COVID-19 and College Recruiting: The Perfect Storm

When the COVID-19 Pandemic started wreaking havoc in March 2020, it was felt particularly hard by university recruiting programs. College internships and early career hires were just ramping up their summer plans and everything – like much of the business world – came to a screeching halt. These talent acquisition professionals have been admirably nimble in their responses and shifts. Now that some of the dust has settled and we’ve entered the traditional time of college students being unleashed into the professional world as interns or new hires, it’s worth taking a few moments to take note of some key changes and what we should be watching for in the future.

Where things stand for 2020 Internships and Early Career Hires

Approximately one-third of CXR member companies are pulling together virtual internship experiences, often with a slightly shorter time frame than the original internship. Initial response from their college interns has been very positive. In regards to early career hires, companies are doing a combination of things ranging from pushing back start dates a few weeks to putting start dates on hold until there’s a return to business as usual to conducting virtual onboarding and getting these new hires started working from their current location. 

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Where is college recruiting heading next?

New York Magazine recently profiled an interview with Scott Galloway, a Silicon Valley professional who now teaches marketing at NYU Stern School of Business. In that interview Galloway shared his prediction for how the chances wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic might change college education forever. 

[Read the interview: The Coming Disruption: Scott Galloway predicts a handful of elite cyborg universities will soon monopolize higher education]

It’s an interesting read and one that points to changes we think will have a real impact in the realm of college recruiting as well. In a recent discussion with the CXR Campus Recruiting Community, we focused on the potential impacts of pandemic-related changes on the future of college recruiting. The answers are very much in line with Galloway’s predictions about college education overall. In short, our quick shift to virtual experiences and online learning is going to cause long-term change in many areas. Our expert panel focused on two key questions and the discussions were as follows…

What change in early career hiring caused by the COVID-19 pandemic will last the longest? Large cities and jobs involving a high amount of travel won’t seem as attractive as in the past, pushing students to seek opportunities in alternative industries or smaller organizations. Companies that only recruit from core schools will need to lean heavily into new recruiting sourcing strategies to find top talent. As a result of the decrease in early career talent, there will be an increased reliance on converting internships into full-time hires while minimizing the amount of college graduate hiring. 

The ability to learn virtually could also drive a greater desire for young professionals to seek opportunities in more rural areas to live. Virtual outreach and touch points will last a very long time and, in fact, represent a more permanent change to early career hiring. 

What change in internships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic will last the longest? The current situation has positively resulted in companies thinking differently about how internships are handled and the projects that are assigned. The traditional onsite internship is now being challenged. New solutions on how internships can be completed with remote projects is already a reality and one likely to stick. We will see hybrid internship programs pop up offering a mix of how internships are completed. Remote, onsite or a combination of both are likely structures. The fast movement of leveraging technology to complete tasks may also offer up opportunities to provide virtual series internships that provide learning & development skills vs traditional project work. These virtual learning series could be a stepping stone to a more traditional project internship opening doors for Freshman & Sophomores to gain experience and skills prior to an onsite or remote project.

As we continue to hire diverse talent and bring these students into our pipeline at the Freshman+ level, companies are going to have to pivot hard to think about what engagement looks like. If companies are unable to bring students out to their sites/cities or students aren’t willing to relocate even for an internship, companies will be challenged to embed the cultural aspects of their organization into the internship experience. 

[Listen to the podcast: Recruiting Leaders Discuss the Future of College Recruiting Post-COVID-19]

There’s no doubt about it. COVID-19 has changed the world in many ways and its impact on college education, internships and job prospects for college graduates cannot be underestimated. It will be interesting to watch how colleges, campus career centers, companies and the students themselves drive change and shift the traditional experience in months to come. We have yet to realize the majority of surely incredible changes to how we will be working in the future or the ripples that those changes will have in how we recruit and function as HR and Talent professionals. 


Chris Hoyt

Chris Hoyt

A veteran of recruiting and HR, Hoyt is a sought-after speaker with presentations including national conferences with SHRM, LinkedIn, HR Technology, ERE and others in the USA as well as UNLEASH, iRecruit, Australasian Talent Conference and more abroad. Chris has been promoting and leading full scale and enterprise-wide integrations of social media and mobile marketing within workforce strategies for his entire career. His expertise and passion for interactive/social recruiting, candidate experience, and both national and international recruiting strategies are all areas that Hoyt now leverages as co-owner and President at CareerXroads, a Recruiting/Staffing consulting and think tank organization that works with corporate leaders from around the world to break out of traditional recruitment practices and push the envelope in an effort to win the ongoing war for top talent.

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