non-recruiters in the hiring process not only saves your team valuable time—it positively influences recruiting for internships and full-time roles while providing development and mentorship opportunities for existing employees.

By turning recruiting into a team sport and engaging more company employees in the process, employers can pair students with folks they actually want to speak with and facilitate more meaningful 1-on-1 relationships in the process.

The data couldn’t be more clear. Findings on Handshake indicate that employers who build relationships 1-on-1 through messaging and video see up to 16x more applications than employers that don’t, and as a result, participation from non-recruiters on Handshake has doubled over the past six months.

Alumni, hiring managers, and team members from underrepresented backgrounds can all positively impact qualified relationships, and Handshake’s Ambassadors can facilitate alumni-candidate introductions and connect them via messaging or video.

Recruiters can offer and attend 15-minute Virtual Info Chats with candidates and add other employees to those conversations as well through flexible scheduling, bulk messages, and targeted Campaigns on Handshake.

Availability calendars and recurring schedules allow employers to instantly share their—or a teammate’s—availability for a 15-minute Virtual info Chat.

5. Build relationships by personalizing the candidate experience

When it comes to accessing early talent pools, students overwhelmingly agree that Handshake is the most frequently used platform to search for employment as well as connect with employers of interest. Access to the largest and most active student network is one thing, but getting attention from these students requires employers to personalize content and experiences—both events and messaging. 

Gen Z has demonstrated a strong preference for personalization throughout the candidate journey: 95% say they prefer engaging with employers that send personalized, proactive messages. However, creating content (written, video, or events) and promoting it will only be impactful if done thoughtfully, with target audiences in mind.

The most successful employers set a strategy for what kinds of candidates they want to engage (based on factors such as skills, major, DEI initiatives), and then create personalized tracks for each—including content (job descriptions, web copy, media), events (large and small, focused on areas of interest for the target group), and mentorship (connecting candidates with employees they aspire to be).

In addition to creating relevant content, events, and experiences this spring, and bringing your extended team along for the journey, employers should personalize their candidate outreach by analyzing the results of their interactions and iterating on successes. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, and employers should see what works best for achieving their goals.

Employers can utilize Job Matches on Handshake to identify candidates who are a good fit for their open roles and match the criteria listed in the job description. They can also choose to target groups of students and alumni that meet their specific criteria using 19+ filters and attributes to narrow down their search, including location preferences, underrepresented student groups, gender, ethnicity, skills, coursework, extracurricular activities, and more.

Those filters can be used to create and save Segments of qualified candidates, making it easy for employers to deliver bulk messages or personalized Campaigns at scale. More filters result in more relevant candidates, and when paired with tailored outreach, drive more meaningful outcomes.

Engagement doesn’t end after the first touchpoint. To build a truly engaged pipeline of qualified candidates and keep your company’s brand top of mind, employers must nurture those relationships all the way through.

To continue moving them down your hiring funnel, employers on Handshake can message all students who’ve attended specific events, inviting them to apply to a job or speak to one of their Handshake Ambassadors. Here’s how this might look:

“Hi there, it was great seeing you participate in last week’s Hackathon. We’re always looking for great candidates with your skills, and I think this role might be a good fit for you.”

Handshake’s Candidate Hub makes it easy to drill down into these past interactions in order to nurture students who have already engaged with your brand. For example, you can send a message to all students that have attended multiple specific fairs or events inviting them to apply to a job or speak with an ambassador.

The bottom line

Given all of the challenges and complexities of modern life that Gen Z is facing at this time in their lives, it’s more important now than ever to understand and respond to their needs and preferences, and to welcome them into the workforce using a set of best practices that lead to desired outcomes.

With all of the difficulties and hardships we’ve witnessed in the past two years, we are heartened to see deep analysis, true collaboration, and meaningful change in the job search and early recruiting process.

The democratization of opportunity through virtual technology, the rise in 1-to-1 communication between employers and students—these are all harbingers of hope that the doors of opportunity are opening to a wider, highly qualified generation of workers.