3 ways Covid has changed early talent attraction…and how you can respond

Jun 28, 2021 | Attraction & marketing

Covid has provided new opportunities for graduate recruiters to attract the people they want, explains Mike Hanbidge from Blackbridge Communications.

Imagine waking up 100 years from now and trying to run a successful recruitment marketing campaign. A daunting task in a brave new world with different work habits, candidate expectations and routes to market.

Covid changed all of those things and it did so in 15 months, not 100 years. Will the changes last? How will things evolve and how can graduate recruiters be more reactive, proactive and better informed than ever before? Some points to ponder below.


1. Pivoting from self-selecting to competitive messaging and back again

Good news first. Unemployment is down in general, payroll numbers are up, graduate recruiters are hiring again. However (here’s the bad news), the expectation is that youth unemployment will still be relatively high at 6.3%, meaning big supply and relatively low demand. So? Well, it means you’ll likely be inundated with thousands of applications. Anecdotally from our clients we’re already seeing that happen.

From a comms perspective, that means we’ll be entering a ‘selecting in, selecting out’ market where messages encourage people to apply but also make it very clear who the ‘right/most appropriate’ types of candidate are. Think ‘quality not quantity’ messaging but on steroids.

However, and this is the point, the picture may change rapidly.

Many recruiters opted out of recruiting in 2020. The market saw a 12% drop in graduate jobs being advertised according to the ISE last year, but this hibernation won’t last forever.
Competition will come back with a vengeance; candidates will be vying for your attention and vice versa.

And then there will be the curve balls.

After the financial crash of 2008, we saw fresh graduates being beaten to internships and graduate schemes by second jobbers and older graduates – do employers acknowledge that in their messaging or double down towards the graduate end of the market? Be nimble and ready to react are the rules of the road here.

Application data and new joiner surveys should be your new best friends as you look to keep tabs on quantity vs quality of applications. Get a hold of that and then pivot your messaging as required.


2. Virtual forever?

The innovation and skill to translate graduate recruitment strategies into a purely virtual space was remarkable in 2020, and a lot of the foundations laid last year have continued into 2021.

Many clients are talking about a purely virtual or hybrid approach including ‘real world’ and virtual offerings. Bright Network made the valid point that virtual internships are a great way of attracting more diverse candidates who might otherwise be put off by the high cost of unpaid internships in big cities, particularly London.

Some are even suggesting going fully virtual forever more. In many respects, it’s a reasonable idea – cheaper, greater reach and equal or better creativity in some cases.

However, one word of warning.

In December 2020, we worked with Trendence (now Cibyl) to present a cut of the data from their huge annual student survey. Their data suggested that, while students were happy to have initial interactions online, some ‘pressing of the flesh’ was required prior to application. The numbers didn’t move significantly when looking at different socio-economic groups in an insight that gives life to a sentiment that many graduates have said to me over the years, “I decided to apply to that graduate scheme when I met them on campus.”

Virtual is a great tool and it’s a tool that has gained huge momentum over the years and in the last 15 months in particular. Retain it in your recruitment strategies but still use the face-to-face, real world interactions at key moments and for key candidates.


3. The right culture…at home

Messaging and routes to market need to react to a volatile market, but what about the expectations of candidates?

The most obvious change is around working at home. Many had to do it during the pandemic and it has exacerbated an existing trend, driven by the young, to integrate your work into your life rather than the other way round.

Research commissioned since, from Bright Network and Cibyl, suggest that working from home will be an expectation for a significant minority of undergraduates for years to come.

Periodically, we’d suggest gauging the extent to which working from home is a critical ‘deal breaker’ vs a ‘nice to have’. One cut of the Cibyl data suggested that intention and importance of working from home dropped steadily from final year undergraduates to freshers.

Short term, however, there is real consideration required for how you communicate any work from home policy.

How do you ensure that people understand the benefit but also the requirement? How do you instil productivity at home for a group of people who have never worked before, let alone in hybrid manner?

Role modelling, content, good onboarding comms will all be important, as will the self-selection mentioned earlier.


Final thoughts

We all know that there are people in far worse positions than us but early talent recruitment has been challenging over the last 15 months or so and there is likely to be no let up in the near future.

However, there are opportunities within the maelstrom. There are things that you, as recruiters, can do to make sure you are getting the people you want whilst fulfilling your duty of care to give them the best start possible in their career.

Our advice would be to follow the three ‘BEs’.

  • BE informed: in who you are attracting, what they want and what they react to.
  • BE brave: like you have been up to now, continue that on in your decision making.
  • BE nimble: in your ability to react and produce messaging, content and campaigns that can pivot towards the people you want to recruit as the market changes.

Communications are so important at this sort of moment. At a moment where the world is changing, your comms act as a guiding light for many in the early talent space.

More information visit blackbridge.co.uk

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