Virtual job recruiting is here to stay

Employers and institutions alike say that the majority of job recruiting will be all-virtual or hybrid this coming year—and that could be a win for women and students of color.

Covid-19 unceremoniously stopped on-campus recruiting in the spring of last year, and virtual events remained the go-to this academic year. There’s mixed evidence about the impact of that change—but an emerging sense that some form of hybrid and fully-virtual recruiting is here to stay.

What the data say: That’s bolstered by new survey data from Handshake, a major networking and recruitment platform, which found that 97 percent of college respondents and 93 percent of employers plan to host all virtual or hybrid career events this fall.

“What we’re hearing from employers is a resounding, ‘Virtual is here to stay,’” said Christine Cruzvergara, chief education strategy officer at Handshake.

The survey also asked 2,400 students at almost 400 two-year and four-year colleges across the country what they think about the shift to virtual. Of the students who had attended a virtual career event:

  • 71 percent said virtual events made the process less intimidating
  • 75 percent said they provided more flexibility around scheduling
  • 60 percent said they made it easier to prepare to meet with employers

Among all students, the vast majority said they would like to attend at least some career events virtually going forward. But just over half (51 percent) said they still want to interview in person. That preference is more nuanced when taking into account gender, race, and ethnicity.

Fifty-five percent of women prefer virtual interviews, compared to only 41 percent of men. And students of color also have a stronger preference for interviewing virtually than white students do.

To skeptics of virtual recruiting, Cruzvergara said: “I would ask two things, ‘Have you asked what students specifically want to be back in person, and who are you talking to?’”

Second Opinion: Shawn VanDerziel, executive director of the National Association of Colleges and Employers, said he expects this fall to look similar to last fall in terms of virtual recruiting.

For one, many employers haven’t fully restored budgets or lifted travel restrictions for employees. “Some of this is the point of time we’re in,” he said. But he also sees a more lasting shift underway, with many companies saying that virtual will remain a primary means of college recruiting even after the pandemic’s impact has subsided. The reason is two-fold:

  • Companies believe they can reach more students, in farther flung places, that way.
  • And the recruiters think that virtual options are helping them with diversity recruitment.

“Organizations do believe they can have a greater reach to a larger number of students, and get to places they normally wouldn’t get to. So it’s opened up a whole new world for them.”

But VanDerziel cautions that virtual recruiting is far from a slam dunk approach. NACE’s surveys found that student participation in virtual career fairs has been lower than what’s typical for in-person events. And data from the 2020 internship cycle—a small but meaningful slice of hiring—didn’t show improvement on diversity and equity in hiring. Employers reported that almost 58 percent of interns were men, and 62 percent were white.

That was, of course, a tumultuous period and VanDerziel said that both institutions and employers have gotten their legs under them now. So, the current cycle might see improvements. Some of the more successful online approaches this year, he said, have broken out of the “career fair” format—with companies inviting students to meet not with recruiters, but with employees in roles similar to those they’d start out in. And a number of institutions are seeing success with micro-internships, typically one to four weeks long, that bridge the gap between traditional recruiting and full-fledged internships.

“We were finding that employers were finding new and creative ways to engage with students in the virtual world—breaking down the walls to the organization and demystifying what it would really be like to work with them,” VanDerziel said

On the ground: In the Houston Community College system, James Mable said that virtual information sessions with employers, which the system didn’t do at all pre-Covid, have been “wildly successful.” Mable, who is director of career and job placement services, said the system’s move to a unified student and career services platform, Symplicity, several years ago has made virtual recruiting much easier. 

“Students have so many things going on in their lives, I need to always be thinking about, ‘How can I make the career services process seamless and one that meets them where they are in their life?’”

What to watch: Going forward, VanDerziel said it will be important to see what the hiring numbers—especially for women and students of color—ultimately look like this year. Data on the internship class this summer will be the first big test, he said, followed by reports on full-time jobs for the class of 2021.

“The proof,” he said, “is still to come.”

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