Universities explain what students want from employers this autumn

Sep 13, 2022 | Attraction & marketing

ISE’s university steering group offers some insight to employer engagement opportunities this autumn and what students want.

We asked ISE’s university steering group to tell us what students want from employers at the moment, if there a preference for virtual or face-to-face activities and what best drives conversations on campus.

Students want face-to-face events

While online engagement was strong during the height of the pandemic, universities have noticed a steady decline over the last academic year. With students back on campus, it can be difficult for them to juggle face-to-face teaching with online extracurricular employer sessions. Students also recognise the benefit of networking face-to-face with employers.

Where possible students want to see a reintroduction of physical events with more on-campus careers fairs and employer led events. There is a preference towards more interactive events and pop-up stands where they can have meaningful interactions as opposed to lecture style presentations.

One university also highlighted that events held over multiple days were popular as they helped avoid timetable clashes.

Role of online and hybrid activity

While broadly students have a preference for on-campus employer engagement, there are groups who prefer the flexibility of online opportunities such as those who commute or have caring responsibilities.

There are also many employers who prefer an online or hybrid approach to student engagement.

Read ISE research on employer attraction activity this autumn.

Supplementing in person careers fairs with online workshops and presentations is one approach. Also, in-curricular activities offer an accessible way for all students to engage with employers such as through authentic assessments and projects.

As students are drawn to more recognisable brands, it can be helpful to build the employer brand through hybrid attraction activity as well as a mixture of in-curricular and extra-curricular engagement.

Relevancy

Relevancy is key to students and if they don’t feel an event is relevant to their needs, they won’t attend.

This means there is a preference towards smaller more targeted events such as those for a specific sector and job type as well as events for women and students from different ethnic groups.

Tangible recruitment opportunities combined with application advice sessions are also popular as are skills workshops, demonstrating an employer’s genuine interest in developing students outside of their recruitment needs.

It’s important to look for ways to make it easy for students to decide if an event is relevant to their career choice.

Reality of working life

Students want an opportunity to gain insight into the reality of working for an organisation before applying.

To get a feel for this, students increasingly value informal one-to-one conversations, mentoring and support from industry professionals.

Employers should be mindful that diversity content should help students to see the reality of the employer’s efforts – and the challenges. Access to internal diversity groups are powerful as is making sure speakers have lived experience.

While virtual opportunities such as webinars and social media takeovers have provided great flexibility there is no substitute for seeing an organisation for real. This doesn’t always mean employers have to go on campus, they can also open the doors of offices and labs etc. for visits and events.

One university mentioned that students need to understand the working environment and the reality of whatever flexible/hybrid working practices are in place. One student commented, “don’t shy away from this simply because your office is half full – we understand the world has changed, but I still want to meet people and see the environment.”

Company culture and values

Universities noted a shift to students being more value-driven when it comes to engaging with potential employers.

Students are more interested in company values, how they align with their own values and are placing a greater importance on company culture.

This is a key driver for conversations with employers and students want employers to be genuine, transparent and vocal about commitments to environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG).

With many students interested in sustainability, they are looking for opportunities to make a difference and have meaningful careers whatever the sector. There’s also a real push to be more sustainable at physical events, so they’re not interested in freebies in the same way.

Employers going on campus or engaging online should be prepared to respond to questions about their values, culture and ESG.

Transparency

Employers should expect to be clued up and transparent on all elements of their recruitment and organisation.

Expect questions on legal opportunities (e.g. Big 4) and the changes to UKVI regulations, the Graduate Route and Skilled Worker visa. Students were given a ‘pass’ during the pandemic when the post-Brexit changes kicked in, but two years on, employers need to be clear and knowledgeable about the current situation.

Read the ISE blog on rules for recruiting international students

Employers should also expect to be transparent about recruitment processes, salaries and progression routes. And students want clarity on the assessment process such as if it’s online, whether they should expect physical interviews, if travel will be paid and what tools will be used.

What’s taking place on campus?

Some universities told us about the type of opportunities available this autumn.

Nottingham Trent University has six physical fairs. Two are generic and four are sector fairs in Law, STEM, Built Environment, Life Sciences and Environment. In addition to its core events programme, there is a real push to engage and raise the profile of employers in the curriculum: L4 Insights, work-like experiences such as projects, advisory boards, guest speakers as-well an increase in short and year-long placements.

While King’s College London has reduced attraction activity such as fairs on campus, it will run business treks or enhance education and skills content from employers by tailoring and advising on what students need and want to hear. The university will also run online sector panels, enabling flexibility of attendance across a multi-campus institution and timetabling, and there will be more variety in curriculum opportunities.

In response to how burned-out some students felt by virtual engagement, its sector-specific events have been merged to test and maximise student engagement. The university is also collaborating with partners to run international and sector fairs and a diversity and inclusion series.

Taking all of its student insight into account, Kingston University London’s employer engagement strategy for the next 12 months will remain hybrid but with a greater focus on on-campus activities. The university is also adopting a more values-driven approach to the types of employers it is seeking to partner with, especially B-corps and those with a demonstrable commitment to EDI.

University of Leeds is hosting five on campus fairs and a global virtual fair in 22/23 aiming to attract over 500 employers. This is supplemented by highly targeted in-person employer networking sessions, with themed weeks and sector focused activity to maximise engagement.

The university is also returning to running popular employer led workshops consisting of panels of three to four employers sharing top tips on a range of topics including professionalism, recruitment processes, transferable skills, and self-awareness. The workshops will be co-delivered, with input from expert careers advisors, alumni, and final year students.

Read more insight and advice from universities

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