Trends & BenchmarksTalent Leadership

Shifting to a Virtual Campus Recruiting Model

Lauren Shufran

Lauren Shufran

Content Strategist

Posted on

June 17, 2020

2020 has demanded that we rethink campus recruiting—which may ultimately be a great thing. Here's how to shift to a virtual campus recruiting model.

We didn’t bargain for it; but 2020 has demanded that we rethink campus recruiting. Some colleges and universities have already decided that the 2020-2021 school year will be conducted entirely online. Some may reopen this fall, but administrators expect that ongoing coronavirus transmission will hinder a full return to “campus life.” Some will be open to students, but closed to visitors. Either way, campus recruitment needs to find a new “location.” And it’s possible this massive disruption—and the forced transition to virtual campus recruiting—will turn out to be a blessing.

Luckily, some recruitment teams were already moving away from on-campus recruitment and toward a virtual recruiting model. On-campus recruitment is a bit old-school: remarkably expensive, time-intensive, logistically demanding, and generally less-than-efficient. Virtual campus recruiting, on the other hand, doesn’t demand a large budget (which may have taken a hit thanks to COVID) or time-intensive travel. It erases both geographical limitations and logistical constraints, which deepens and widens your talent pool and bolsters your diversity initiatives. It’s more convenient for both recruiters and students (consider that today’s students are digital natives; so virtual recruiting meets them in a space they’re fluent in—which means better candidate experiences).

What’s more, whereas traditional campus recruiting is a once-and-done event, virtual campus recruiting can be an ongoing strategy: you can maintain an “on-campus presence” throughout the school year. Studies have shown it can take 12-20 touchpoints to impact a career decision; and you simply can’t get that in an on-campus model. Lower costs-per-lead, increased hiring rates, better ROI… if this transition has you concerned, hopefully these benefits put you a little at rest.

So how do you shift your model? Our first piece of advice is to start now. Your competition isn’t likely to wait until after Labor Day this year to start marketing internships and jobs to juniors, seniors, and graduate students. After all, there’s no waiting until campus “opens” to have those conversations; so the calendar is going to look different. As the first person to reach out, you’ll have the advantage of students’ full attention. Beyond that, here’s what to consider:

Widen Your “School Pool”

Many orgs have specialized university recruiters who travel the country every year to engage with students at a select handful of schools. Our first suggestion is to recognize this moment as one in which you might stop organizing your team by school and start organizing by hiring needs, open roles, or geo more broadly. We know that once you’ve got your foot in the door of a school, new hires come more easily from there. Former students refer their graduating friends; and brand recognition is real. But ultimately your team isn’t recruiting qualified schools; it’s recruiting qualified individuals. Those individuals attend schools all over the country, and all over the world. When you limit your on-campus efforts to a few schools, you’re missing out on terrific talent; and you’re less likely to build a pipeline that’s racially, ethnically, and socioeconomically diverse.

By definition, the more schools—and the more types of schools—you can include in your campus recruitment efforts, the more diverse your pipeline will be. And if your team has diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives in place—which it should—these “economies of scale” will dovetail nicely with your efforts.So use this transition to virtual campus recruiting to expand your horizons. Build out talent profiles for specific roles that place less priority on a concentrated handful of schools. Assign recruiters to channels rather than institutions. Start thinking about the schools that haven’t made the shortlist for on-campus visits over the years: HBCUs, Hispanic-Serving Institutions, women’s colleges, lower-ranked colleges and universities. There’s top talent in all of these places. And rather than hosting 20 information sessions at 20 different schools, recruiters can host a handful of interactive events (more on these below) that target students at all schools.

Source Candidates

Just like your on-campus recruitment strategy, your virtual campus recruiting strategy should begin with candidate sourcing. If you’ve already got a relationship with college and university career centers and your budget allows, continue to work with them. If you’re new, reach out and start forming those relationships with career services or career development centers. The staff at these centers are dedicated to helping graduated students transition to work; and they can make great, long-term partnerships.

Colleges and universities typically charge fees for access to their student and alumni networks. If your budget doesn’t allow for that right now, you have plenty of other options for building your talent pipeline. LinkedIn, Handshake, and Jumpstart are three great places to start. Use Google to search for Dean’s Lists, engineering honors programs, honors programs at colleges of art and design, and so on. Search for student awards, competition wins, and membership lists for student organizations. Ask the recent college grads at your org for referrals: recent grads are well-connected; and new grads probably want to come work with their former classmates. You might bypass career centers altogether and reach out directly to the department offices of the major you’re recruiting for. Who are their top professors? Who are their graduate students? Would they be willing to give you that information?

Teaching assistants for top professors—many of whom are graduate students whose contact information is publicly available on the school’s website—can be great resources. TAs often work more closely with students than professors do (they grade their work and teach their sections), and may be more willing to give you the names of outstanding students. (The assistants themselves, of course, are also great recruiting targets.) But even the professors at more remote or less-well-known schools may be open to building virtual relationships with you. After all, they’ve developed a fondness for their top students, and they want to see them thrive. This isn’t an exhaustive list; the point is to get creative.

Build Interest

Once you’ve identified prospective student candidates, you’ve got to pique and sustain their interest. Remember, with virtual campus recruiting there’s no calendar you have to adhere to. Start now and keep in touch throughout the year. Share compelling content about what your company is up to. Invite students to read blog posts by, and watch videos of, your employees. Give them the opportunity to follow you on social media, and post new content on those platforms regularly. Send them to your careers site where they can sign up for your talent community. How is your company supporting employees both mentally and professionally right now? What do your employees have to say about the culture—both pre-COVID and now? What has career progression looked like for your employees (perhaps especially the ones that came to your org right after college)? What benefits are employees getting the most value out of right now? What does your internship program look like?

These are the kinds of questions your campaigns can answer. Recruitment CRMs can help you send personalized campaigns, targeting talent by major, university, geography, diversity, and more. To better engage candidates, consider sending a quick survey that lets them identify the channels of communication they prefer. Email is always a strong option; but Gen Z talent may prefer to get photos, videos, and links by text. Finally, don’t forget the power of gifts. For student talent you particularly want to come work for you, maybe you send a virtual gift card for a local (open!) cafe near them during finals week, or to celebrate winter break.

Map Out Your Virtual Recruiting Events

There are any number of student recruitment events you can hold or participate in; we’ll discuss some of them below. But first a note on promotion. If you’ve done the above, you’ll have an interested pool of student talent who’ll want to attend your events. Don’t stop there. Reach out to those professors (or career centers, if the relationship is there) and ask if they’ll promote your event. Ask the students you’ve been in touch with if they’d be willing to share it among their social circles. Promote it on your social pages and your careers page, along with registration links. You can even list virtual events in Handshake. Here are some events to consider:

Virtual career fairs

A virtual career fair allows you to do everything you’d do during an on-campus career fair—connect with students, disseminate information, host interviews and assessments—without the hassle of being there. Like on-site fairs, virtual fairs have a “lobby” from which attendees navigate to employer booths, “auditoriums” for webinars and presentations, and chat rooms where they can connect with recruiters, hiring managers, and other company reps to hear about available jobs and the benefits of working for your org. They can also share resumes and access digital collateral about your company, as well as interview through one-on-one videoconferencing.

Typically, virtual career fairs are held by individual colleges and universities, and if you’re a smaller company without much brand awareness, you’ll likely go this route. Larger companies doing high-volume recruiting will sometimes hold their own fairs. The great thing about virtual fairs is that they’re high-touch experiences that give attendees a lot of options. Make sure candidates can express interest in your company in advance—including sending their resume ahead of time and scheduling an interview if you’d like that to be an option.

Virtual info sessions

Virtual info sessions can take a number of forms: ask-me-anythings (AMAs) by the company CEO, another executive, or the hiring manager; employee panel discussions (by members of an employee resource group, for example, or members of a particular team); tours of the company office; and so on. Info sessions serve as an introduction to the org or to promote awareness around certain aspects of the company. What are the details of your product or service? What’s a-day-in-the-life of an intern at your company like? What projects are teams currently working on, and what kinds of impact do those projects have? What’s the company culture like, or what are its diversity initiatives? What are the company’s mission, vision, and values; and how do employees embody those things?

One pro tip may be not to call it an “info session.” Compelling titles will draw more students in. Like virtual career fairs, attendees should be able to message, live chat with, and ask questions of the recruiters or company reps—whether throughout the session or at the end. If the chat function is available to attendees throughout, make sure someone from the company is monitoring it so team members can answer questions in real time. Use the data you collect from event registration to engage and nurture candidates via email and text post-event.

Professional development webinars

Of course, webinars can also be “info sessions”; but we think of these as less interactive and more instructional: rather than talking about your company, you’re helping prospective student candidates work through various aspects of the job-search process. What are best practices for the job search? How do you succeed in a technical interview? How do design students build an effective portfolio? How do they crush the interview process? What are the “dos” and “don’ts” of working with recruiters? How do they deal with imposter syndrome? How do they play to their strengths?

Webinars can be hosted in real time, but they can also be recorded and listened to on-demand for students who can’t make the live event. Because you’ll be catering to students’ real inquiries, you’ll see engagement. What’s more, professional development webinars are great for your talent brand, because students recognize you’re in it to help them—no matter where they end up working.

Virtual coffee chats and resume reviews

As students begin clarifying their interest in you (and you in them), consider more intimate 1-on-1 chats to really dig in. Virtual coffee chats—whether with you, the recruiter, or with the hiring manager—give prospective student candidates the chance to ask the questions that may not get covered in your webinars and info sessions. They give you the opportunity to initiate a relationship. Maybe you give students—either the most promising ones or whomever wants to sign up, depending on your recruiting resources—the opportunity to bring resumes to the chat to get feedback. This allows you to simultaneously advise and assess them.

Virtual assessments

There are plenty of ways to assess prospective student candidates remotely; though we suggest you consider gamification for the sake of your talent brand. One way to assess student work is to give them manageable technical problems to solve or small research projects to undertake—contests or hackathons—whether alone or collaboratively.

One our own tech recruiters, Nathalie Grandy, was a University Design Recruiter at Airbnb before she came to Gem. Nathalie used to host “virtual design jams,” 3-hour-long events that allowed her to assess student work in a case-study setting. “We’d invite 30-40 students, and I’d bring four designers and one researcher with me. We’d break the students into random groups of 4 or 5, and they’d have 90 minutes to work through a prompt or problem statement—creating mockups, going through prototyping, and so on. The remaining hour focused on presentations. We asked that everyone in the group speak so we could see their presentation skills: was there one person who took leadership, or struggled to collaborate? They were really insightful events. You might even toy with guaranteeing a mini-internship or a first-round interview for winners of these events. After all, you’ve just seen the quality of their work.”

If you’re in high-volume recruitment, your screening tests may be more eliminative than selective in nature. Online screening tests can help you evaluate students for both technical and non-technical positions and screen out students who don’t possess the fundamental skills required for the role. You can drive career fair and webinar visitors directly to testing platforms. TalScale, Codility, DevSkiller, HireVue, Mercer | Mettl are among many platforms that will administer the tests for you, ensuring your screening process is consistent and your candidates are evaluated based on the right skills and metrics.

Virtual interviews

You’ve probably gotten used to conducting virtual interviews over the last few months, so we won’t linger here. These live interviews will be the culmination of your virtual efforts.

Measure Your Virtual Campus Recruiting Efforts

As with all your recruiting efforts, you should measure the success of your virtual campus recruiting strategy. Ideally you have software that’s collecting the data for you; dig into those metrics and look for places you can optimize your process. Here are some things to measure:

  • Event attendance

  • Number of resumes collected

  • Number of live chat interactions

  • Number of resumes/CVs uploaded

  • Number of candidate points of contact

  • Number of qualified candidates per event

  • Number of qualified candidates per college

  • Number of hires per recruiting event

  • Social media engagement

  • Open, click-through, and interested response rates to your emails

  • Passthrough rates between funnel stages

  • Time candidates spent at each stage in process

  • Time to hire

  • Cost per hire

  • Retention rate

Use these numbers as internal benchmarks for yourself, so you can gauge improvement next year if you’ve decided to continue with the virtual model. In time, you’ll be able to forecast for future roles. How many resumes will you need to receive, and how many candidates will you need to assess and interview in order to fill a single role based on historical data? Once you know these numbers, you can work with your hiring managers and other partners to determine how to deliver that volume of quality candidates.


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