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Can virtual careers fairs save campus talent attraction?

by Millie Catling

August 17, 2020

With lecture theatres out of bounds and students set to study from the comfort of their kitchens, university campuses are likely to be barren for the rest of 2020. Without freshers’ week or careers fairs to give companies an employer brand presence on-site, accessing the UK’s best young talent will be more challenging than ever. Millie Catling, a member of Wiser’s Research & Insights team, discusses how a lack of campus visibility may mean companies’ early careers opportunities go unnoticed. Without plastering university unions with interactive campaigns and free branded tote bags acting as walking advertisements, how will companies engage with the student population?

Using readily available university careers resources, like job boards and careers newsletters, is better than nothing, but only 13% of students actively engage with them [Wiser Insights]. Switching to virtual careers fairs might be a better option. These 3D simulations offer a strong alternative by using a branded digital environment hosted by an online platform. While traditional careers fairs allow students to showcase their personality alongside their qualifications, they also pose the limitations of queues, repetitive interactions and confined space. All of which are eliminated when the experience is moved online. In-person interactions may be more genuine than viewing CV pages or LinkedIn profiles, but they can be a competitive playground for egos, in which quieter students can struggle to feel ‘seen’, let alone heard. In the battle to hold the recruiters’ attention long enough to get tips on applying to their grad scheme, the more reserved students can feel overwhelmed. Removing the physical element also offers the advantage of sophisticated scheduling in which timings are determined to put the ideal candidates in the right meeting rooms based on their interests and achievements. Going virtual not only prevents time from being wasted for both parties but deters those who are just in it for the free water bottles and pens.

Orchestrating a room full of recruiters and students is enough of an ordeal, without technological barriers. But it may be a much easier and more personable experience than you think. Students prioritise developing industry knowledge, learning about future roles and networking when it comes to virtual careers events [Wiser Insights], and hosting platforms, such as iVent, CareerFair Plus and Remo, offer high levels of customisation to do just that. By mimicking the authentic careers fair experience with branded exhibitor booths, downloadable resources, showreels of webinars and live chat features, they have proven a hit with top UK universities, such as the University of Sheffield and King’s College London. But the practicality doesn’t end there. CV search tools and site analytics allow exhibiting companies to keep tabs on their talent pool’s mouse clicks to track return on investment (ROI) and create potential candidate shortlists. With the help of internal marketing, companies can further maximise their ROI by recycling any designed brand assets across their social media in the weeks leading up to and after the event - extending their time in the spotlight beyond a single day.

Better still, building out a long-term student engagement strategy solidifies companies as renowned graduate employers. Once a company acknowledges its early careers potential, it can expand into the realm of student brand ambassadors, which 88% of students rate as the best way for employers to promote graduate roles on campus [RateMyPlacement Student Survey, 2018]. Ambassadors act as an army of temporary recruiters who can educate fellow students on companies’ application processes, without the intimidating need to impress. Being more approachable allows them to infiltrate the student market and uncover genuine student opinions, while spreading the word of company events, driving traffic to careers pages and increasing the quality of applications. Building an employer brand that resonates with early careers talent means ambassadors will act as brand champions, equipped with an attractive identity to share knowledge about the company and wider industry. Vibrant examples seen across the UK include Redbull and Bumble who entice students with publicity stunts and free club nights respectively. Student ambassadors can transform future talent strategies by gaining insight into how competitors are positioning themselves and by collating student opinion data. They’re armed to tackle recruitment struggles, such as those inflicted by Covid-19, while maximising university networks, making them the most adaptable form of talent attraction to keep the optimum candidate pool warm all year round.

It’s a tough time to be a student graduating into one of the worst economic landscapes imaginable, with the biggest debt baggage to date [Prospects]. Companies who respond by prioritising their 2020 graduate opportunities will be known for valuing their early careers talent. Leveraging virtual recruiting capabilities to supplement on-campus presence is the ideal combination for tackling the increasing campus competition and decreasing internal budgets. Mastering a digital talent attraction strategy will amplify university presence beyond careers fair booths, while maintaining a high-quality, inclusive candidate experience that reaches a wider talent stream. If companies create evergreen resources, editable for each new year’s recruitment plan, not only will they save time, but there will be no forking out for brochures, employee travel or giveaway merchandise.

With these bountiful benefits in mind, the previous life of crowding in a university sports hall seems less and less appealing. The added bonus of greater accessibility for introverted students, or those with a physical disability who may struggle to navigate a bustling room, may mean this year’s fairs receive greater engagement than ever before. This could be the wake-up call to innovate university careers services we didn’t know was needed.

If you’re intrigued to know more about how you can move your campus attraction online or access networks of student ambassadors, watch the recording of our latest webinar. We were joined by leaders at TikTok and The University of Liverpool, as well as one of Wiser Academy’s own Team Lead ambassadors to discuss how to create virtual campaigns that would make The Times Top 100 blush.