Skip to main content

Land on the right side of history

How to communicate with students and graduates during the coronavirus pandemic

05 / 05 / 2020Fiona Doherty


Key points at a glance 

  • Maintain strong communication both within and outside of your pipeline 
  • Choose the right medium 
  • Share your values and story 

Strong communication with students and graduates is important to maintain the candidate experience and your brand when life is going on as normal. In these abnormal times, it is essential. While most of your focus will understandably be on those currently in your talent pipeline, you shouldn’t neglect those you will want to reach in the future. It doesn’t take much to damage a brand’s reputation with this generation and, as many commentators have said, when this is all over people will remember which organisations acted well and those that didn’t.  

There is much that remains uncertain and the key is to create a communications strategy that explains what you are doing now, answers questions as best as possible and looks ahead to how you want to be perceived in future.  

Say what you know and also what you don’t 

Wherever they are in their job hunts, students and graduates are desperate for information. TARGETjobs’ snapshot survey of 1,000 users, found that what most students wanted were regular summaries of how employers are responding to the coronavirus crisis. Recruiters in the graduate market have also told of an increase in queries from students.  

Whether you have moved to virtual assessment centres, are delivering internships digitally, postponing recruitment processes, temporarily rescinding job offers or aren’t precisely sure whether your next round of recruitment will go ahead: tell students! Prioritise those in your pipeline and, when ready, communicate to the wider audience. 

Be honest about what you don’t know; being seen to provide the facts you do know and elements you don’t will enhance the trustworthiness of your brand.  Empathise with the stress caused by uncertainty, talk confidently about the actions you are taking to ensure the safety and welfare of your people and promote how committed the business remains to early careers recruitment and retention. Importantly, do all of this without jargon or patronising your audience.

Choose the right medium for the message 

Much of this post is about what you say but, of course, how you say it makes all the difference; some mediums are better for some purposes. We’ve launched www.NextStepSupport.org with careers services in universities across the UK and Ireland to help employers communicate with students. (Please post your updates for no charge). 

For your current talent pipeline, consider communicating via closed LinkedIn/Facebook groups or via platforms such as Sli.do, which enable you to operate message boards, collate questions, run polls and stream webinars. These tools allow you to respond personally and address individual concerns as they arise. They will also allow others to see answers to questions they want answered. Perhaps consider an old-school FAQ document, if appropriate. 

For your wider audience, perhaps surprisingly, it may be that the humble email is the best. One of the most comprehensive studies of student and graduate attitudes to employers in the UK, The Trendence UK 2020 Graduate Study, found that more than 70,000 participants preferred employers to engage with them via email (62% preferred emails from their careers services and 61% directly from their employers).  

Don’t neglect emails when forming your communication strategy; it is worth putting time and effort into making them as impactful as possible. If you can partner with careers services to share your message, even better. 

The next most popular communication method for employers to engage with students was via social media, with nearly half of all respondents wanting employers to use it for careers-specific purposes. However, it’s worth noting that, while 72% of survey participants used LinkedIn for careers purposes, only 30% used YouTube (followed by 27% using WhatsApp and 22% Twitter). Only around 17% were interested in webinars. This survey closed before lockdown and we suspect that such platforms may be more popular now that they are becoming more prevalent in daily life.  

These figures indicate that conveying messages via social media is good common sense, but they may not reach all of your intended audience. It is also worth conveying key decisions about recruitment on graduate-focused jobs boards such as TARGETjobs and gradireland. Get in touch with us at info@nextstepsupport.org to discuss supporting skills webinars for students on or virtual hiring events on www.NextStepSupport.org. 

Keep communication open and bespoke 

The most common complaints outside of times of crisis – and the most damaging – are made by students about recruiters not responding to their queries or, when they do, providing irrelevant information. Admittedly, these students don’t always sympathise with the volume of applicants that recruitment teams have to deal with or the difficulty hiring managers have fitting in recruitment alongside their other roles. However, when anxious, it is even more important to feel listened to. So, use platforms such as the ones mentioned above to encourage questions and, if possible, give candidates/hires a named person to go to. This could even be their future line manager or head of graduate development.  

Normally we’d employ the golden rule of only communicating when you have something meaningful to say. Now we would say keep in touch regularly and try to make messages as personal to the candidate as possible.  Look at providing webinars or Skype/video calls and running them for each graduate programme or office location. 

Share your stories 

Don’t miss the opportunity to ‘sell’ your organisation – to illustrate your corporate values in action, to reinforce candidates’ commitment to you and to create positive associations for future talent.  

In your communication strategy, focus on how your organisation makes a difference and how your employees can, too. If your work directly involves supporting frontline services or the vulnerable during the coronavirus pandemic – or provides a service to the population in lockdown – then emphasise this, mixing in personal stories. If not, how does your business and its employees contribute to the community and wider social good? If you collect donations for food banks, raise money for Refuge or are providing free apps to help children learn from home, say so.  

Why is this important? The Trendence UK survey showed that ‘the chance to make a difference’, ‘interesting work’ and a ‘good employer reputation’ all made the top ten of factors thought ‘very important’ in a future employer by respondents.  

Beyond this, share all the positive aspects of your company culture and how you are supporting employees at all levels. This could involve illustrating how you are continuing to provide training and development opportunities, or how you promote equality and diversity within your organisation (both factors in students’ top ten). It could also involve sharing how employees have instituted a happy hour or work quiz over video (friendliness of colleagues was yet another factor). These are extreme times; showing how this crisis has brought out the compassionate best of your organisation and its people will make all the difference. GenZ will undoubtedly remember the ‘heroes and villains’ of the coronavirus pandemic: make sure you land on the right side of history. 

How we can help...

Talk to us about: 

  • Distributing updates to students and universities via NextStepSupport.org (no charge). You can post updates yourself in two minutes here.  
  • Building your brand by helping students with skills and development (no charge) 
  • Virtual webinar technology 
  • Attending virtual careers fairs 
  • Student research 
  • Promoting your brand, internships and roles. 

Please contact info@nextstepsupport.org, contact@targetjobs.co.uk or contact@gradireland.com