With most colleges and universities moving to online classes only or a hybrid approach, career services spent its summer working to accommodate virtual recruiting. Polling by the National Association for Colleges and Employers indicates that by July, 55% of career services respondents said they were already planning to transition their fall 2020 career fairs to a virtual format.
The good news for employers hiring internship and early-career talent is that you will still be able to engage with students to fill current openings, as well as pipelines for future needs. However, for college recruiters who have yet to participate in a virtual career fair, the transition will require some additional planning and preparation to ensure the best possible experiences. In addition to working directly with college and university career center staff for tips and resources, here are seven steps to take to stand out with Gen Z and turn virtual career fairs into one of your best sources of talent.
GET MORE #GR8THINKING: Check Out Our 2020-21 Campus Recruiting Playbook
#1. Note current awareness levels of your organization at the schools where you’ll be participating in a virtual career fair this fall.
For many employers, the switch to virtual recruiting fairs offers the opportunity to expand the schools they recruit from as travel is no longer a factor. This is a good thing as a broader selection of schools can diversify talent pipelines and lead to improved hiring overall. But it also means that students may not be aware of your organization and why they should want to work there since they’ve never engaged with you on campus before.
You shouldn’t view lack of awareness as a roadblock but rather an aspect to consider as it will inform both your strategy and your communications to students. For example, you may decide to participate in or create your own virtual event that is specific to a department or field of study at schools you are new to instead of participating in the general virtual career fair, where there’s more competition for attendees’ attention.
#2: Evaluate all available options through your college and university career center contacts.
Don’t assume that the only option for your organization is a virtual career fair. Many schools are doing everything they can to ensure that employers and students have numerous opportunities to connect. Ask about smaller, more targeted virtual events, as well as any video panels that the school may be hosting that make sense given your hiring needs. Find out if there’s an opportunity to support mock interviews or resume reviews as these activities can help raise awareness of your organization and, possibly, introduce you to your next great student hire. And, make sure you familiarize yourself with the virtual technology each school will be using and what functionality—such as breakout rooms or one-to-one chats—are part of the experience. This will help you allocate the right mix of people to assign to each school’s event, which is critical to a strong presence on event day.
#3. Assess key messaging points so that you can articulate your employer value proposition to students clearly and succinctly.
Make sure you emphasize what matters most to them while addressing the concerns they have due to the impact of COVID-19 on the workplace. Include details within your campus recruiting landing pages, talent communities and nurture campaigns about how interns and new grads are being onboarded and what the work arrangements—onsite, from home or a hybrid—are through the remainder of 2020, as well as how you are supporting remote workers to ensure their success. Taking time to work through your messaging across all touch points will set the stage for effective communications and ultimately greater outcomes with virtual recruiting events.
#4. Invest time in developing your virtual career fair communications.
Using the messaging points you developed during step #3, you’re now ready to begin developing the communications you will need pre-, during and post-event.
Weave key messages throughout your communications but do so strategically—emails should focus more on specific details, next steps and calls-to-action, while your landing pages can be used to tell more of your story. Once you’ve created several key pieces, which may span company listing, employer profile page, recruiter talking points, email templates, video greeting, etc., you’ll be able to adapt them quickly for subsequent events and even make improvements as you learn what resonates most with students.
#5. Try to connect with students in advance of the event for greater engagement on event day.
Find out if your virtual career fair participation includes the ability to reach out to students in advance as pre-event engagement can give you an edge over other participating employers. If no option exists through career services, get in touch with relevant professors and academic deans who may be able to connect you with students before the event.
When you do connect, consider asking students what they’d like to know most about working at your company, and then use their input to prioritize your event messaging and content. This also makes it possible to deliver a more relevant and personalized experience, another important factor in standing out from competitors. So, if gathering questions from current students isn’t viable, reach out to last year’s recruits and ask them what they wanted to learn about most or what they found most interesting about your organization when they met you on campus.
#6. Get current employees involved in your virtual campus recruiting program.
Among the most common complaints students voiced about career fairs in the past is that they would have preferred the chance to connect with people they would actually be working with rather than speaking only to a recruiter. Virtual recruiting events give you the ability to address this because it’s much easier—and far less costly—to include employees. Ask a recent early-career hire to speak to her experience joining the organization right out of school or have hiring managers join at a dedicated time to meet priority candidates and speak to the work being done in their departments.
#7. Have a follow-up plan in place well before event day.
Similar to in-person events, you need to develop a plan to keep the conversation moving forward and continue to engage with students following the event or risk alienating attendees. (Yes, students are just as frustrated as professionals are when it comes to never hearing back from a company after meeting with a recruiter.) Tools like a Talent CRM can help your team keep up with post-event communications, especially when it comes to automated nurture campaigns that keep you top of mind among students. Ideally, you should also host your own virtual recruiting events to maintain engagement, inviting students to participate in seminar-styled information sessions where they can get to know your organization better and even network with other student participants.
Adjusting to the new rules of campus recruiting will require planning and execution that differs from the onsite campus recruiting experience that you are used to. However, it’s an investment that will pay off by attracting the next-gen talent you need to bring into the organization for future success.
Get more GR8 advice on strategic approaches for Gen Z hiring success by downloading our new E-Book: Campus Recruiting’s New Playbook.