In a job market that has become so much more fragile over the past year, it is those just starting out, with little or no experience to fall back on, that have really borne the brunt of the altered landscape. According to the Pew Research Center, 50 per cent of 18-to 23-year-olds reported that they or someone in their household have lost a job or taken a pay cut because of the pandemic. This was significantly higher than the shares of Millennials, Gen Xers and Baby Boomers who said the same. Given that the research was conducted in March 2020 it is likely that an even larger percentage of young people are now feeling the effects of a reduced income or loss of security.

Meet & Engage wanted to further explore the impact that the crisis is having on emerging talent and to find out how some of the world’s leading companies, including Morgan Stanley, EY, Diageo and Accenture, are adapting their early careers recruitment programmes in response.

The report we have published reveals some worrying trends, with graduates far less confident over their prospects, particularly women and candidates from ethnically diverse communities. But a silver lining is emerging from the crisis. Companies are discovering that the transition from a physical to virtual world is bringing many benefits, principally in helping to democratise candidates’ access to employers, enabling more diverse talent from various backgrounds and locations to connect with organisations online.

This virtual revolution in the recruitment of young talent acts as a catalyst for change in four key areas:

The best graduate talent needs nurturing

Dan Black, Global Leader of Talent Attraction & Acquisition at EY, described the effect of the pandemic on the early careers market as “drastic”; “From a decrease in the number of opportunities available, to the timing of when emerging talent can look for jobs, it’s been very disruptive.”

It’s no surprise then that the number of students who feel confident about their job prospects has fallen from 57 per cent last year to less than half today, according to Bright Network. Women and candidates from ethnically diverse communities are particularly likely to drop out of an application process due to a loss of confidence.

Companies such as Diageo and Accenture are discovering that virtual events tailored for different groups can provide candidates with practical help, tips and advice at key stages during the process, helping to create a more nurturing recruitment journey for applicants. Digital content is particularly useful for those new to the job market, as they are likely to be hungry for pointers on topics like interview skills and assessment tests, and can save the content and replay it at their leisure.

Diaego’s recruitment team realised that female graduates were dropping out of the process just ahead of the video interview stage. So they set up events aimed at giving extra help on this part of the assessment, hosted by graduates from the previous year. 80 per cent of women who asked questions at these events went on to complete the video interview stage.

Demonstrate your social impact

Social undercurrents such as climate change, poverty and the rise of “fake news” have left a strong imprint on young people. As a result, emerging talent are placing an increased emphasis on an employer’s commitment to making a difference in the world – and are quick to call out false promises.

Savvy employers are using virtual events to demonstrate an authentic commitment to these wider issues, allowing them to capture more of the top early careers talent. This approach is also showcasing to potential young recruits that there is a human side to the business.

A key recommendation for these events is for organisations to be willing to ‘pass the mic’. Virtual channels like live chat are a great way to host events where you can pass the microphone over to selected current employees so they can talk about the issues that are most important to the business and how this is backed up with real action.

Research has shown that employees are three times as trusted as managers by candidates, so featuring your people will make these messages far more authentic.

Diversity and Inclusion matter more than ever Data from the Pew Research Center suggests almost half (48 per cent) of Gen Z audiences identify as racially or ethnically diverse. Unsurprisingly for such a diverse generation, 83 per cent of Gen Z candidates say “a company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is important when choosing an employer”.

If provided in a genuinely engaging way and fronted by real employees from culturally diverse backgrounds, virtual events offer a fantastic opportunity for companies to prove their D&I credentials. Candidates need to actually see people that they can identify with in the roles that they aspire to – making them feel confident that they will fit in with an organisation.

Virtual recruiting also offers the element of scale that will help employers engage with a much wider breadth of candidates at the initial event stage. Morgan Stanley, for example, ran an early careers event that reached 300 universities across EMEA – compared to the 40 that they used to manage to visit physically.

Differentiate or die

A poll conducted by Meet & Engage found 83 per cent of companies are planning to go 100 per cent virtual with their early careers recruiting strategy post-Covid. That means employers need to find original, inspiring ways of hosting, running and differentiating virtual events if they’re to stand out from the crowd.

As marketing strategist Neil Patel says, “It’s hard to beat your competition when you’re copying them”. The act of hosting a virtual event alone won’t make you stand out, but your speakers, theme and content should provide candidates with real value.

Start by thinking about your audience and their motivations for wanting to work for your business – this will give you an idea of the kind of content that is likely to be appealing. Wherever possible, prioritise live content, which always feels more authentic for candidates. It’s worth regularly asking for feedback too. This not only impresses candidates that you care about their opinion but it also helps you to continually optimise the relevance of content.

Gen Zers have shown themselves to be exceptionally adaptable over the past year. More widespread use of virtual recruiting has much to offer to aid this resilient bunch and give them an easier and equitable entrance into the world of work.