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How to Build a Strategy to Recruit Student Workers

In the United States, the majority of the approximately 11 million college students work 20 or more hours per week (according to The Century Foundation, a progressive public policy organization that focuses on unemployment). However, this group has historically been ineligible to receive unemployment benefits – even if they lost a job that helped support them during their studies. The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, which originally started as part of the CARES Act in March 2020, allowed qualified students to collect unemployment benefits. However, the PUA program ended on March 14 of this year and millions of college students are currently looking for summer jobs and part-time jobs for the fall semester.

Great news for recruiters looking to fill entry-level and part-time positions with college students and new grads? Not exactly. Remember college career fairs? Because of COVID-19, in-person recruiting operations on campuses have essentially shut down and recruiters are scrambling to adjust strategies for hiring student workers, especially now as businesses reopen in industries that rely heavily on filling high-volume roles with student employees in retail, restaurant, and entertainment industries.

If we learned anything from 2020, it’s that we always need a backup plan. For recruiters, virtual hiring events have been just that – a shift from in-person to online engagement. We’ve been working remotely for over a year and we’ve gotten good at it, using virtual meeting platforms that we hadn’t thought about before the shutdown last year, discovering new and unique features that fit our strategy for reaching candidates.

There have been positives in the shift to virtual career events: they give a more diverse group of students an opportunity to engage with potential employers. Virtual events allow us to reach students outside of our direct geographic area earlier (students on campus planning to go home for the summer, for example), they level the playing field for neurodiverse candidates, and they can be done with a much smaller budget, allowing us to put our allocated spend into promoting the virtual event and our employer brand.

While college campuses are holding virtual career fairs (and you can reach out to the same event contacts who organized on campus career fairs), many companies are getting results by holding their own. Virtual job fairs can bring hundreds or thousands of high-quality candidates together into one virtual room when done right.

Reaching the student demographic is going to be slightly different from a general hiring event. You’re looking for part-time, entry-level candidates, who typically do not search job boards by title – they search by geographic area and industry. You can still take advantage of the fact that a virtual event costs less and you can direct more of your budget into online advertising that is highly targeted, but your reach will be broader than for a skilled position.

How to Develop Candidate Personas When Recruiting

A few big differences on this demographic versus skilled or white collar workers that you’ll need to consider when developing your candidate persona (student, entry-level, part-time, seasonal):

  • More likely to attend a virtual event via a mobile device
  • Willing to use text-to-apply
  • Unwilling to sit through long, drawn out presentations
  • Eager to speak with a hiring manager on the spot
  • Expecting a rapid response

With that in mind, make sure your virtual event is mobile-first and friendly and that you have shortcodes for text apply. Many technology companies offer hosting platforms for webinars and chat, and these can be used for an event-specific hosted job fair. You can also set it up via any webinar platform that allows you to present to a group of registered attendees. Lose the Powerpoint and direct candidates to your amazing careers page that gives them all the information they need to decide to apply.

Related: How to Use Text Messaging to Recruit in the Restaurant Industry and Financial Services

And finally, make sure you have recruiters and hiring managers standing by in your virtual space to chat online and answer candidate questions for a general audience, but also move the conversations into another channel for a one-on-one virtual interview.

Even with the eventual return to campuses for in-person networking events and career fairs, the lessons learned from the past year spent pivoting to virtual events and the results for recruiters are likely to remain.