Recruiting the Class of 2020 Won’t Be the Same Due to COVID-19

Coronavirus (COVID-19) COVID-19 Recruiting

Congrats to the class of 2020! On behalf of everyone everywhere, we want to be the first to apologize for how your final year of school ended! Graduation ceremonies have been canceled, and you won’t get the same experience of walking onto the stage and getting your diploma handed to you, but fear not: You’ll be the first class to experience an entirely digital hiring process! And being the tech-savvy Gen Zs you are, we know you’ll do great! It’s the underprepared HR pros and recruiters we’re worried about.


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According to new research from recruiting platform iCIMS, U.S. college graduates in the class of 2020 were expected to apply to roughly 10 jobs on average before the coronavirus pandemic hit, and after, that number doubled to 20. The iCIMS Class of 2020 report uncovers the changes in the expectations of graduating seniors and offers insights on how employers will recruit entry-level talent as the economy itself shifts gears.

Report Details

The report is based on a survey of 500 U.S. college seniors and 500 recruiters and HR professionals, along with data points and trends from iCIMS’s proprietary database of more than 3 million job postings, 75 million applications, and 4 million hires each year.

“The college graduating class of 2020 had big career hopes and expected to be welcomed by a strong job market,” says Irene DeNigris, chief people officer at iCIMS, in a press release. “Employers were thriving and needed candidates to fill open positions in their growing businesses. However, the economy shifted in response to the global health crisis and is changing the way employers hire.”

“Our new reality reinforces the need for flexibility, as the center of gravity shifts from a candidates’ market to an employers’ market,” DeNigris adds. “It is more critical than ever before to be prepared for the future of work, continuing to put people at the forefront of all that we do.”

The Hiring Landscape Varies

Some companies are hiring at an increased speed and volume, while others are transitioning to a completely virtual hiring and onboarding structure, hiring with precision, or solely focusing on maintaining engagement with talent pools and current employees. While employers navigate changing business needs, HR and talent acquisition leaders must plan for long-term success.

The Class of 2020 report reveals preferences and expectations of the newest wave of candidates entering the job market, as well as how leading employers are maintaining their talent goals.

According to the report, some of the top tools and methods college seniors are using to search for jobs are Google (64%), social media/job board hybrids such as LinkedIn (64%), company career pages (57%), and career fairs (57%).

Pro tip: Improve the quality of job applicants and drive more relevant traffic to career portals by focusing on the search engine optimization of job postings so they get picked up by Google. Ensure the company career site is dynamic and mobile-friendly, and pivot events strategies to host virtual career fairs.

iCIMS also found that the overwhelming majority (95%) of jobseekers entering the workforce expect to hear back from an employer in less than 2 weeks after applying for a specific position.

Pro tip: Prioritize transparency in application statuses, knowing that students are actively submitting to jobs, as companies’ time frames shift. Utilize candidate relationship management (CRM) tools, texting, and online job portals to keep candidates engaged and informed.

The iCIMS report also found that 66% of recruiting professionals say they have been ghosted by a candidate in the past year, and nearly 32% say they have been ghosted more than 5 times. This has been a recurring problem for the last few years, but now that COVID-19 has changed the employment landscape, ghosting may become a thing of the past. However, recruiters and HR pros should still be diligent about their recruiting efforts just to be safe.

Pro tip: Avoid getting ghosted by keeping candidates engaged through regular updates in job portals and via text messages and e-mails sent through a CRM.

Additionally, college seniors say timeliness of the employer’s response is the most important factor during the hiring process.

Pro tip: Use automated, modern communication channels like texting and artificial intelligence (AI)-powered chatbots to accelerate response times while creating authentic recruiter interactions anytime, anywhere.

At the time the survey was conducted in mid-March, this year’s graduates stated they are expecting to earn $48,781, on average, for their first job—men expect slightly more at $51,654, while women anticipate earning $47,663—but employers are willing to pay $54,585, which is a $10,000+ jump from what they were paying 5 years ago.

Pro tip: With the sharp twist in the job market, employers now have more leverage because of the influx in the supply of talent that is now in the market, and salary expectations and offers may change. Take a total rewards approach when offering entry-level candidates a position. While salary is important, they value stability more than ever right now, and they also consider work perks and benefits, culture, flexibility, a diverse and inclusive workforce, and a commitment to good corporate citizenship when evaluating employers.

When candidates get an offer, nearly 60% of college seniors prefer to complete their intake paperwork digitally, reports iCIMS. And as most office environments have been forced to go remote, we predict more than just the intake process will be digital.

Pro tip: Implement technology to manage the offer letter process, and use digital Web portals for paperwork so new hires are left with a good impression during this critical phase of the employment process.

Additional Expert Insight

“As a result of COVID-19, the recruiting and hiring process has shifted almost entirely online,” says David Owens, director of campus recruiting at national staffing agency Addison Group, in an e-mail to HR Daily Advisor. “While this new employment landscape has been difficult for many Americans to navigate, it may be especially difficult for college seniors who are looking for careers in their respective fields for the first time.”

“However, opportunities are still out there and the best way to make a good first ‘virtual’ impression is by showing you can be adaptable to this new landscape,” he suggests.

“While college graduates may think that they are at a disadvantage due to limited professional experience, many organizations are continuing to align their hiring strategies to this demographic,” Owens says. “What a college grad may lack in experience, they can make up for in potential. It is important for candidates to showcase the professional characteristics that are controllable: passion, curiosity, coachability and adaptability. These are all skills that can be demonstrated in a virtual setting and are easily transferable across a vast majority of industries.”

“For hiring managers, it is important to remain transparent and consistent in your communication with candidates about career opportunities,” he adds. “Understand that the interview process is a two-way street.”

Owens also shares a few tips to help recruiters maintain a virtual college recruiting process in the midst of uncertainty and ensure they don’t lose out on top talent from the class of 2020:

Maintaining a presence off campus. “It’s important to maintain brand recognition by providing value to college students, even if hiring is on-hold,” Owens suggests. “Work with university career services to take on virtual initiatives such as informational sessions, mock interviews, and résumé reviews.”

Don’t pull offers, unless absolutely necessary. “Pulling offers can set a bad example and ruin your brand reputation on campus. If a graduating student is the perfect fit, high-potential, and excited about your organization, do everything you can to provide them a role (even if it’s not the one they applied for) at your company,” he adds.

Maintain a pipeline. “Even during a hiring freeze, you should still build relationships and keep tabs on a short list of potential hires,” Owens says. “Ensure you’re transparent if that is the case. The candidate will still be a good fit down the road and appreciate the upfront information.”

The class of 2020 can now join the class of 2008 in a shared bond of graduating during a recession. For employers and jobseekers alike, we’re living in uncertain times, but if/when things return to some sort of normal, keep these tips in mind to attract top talent and keep your pipeline fully stocked.

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