Recruiting, Talent

Pandemic Sparks Change in What Employers Seek in New College Grads

As college students head back to campus this fall—or maybe prepare for an online-only semester—they are likely looking ahead to graduation and life after college. Employers also are looking ahead and wondering what these students will bring to the workplace as they launch their careers. Employers have long valued employees who can hit the ground running, but the COVID-19 pandemic has refined many employers’ ideas about what they’re looking for in new college grads.


Most Highly Sought Qualities

PeopleScout, a recruitment process outsourcing company, released results of a survey in April showing the pandemic has affected what employers look for in job candidates. In fact, 71% of the hiring managers responding to the survey said the pandemic has had an impact.

And what are employers looking for in candidates? The overwhelming majority of the hiring managers responding to the survey (94%) said they want candidates capable of working independently. Also, 68% of the hiring managers said they have a hard time finding qualified candidates.

The survey found that the most important qualities sought, in order of importance, are:

  • Ability to work independently;
  • Ability to handle stress;
  • Flexibility;
  • Communication; and
  • Ability to be self-guided.

Virtual and Internal Hiring

The pandemic also has affected the hiring process. When work went virtual during the height of the COVID-19 outbreak, recruiting and hiring did as well. Virtual and automated interviews became the norm, and that trend is likely to continue at least in a limited way postpandemic, according to research from LinkedIn.

A LinkedIn Talent Blog post from October 2020 says 81% of talent professionals agreed virtual recruiting will continue after the pandemic, and 70% said virtual recruiting will become the new standard.

The LinkedIn research also showed a shift toward more internal mobility. Instead of always looking to hire new people, employers are expected to ramp up their internal mobility programs. Companies are expected to catalog employees’ current skills and tie internal job opportunities to their learning and development resources.

The research found that one out of two talent professionals expected their recruiting budgets to decrease, but two out of three expected their learning and development budgets to either increase or stay the same.

That change will cause recruiters to prioritize job candidates’ potential and transferable skills over their pedigree and technical capacity to do specific work, the LinkedIn post noted.

What Employees Want

As employers look to what they need from the new college graduates they recruit, they need to consider what those new employees want from their employers. Process management and automation company Nintex in January released its Workplace 2021 Study, which surveyed 1,000 American workers at companies with 501 to 50,000 employees.

The Nintex survey found that 70% of respondents said their experiences working remotely during the pandemic have been better and more productive than they expected, and 51% said their work life would improve with the ability to permanently work remotely.

The study also found that 39% of employees said access to automation software that helps teams automate manual and repetitive tasks would improve their work life.

When asked what would improve their work, generational differences are evident: 55% of Gen Z employees named software to help automate work, 50% of millennials wanted better hardware equipment for a home office, 56% of Gen X employees said more flexible work schedules, and 42% of baby boomers said a pay increase would make their work better.

The survey also found generational differences when employees were asked what would improve their work life: 60% of Gen Z, 63% of Millennials, and 56% of Gen X employees named a work-from-home allowance for faster Wi-Fi and home office equipment. Baby Boomers had a different idea. They said a raise would improve their work life.

The Nintex study also queried employees on why they like to work remotely. Flexibility and freedom were identified as the draws:

  • 56% of respondents said they like remote work because it gives them more time to spend with friends and/or family;
  • 48% said more time to spend on hobbies;
  • 47% appreciated not having to commute;
  • 46% liked having no dress code; and
  • 31% said they like having more freedom to set their own schedules.

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