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Tips & best practices

Reimagining relationships with Gen Z: the future of recruitment

A look at how employers can widen their talent pool by diversifying their recruitment strategy

The competition for early talent is fierce right now - with unemployment rates at a historical low and over a million open roles on the market, employers are having to do more to attract candidates. With 97% of employers expecting to increase or maintain hiring in the next year, the competition will only get hotter.

Imagine you're going fishing. You go on down to the nearest pool, because you've caught good fish there before, so it feels like a safe bet. Problem is, all your neighbours are using this pool too. It's cramped, you're fighting over the same fish, and there's only a limited number to start with.

This is what so many employers end up doing when they invest heavily in a “core universities'' strategy for filling their hiring pipeline. What if, instead of sticking to the pool you always go to, you widened your search?‍

A closer look at the "core universities" strategy

What is a "core universities" strategy? It’s all right there in the name: whether intentional or not, organisations invest time, money, and energy into recruiting talent from only a handful of universities.

The universities that top the core universities list vary from organisation to organisation, but often, they’re based on factors such as convenience, perceived prestige, or even the universities attended by members of the company’s executive leadership team.

Looking for candidates exclusively from select universities has been a common hiring practice for organisations that need an efficient and seemingly effective way to sort through an overwhelming, geographically dispersed talent pool. But, this approach won’t help you build the strongest, most diverse candidate pipeline for your internships and entry level roles.

Find qualified candidates your competitors don’t even know about

Many organisations choose to hire from the same universities due to limited budgets, but there are ways to expand your reach without incurring extra costs. With the increased adoption of virtual recruiting, you can take on a hybrid approach to your hiring and set yourself a step ahead of competition vying for the same type of talent.

  • Go hybrid: when it comes to events, hybrid is here to stay. You can now do more, more efficiently and more cost-effectively, by engaging candidates virtually. Our partner, Accenture, saw more than 2000 women apply to their Empowering Female Futures programme. One in 10 attended their virtual event series and 46% of those attendees ended up being offered a position.
  • Enhance your appeal: 95% of Gen Z are more likely to engage with an employer who is proactive and personalised in their attraction approach. Use features like Handshake Advocates to provide opportunities for candidates to connect and interact with key figures in your organisation outside of recruitment or hiring managers, such as current employees on the graduate scheme who can share about their experience.
  • Build your brand: whether your company is a household name or not, we know that today’s students are socially-conscious and that influences their decisions. The way you market yourself is increasingly important to attract qualified candidates who align with your company goals and values, and educates them about who you are without requiring extra heavy lifting from you.

“With the [core universities] and traditional recruiting model, you’re limited to students who are already interested in your brand and are unable to seek out students with backgrounds who better fit the brand’s talent needs.”

Bryan Kaminski, Former Director of Talent Acquisition: Talent Programs at Under Armour

Tap into a more diverse network of students

Diversity isn’t about public relations or satisfying quotas. It’s about building a team filled with differing backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives.

Perhaps you’ve already taken steps to remove bias from parts of your hiring process—such as ensuring that you have a diverse hiring panel, carrying out bias training, standardising interviews, or removing candidates’ names from their applications.

But if core universities are still playing a big role in your evaluation criteria, you’re not doing enough. While elite universities are stepping up efforts to encourage and accept applications from more diverse students, these institutions are still set up to favour affluent students, resulting in a homogenous population and employer talent pool.

To build a more diverse hiring pipeline, you need to look outside the universities you’ve always defaulted to and dedicate more effort and attention to places that have the varied, qualified talent you actually want.

Tackling systemic inequality

In early talent, we have the opportunity to make a difference. Throughout the UK, there are many examples of systemic inequality and barriers based on geography, socio-economic background and more. There is a huge gulf between the number and kinds of opportunities available to students at universities in city hubs and the Russell Group, versus elsewhere.

In your role, do you want to contribute to maintaining the status quo? Or do you want to have a positive impact on the next generation?

Many businesses we speak to are seeing board-level commitments to increasing social mobility as part of their corporate responsibilities. One of the most effective and practical ways you can increase social mobility in early talent is to broaden your reach, and move away from a “core university” strategy, to a digital-first, scalable approach that reaches students where they are.‍

The move to skills-based hiring

At Handshake we understand that talent is everywhere, but opportunity is not. Our partners who are seeing the most success getting their roles filled are taking a skills-based approach that opens the talent pool to a broader group of candidates.

Since talent is equally distributed across the country, the institution a candidate attends doesn’t come close to telling their full story. You are better off looking at attributes that will actually help a person make an impact in their role (and in your organisation)— such as knowledge, skills, past experience, interests, credentials, and relevant qualifications. When you level the playing field and give equal access to career opportunities regardless of a person’s background, your talent pool will automatically become more diverse.

Diversity in thought can help your organisation thrive. Harvard Business Review reports that, when compared with teams of cognitively similar people, diverse teams are able to solve problems faster.

How many assorted outlooks and viewpoints can you expect to achieve if everybody is coming to your organisation with the exact same experience and curriculum? That’s not to say that different people can’t have different realities at the same educational institution. However, it does limit the breadth of personal experience that they can lean on.

Make cost-effective, data-driven decisions

“Well, we’ve always recruited here,” is a common sentiment. But how robust is the data you use to determine if your core universities are the best match for your current opportunities—or do you simply keep returning because it’s convenient and comfortable?

Like any organisation, your hiring needs are constantly evolving, which means the universities you need to recruit from can and should shift as well.Handshake Premium employer partners can unlock a more diverse talent pool by using segmentation filters to identify suitable candidates based on their demographics including gender, race and background, skills, location preferences, student society membership, language proficiency, extracurriculars, qualifications and more. Beyond these filters, employers can create personalised campaigns at scale to efficiently build out their hiring pipeline.

Through Handshake, you can easily identify new universities that have the most qualified candidates according to their job criteria. By taking a wider approach to candidate attraction, you’ll have Handshake data to help identify where new, more diverse and qualified candidates are coming from. This opens up potential new university relationships too.

In the shift to more virtual recruiting, how are you prioritising which universities to invest in, regardless of where they’re located? In order to unlock access and equity, sourcing from a wide range of universities is key, and virtual recruiting makes that easy. Handshake’s analytics can shed light on which universities are funnelling the right candidates for your pipeline, and which are not.

Widen your reach and fill your hiring pool

High-quality candidates can come from elite universities, technical universities, colleges, and everywhere in between. And if you’re not recruiting beyond your core universities, you could be setting yourself up for failure. A “core universities” approach immediately eliminates a large portion of impressive and qualified candidates, and sabotages your efforts to build a truly diverse team.

Employers need to look beyond the prestige or reputation of an educational institution in favour of a university-agnostic approach. Broadening your reach in this way will open up opportunities for students to engage with your brand, and unlock access and equity to students anywhere and everywhere.

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