The rapidly changing situation with coronavirus is an unsettling time for us all, personally and professionally. Obviously we don’t know what is going to happen over the coming months, but it has made me think about other times the recruitment industry has navigated through major uncertainty. We’ve faced big challenges in the past and the industry has emerged stronger as a result, and I’d like to offer some thoughts that might help if you have not faced a sudden downturn before.
Working in graduate induction for a technology company in 2001 just after the dot com bubble burst, I had to ask graduates who had received offers to defer into the following year, without damaging our brand in the marketplace. In 2008 I joined ISE (AGR as it was then) just six weeks before Lehman Brothers collapsed and the global economy tanked – with the inevitable impact on recruitment processes. And more recently working in the Careers Service at City University in London showed me how employers’ decisions about campus engagement and communication can influence students’ perception of a brand, and how fragile reputations can be.
Based on this, I have three observations to share.
First, while recruitment targets may be scaled back in the short term (as suggested in ISE’s recent research which members can download here), the numbers will recover once the situation stabilises. Early talent recruitment differs from experienced hire in one important way though: you can’t just turn the tap off and on at will, and an early talent freeze now will lead to a gap in your staff experience profile which will be very expensive to remedy in future.
Experience suggests that maintaining some level of activity makes a big difference when you want to re-start the recruitment process in universities – and I’d imagine it is the same in schools and colleges too. I remember the example of one employer in the early 2000s that stopped graduate recruitment completely almost overnight, and who later estimated it took 4 years to re-build relationships and trust on campus as a result. I’d suggest is it very important for employers to maintain links with education, where careers services are under enormous pressure right now to support students who are worried about internships and graduate jobs.
Second, many of us are getting used to a new way of working at the moment, and recruitment processes will change too of course. Nothing new here: in the last 20 years I’ve seen the explosion of Facebook and other social media channels in early talent marketing, the use of new assessment tools like phone and video interviews, and a shift towards completely new selection models. Thinking back far enough, when I filled in my Logica application form I did it with a pencil and then posted it in!
In the short term a shift towards a completely virtual selection process is inevitable and will be unsettling for students and recruiters. That said, it does provide a golden opportunity for more forward thinking employers to support careers services that are trying to help their students adapt, which in turn will help the employer to build their brand on campus. I think we’ll see the best recruiters really make the most of this.
Third, I wonder if there will be another shift in the skills and competencies that employers look for? When I started in graduate recruitment it was all about assessing for teamwork, communication, client focus and leadership potential. After the downturn in 2008-09 we started talking about resilience, authenticity, self-motivation and environmental awareness. In the next few years will we be looking for candidates that can talk about their strong social awareness and a desire to support the community?
My time at City opened my eyes to the challenges some of our students had overcome on their journey to reach university, and how their mindset and attitude would be a tremendous asset to employers. I think we’ll be hearing more stories about different types of amazing accomplishments over the coming months; universities need to encourage their students to tell these stories, and employers need to be ready to listen.
I hope these thoughts might provide some reassurance if you’ve not been here before, or some food for thought if like me this is your third or fourth downturn. Stay safe, and I look forward to seeing you at an (online) event soon.