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Breakfast News March Recap: A year in virtual

22 / 03 / 2021Emily Dunn


Almost a year to the day from the start of the first Covid-19 lockdown, our first Breakfast News of 2021 explored the pandemic’s effect on early careers attraction and recruitment methods. With a panel of expert speakers – including the now renowned Jackie Weaver – we reflected on how remote working, online careers events, and virtual recruitment processes have changed how we communicate with others. Bearing in mind that at least some aspects of virtual working and recruitment are here to stay, how can early careers professionals ‘build back better’ and make the best use of virtual to attract, engage and recruit early talent in the year ahead? Read on for the key takeaway points.

Many thanks to our guest speakers: Declan Curry, business and economics journalist and broadcaster; Stephen Isherwood, chief executive, Institute of Student Employers (ISE); Joan Moore, head of early talent recruitment, Accenture; AJ Ferriter, creative director, Blackbridge Communications; and Jackie Weaver, chief executive, Cheshire Association of Local Councils and social media sensation.


Virtual assessment centres and internships evolved quickly

The ISE’s Stephen Isherwood joined forces with Accenture’s Joan Moore to present employer data and discuss their own experiences throughout this unprecedented year. When the first lockdown began, employers had roles open and assessment centres planned for their 2020 intake. Initially, existing recruitment tools had to be quickly adapted to deliver assessment centres in a virtual format. Over half (53%) of ISE members rose to the challenge by creating virtual assessment centres during this time.

Of course, not every aspect of an in-person assessment centre could be delivered virtually. Accenture originally planned to use a virtual reality component in its assessment centres, but this was not possible to deliver remotely. Fortunately, Accenture was able to develop an alternative form of immersive assessment that could be used at the virtual assessment centres. It also transformed its six-week summer internship into a three-week virtual experience.


Creative advertising has adapted to working from home

Blackbridge’s creative director AJ Ferriter shared insights into what he believes makes an outstanding recruitment campaign, particularly video content. The shift towards shorter videos has been accelerated during the pandemic to capture people’s attention in an over-saturated digital market. People’s access to the outside world has largely been mediated through their phones. He showed examples of graduate recruitment videos Blackbridge had created entirely remotely, empowering graduate employees to film themselves with guidance as and when required. He noted that user-generated content had been the star of lockdown, with the audience not minding a loss in production values if the content itself is engaging and authentic. Podcasts have become a more popular medium during the pandemic and are a tool you can use to attract students to your vacancies and give a better sense of what the roles involve.


Virtual events expand your reach

Helping applicants discover potential employers was the biggest challenge in the autumn, according to Joan. On-campus careers fairs were useful for attracting students who might not otherwise have considered applying for a role; this proved harder to replicate online. Virtual events do have some benefits, though.

Joan observed that virtual events had created better accessibility, helping Accenture to reach a larger and more diverse talent pool. Stephen agreed that the opportunities presented by online events to reach a larger audience were valuable, noting that over 1,000 people have registered for the ISE’s Careers Advisors and Employer Engagement Conference taking place this week. Perhaps the accessibility of virtual events, without the need for attendees to travel or assemble in a physical venue, will ensure they continue to have a place alongside in-person events once those are allowed.


It’s time to talk about virtual etiquette

If you saw the video of Jackie Weaver’s chairing of Handforth Parish Council, you will have seen how easy it can be for virtual meetings to unravel into unseemly and disrespectful shouting and bullying matches. When Jackie joined us on the call, she reflected on how a virtual setting can lead people to be emboldened because they feel more comfortable at home, in their own territory, and may also feel that their actions aren’t intimidating or bullying because they aren’t in your physical space. However, she remains positive about virtual meetings in general, as they increase visibility and encourage more diverse communities to be involved.

However, she says that in any meeting, it’s important to agree on rules (whether formally or informally) about how people are expected to behave and what action to take if the rules aren’t followed. In the case of Handforth Parish Council, Jackie calmly removed the perpetrators from the call. She added that it’s up to those chairing meetings or in a position of authority to set a good example – just as she did in her handling of the aggression she experienced.


Be flexible in your outlook

Thinking ahead to autumn 2021, when recruitment campaigns will open for a new cohort of graduates, one key piece of advice is to be open-minded and agile as the future remains uncertain. Accenture is planning for virtual while hoping for face to face. Whether you consider remote working, virtual attraction campaigns and online assessment centres to be only a backup option, or you intend to continue using an element of virtual for the benefits it brings, it seems that flexibility is key.

To view the slides from the morning click here.