With the massive disruption caused by COVID-19, companies have had an unexpected opportunity to pause and reflect on how to adjust their college recruiting strategies and business operations to better adapt to the evolving landscape. 

Employers have essentially shut down their in-person recruiting operations on campuses in light of COVID-19. Meanwhile, HR teams everywhere are scrambling to adjust their hiring, especially their processes for filling early talent roles. Reimagining how business is done within these new constraints will likely lead to many types of innovation in the future.

Nevertheless, there is no doubt that college graduates face a difficult time ahead.

CNBC recently called this “the worst hiring season for new college graduates since the 2007–2008 financial crisis.” This wasn’t the case before the pandemic. According to the Wall Street Journal, the class of 2020 was poised to enter a hot job market, confirming that a lot can change within a couple of months.

Democratizing opportunities for recent graduates entering the workforce is more relevant than ever. Recent graduates face an alarming economic downturn that is likely to become a lengthy recession, perhaps far worse than what millennials experienced in 2008. Graduating students need help from all of us, with more than 3 in 4 students on Handshake telling us that getting a good job is a top concern.

Employers who adapt to these ever-changing needs will be well-positioned to succeed when the economy bounces back. After all, filling an early talent pipeline remains key to an employer’s success. Employers who think creatively—for example, shifting efforts to digital—are poised to succeed when the business climate improves.

The good news is that recruiting efforts by employers haven’t stopped entirely; they’ve merely shifted—most notably, to digital formats rather than in-person. In a recent Handshake hiring pulse survey, 59% of employers told us that they are adopting or increasing digital engagement, including virtual events, during this time.

A Harvard Business Review article points out that one trend that is emerging now is the need for companies to reimagine work. “With jobs at the heart of how work gets done, leaders have an unprecedented opportunity to reimagine them by rearranging work and having employees take on different responsibilities to better respond to the evolving needs of their organizations, customers, and employees.”

For those students who are still actively searching for jobs, it’s game on. Student attendance for virtual events on Handshake jumped by more than 50% in March 2020, compared to February, and with nearly 60% of students viewing jobs on Handshake, we’re seeing that students are still continuing to apply to jobs and engage with employers.

As always, we at Handshake are looking at ways to offer our support, especially in these uncertain times. In response to the global pandemic, we ran two surveys: one for students and one for employers engaged in recruiting early talent, specifically asking about how COVID-19 has impacted them.

With more than 500K employers and 6M active students active on Handshake, we also leveraged our platform to conduct a thorough analysis, matching what students and employers are saying with how they’re actually behaving.

We combined all of that material and today, we are introducing a new report: Rethinking Early Talent Hiring in the Era of COVID-19: What College Students Need Now. Get a free copy of the report to learn how students are prioritizing their career search amidst the change, effective ways to reach them during this time, and other new trends that are emerging with early talent.

Our intention is for these findings to serve as the foundation to your playbook for effectively recruiting early talent during this time. Whether you’re continuing to hire or not, learn how Handshake can help you build your employer brand so that you’re prepared when demand rebounds. Finally, if you’re a student looking to become the best virtual candidate, Handshake is here to support you every step of the way.