Employers & Student Recruiting During Pandemic


By Stuart Esrock, Ph.D.

As employers begin to look toward the fall and possible recruitment of students, it appears they are trying to avoid making large changes in their budgets and staffing despite the COVID-19 situation.  That’s the word from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) and it portends the potential of at least some continued level of hiring activity nationally in the coming months, although increasingly interviewing will occur virtually.  Those nation-wide trends appear to be replicating in our area as well.  

NACE surveyed 300+ employers across the country.  It found that two-thirds are maintaining their current staffing levels for college recruitment activity while only 8% have laid off staff.  About 39% plan to maintain their regular recruiting schedule, while 38% are taking a “wait and see” attitude about the situation.  

Noting the similarities for our area, the Senior Executive Director of Career Management and MBA Programs for the UofL College of Business, Vernon Foster, said, “Local business support has been relatively positive given market conditions. Employers are telling us they are hiring for the future and still need access to great talent. They particularly gravitate to students with well-rounded backgrounds, community service, internship experience, and strong academic performance. They know the University of Louisville has an excellent pool of these students and employers are still reaching out to us to make connections.”

Foster said the recruitment/hiring trend extends beyond full-time positions to internships.  “Our graduate programs for the Full-Time MBA, Innovation MBA, and the Master of Science in Business Analytics (MSBA) rely heavily on graduate level internships as a mechanism for companies to identify much needed talent. In fact, we have seen an uptick in organizations reaching out to use to connect to our students for these one year opportunities. Historically we have yielded a very high percentage of the 11-12 month internships converting into permanent positions; a real win for the students and businesses alike.”

NACE indicates that recruiters are using several tools to increase virtual recruiting activities. About one-quarter of those surveyed think there will be a hybrid (mix of virtual and in person) approach to recruiting in fall 2020 and an in-person approach in spring 2021.  But NACE said there is a notable increase in the number of employers who believe recruiting will be primarily done on a virtual basis for the 2020-21 academic year or at least during the fall season.

Foster said while there will be more local use of virtual technology, he’s also finding continued interest in face-to-face interviewing if students are comfortable doing that.   “We have seen a rise in the utilization of ZOOM, Microsoft Teams, and Skype in the initial phases of the interview process. One major employer uses video interview submissions to determine the students they would like to meet in person for the final decision. All companies stress they are following safety guidelines in live interview environments.”

The pandemic could result in some employers sticking closer to home in their recruiting efforts.  NACE reports that 18% are planning to make their list of target schools more geographically compact.  Foster sees that trend magnifying here.  “More of our students are staying close to home and we are seeing employers do the same – they are realizing the cost benefit analysis of less recruitment costs while accessing the talent they need in their own backyard – and these are the students who want to be part of their companies; committed to helping everyone grow. Closer to work, families, and life-long friends. Louisville will be a beneficiary of the new age. Even in a pandemic there can be silver linings.”

While the move to online classes and remote internships during the pandemic was not universally embraced by UofL students, Foster thinks those virtual experiences have been vitally important.  “Our students have proven their resilience, work ethic, and commitment to excellence by demonstrating they can work remotely – a valuable commodity in a pandemic, but of more value in the changing world of the work place as we know. The old norms are falling to the way side as the new norm is established, along with the new adaptabilities of where one may conduct business. We are preparing our students for the future – the new realities that will become the norm.”