ISE roundtable: 8 tips for digital campus attraction in 2021

Jan 18, 2021 | Attraction & marketing

Universities and employers got together to share their experiences of last autumn’s digital campus attraction activity. Tristram Hooley explains what we’ve learned to help you plan for 2021.

On-campus attraction and marketing took on a very different form last year. ISE kicked off the season by publishing It’s virtually autumn – a guide to how employers could engage students without having to meet them face-to-face on campus.

To find out how things went and what we could learn to inform campaign planning in 2021, we held a (digital) roundtable between universities and employers.


Challenges and opportunities

Employers and universities agreed that while a lot of the technology is there to facilitate digital attraction, the reality has been more challenging than expected. On the plus side, the move to virtual practices has opened up opportunities for employers to work with more universities than ever before.

It is no longer necessary to decide which careers fair to participate in, you can engage with students across the country. What is more, in a period of rising graduate unemployment, employers have also been able to include recent graduates in recruitment events as well as current students.

All of this should save employers time and the need to travel, which is good for the environment, whilst the ability to engage with a wider range of universities can increase access and make graduate recruitment fairer.

But, despite all of these potential benefits, the last few months have been difficult. The biggest issue is that students have often been slow to engage with virtual recruitment. Some are weighed down with digital fatigue and others don’t have access to suitable digital devices or private spaces to participate.

Meanwhile, careers services have found it increasing difficult to get their messages out through overloaded university communication channels. All too often this has left employers sitting in empty virtual rooms with approaches that try to mimic traditional careers fairs frequently failing to generate engagement.

What is more, when employer and students do come together it can be more difficult to manage the interactions than when they were face-to-face.

However, employers participating in the roundtable also revealed a lot of advantages to the digital approach and they had an appetite to make it work. While many hope to move to a blended model in the future, most expect that the balance of recruitment activity will shift online. And despite the vaccine, digital approaches are still likely to be required throughout 2021.

The ISE roundtable produced the following 8 tips for virtual campus attraction in 2021:


1. You can’t always replicate the careers fair

One of the main things that has gone wrong, is people trying to replicate a face-to-face event. The move to digital gives both employers and universities the chance to rethink how they engage with students. You can’t always replicate the ‘careers fair’ feel – so do something different that fits with the digital tools that you have available. In most cases, this is more likely to be a programme of events and interactions than a single fair-style event. Universities need to start putting together their programmes for 2021/2022 as soon as possible.


2. Don’t necessarily invest in complex tools and platforms

Everything comes down to building a quality encounter between a student and a recruiter. Often this can be done perfectly well using readily available tools like Zoom and Teams. In many cases employers will have their own platforms and the focus should be on getting students to engage with them. There are some great tools out there on the market, but before you buy, think about what value it really adds.


3. Encourage universities to work together

The ability to work at a larger scale and with multiple universities is very appealing to employers. If universities can organise joint events that bring together a number of institutions, they are more likely to engage employers.


4. Build close partnerships

In the past, universities could sell stands to employers at fairs without building a close relationship. Now, the best universities are identifying ‘account managers’ who work closely with employers to help them to identify how best to engage with students through bespoke digital encounters.


5. Work with groups

One-to-one online engagement between students and employers is fraught with difficulties. It is usually better to work with groups through workshops, webinars and panel discussion. This allows students to gain confidence from their peers and solves the problem of high levels of no-shows that many have been experiencing.


6. Don’t just leave them to it

Online engagement requires some support and facilitation. Don’t just put students and employers in a room and expect it to work. Careers services can play a key role in framing these encounters and making sure that they run smoothly.


7. Prepare students

Students need to be well prepared for the encounters that they have with employers. This includes helping them to understand the importance of turning up, thinking about what they want from the encounter and considering how to engage. A key element of this is encouraging students to turn their camera on as this helps them to forge a relationship with an employer.


8. Ensure access

Not every student has access to the digital devices that they need to attend digital careers events. Others may have the device, but lack an appropriate place to talk freely. Some universities are creating opportunities for students to borrow or use laptops and opening up private spaces to support them when engaging with employers.

For more advice read ISE’s It’s virtually autumn

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