Amber Wigmore Alvarez explores how Business School Career Services are evolving to meet the needs of talent and corporate partners.
On 25 June 2020, the career services world came together to discuss the challenges and opportunities for talent at EFMD institutions in light of the COVID-19 crisis.
Together with Paul Lauriac, Development & Partnerships Director from Toulouse Business School in France and Melissa Handley, Director of Alumni and Career Services from EADA Business School Barcelona in Spain, the Coffee with Careers event involved over a hundred Career Services professionals from across the EFMD network.
The discussions uncovered a range of initiatives that career services teams are using to continue to engage with talent and corporate recruiters despite current global problems.
The digital realm
Not surprisingly, everything has shifted from physical to virtual career fairs and selection processes, online interviews, digital workshops and remote internships.
When asked whether the move to digital recruiting is irreversible and if schools, students and companies will maintain these practices in the future, only 13% of the Career Services participants believe that the shift is completely irreversible or that digital is here to stay.
A larger group (87%) think a hybrid of digital and on-campus recruiting will be their main strategy in the future. Significantly, not a single EFMD institution foresaw a return to pure face-to-face, on-campus recruiting.
While the future will be more digital, when asked about whether the participating institutions’ career services were already using or in the process of implementing artificial intelligence to respond to talent (e.g. with chatbots or similar), an overwhelming majority (89%) responded no. There was agreement that AI has some way to go before replacing human beings in career services and recruiting.
Other feedback from the participants included the belief that schools will be reactive to their hiring corporate partners’ needs. This begged the question: why not be more proactive and anticipate the needs of the recruiters and talent?
A good example of a school taking a proactive approach is an African institution which, despite the fact that few companies in their region are using video interviews, is currently working on an asynchronous video series to upskill their students in the “new way of interviewing”. This includes training students for what they need to do in a video interview, being aware of the physical, technological and psychological perspective, and the part that AI can play.
Other schools relayed that they were actively engaging employer partners in their network to analyse what they expect from students in the future, and how their curricula should develop.
For a leading business school in Greece, the approach is based on maintaining personal contact to engage recruiters through regular updates. Since they will not be hosting their on-campus career fair this year, for the past few months they have been sending out emails every couple of weeks reminding recruiters to join the school CV database for their talent needs. This school is also mapping a target list of companies and reaching out to set up virtual meetings to present the career tools to strengthen collaboration.
There was also discussion around how talent is responding in terms of what is both safe and practical. One school found that all the ‘add-ons’ offered at the university take up a large amount of time for adult learners who are already very busy, so having both synchronous and asynchronous content online makes it more accessible and possible to squeeze in between other activities.
It is much easier to multitask while watching an informative video/webinar rather than needing to show up at university for a session. Many noted much higher engagement with their online events versus face-to-face. This may just be the nature of our times (COVID-19), or it could be that people have had a true mind shift into the fourth and fifth Industrial Revolutions.
Putting aside the digital developments for a moment, there was a general interest in learning about the international job market and availability of opportunities. One peer from South Africa cited immense strain on their economy, including massive retrenchments and pay cuts on the one hand, while start-ups and tech are seemingly showing different employment trends which open up more opportunities on the other.
Reaction of the talent
How is the talent reacting to the new environment? Are Career Services taking the pulse of the reaction of their talent? What extraordinary measures have career services teams taken to make sure talent feel their needs are being met during lockdown and beyond?
A poll of the Career Services participants determined that 51% identify their “continued efforts to bring recruitment opportunities” as the aspect most welcomed by their talent, followed by “flexible availability and one-on-one advising sessions” (41%) and “online resources and training modules” (9%).
Given the flexibility of the digital environment, there was a good deal of discussion around how career services can use online tools to offer more personalised approaches. The majority of participants (77%) responded that this has been effective for them, while 23% have not noticed a difference.
The increasing stress associated with COVID-19 has prompted some career services teams to implement weekly checkpoints to help talent feel less disconnected, as well as maintain contact through regular communication channels such as newsletters, student councils and student representatives.
Maintaining relationships with recruiters
In the COVID-19 context, with less recruitment, how are career services teams maintaining engagement with corporate recruiters? Figure 5 reflects some of the tactics taken by career services teams, ranging from collaborative and empathic approaches to the fostering of mentorship programs, alumni engagement and proactive outreach.
One career services team from a British institution relayed that it has surveyed its recruiters. While they found the responses to their school’s surveys to be more positive than national surveys, one challenge they face is to persuade academics not to default to alternative assessments/options to placements or rely only on alternative (virtual) work experience and work-related learning opportunities.
A second British institution mentioned the built environment as the worst affected sector for recruitment, and noted that healthcare and pharmaceuticals are still recruiting and increasing in some areas. Professional Services are also still hiring and honouring placements due to lengthy lead-in times for the ROI to be gained from recruitment of talent.
Another participant referred to students as “digital natives” who have a great role as “digital angels” who can support SMEs in adapting to the new virtual working world – not a silver bullet solution but more a silver lining to the situation.
The effect on career services
During the pandemic, how are Career Services professionals coping? When participants were asked to share the first word that came to mind it was “communication” (Figure 6).
Communication was seen as key. Fostering team dynamics by sharing what they are doing, finding ways to connect, celebrating the small things and finding opportunities to share positive stories were mentioned as useful strategies.
Specific examples of this include partnering with companies to deliver a coffee or piece of cake to employees’ homes for a coffee session – so everyone can eat together despite the physical distance – and having a virtual “hangout” room where employees/teams can go any time of the day to see who is there and just have an informal chat, as well as scheduling specific team catch-ups.
Regardless of how long the pandemic lasts, there is agreement that this is the new working environment. Based on the discussions, the career services shared many new experiences and initiatives that are expected to continue well into the future.
While uncertainty currently abounds, what is clear is that the power of the Talent & Careers community is stronger than ever, as is the desire to reflect on how COVID-19 is shaping career services and the world of recruiting.
There is a strong desire for collaboration, while knowledge sharing amongst institutions is a testament to the significance of this new way of working for talent, recruiters and business schools.
Finally, it is acknowledged that changing international mobility, employability and labour market trends, all enhanced by technological advancements, point to a significant need for training and development for career services teams, to meet the needs of both talent and recruiters.
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