COVID-19’s impact on graduate hiring strategy

June would typically have be when graduate recruitment season gets into full swing. This season, however, finds recruiters scrambling to react to COVID-19. With students sent home early and no end in sight for social distancing, graduate recruiters face the choice of pivoting their hiring approach towards something more virtual, or putting their programmes on hold

History has taught us that bringing in fresh talent is an important source of vitality for all organisations, and that’s especially important as we plan for an economic recovery.

But as companies consider switching up their processes with technology in the short-term, should this become the impetus for a longer-term evaluation of how we recruit for entry-level roles?

HireVue recently undertook research into the early career programs offered by 90 of the top companies in the UK, Australia and US, to find out what was available to entry-level candidates and how the hiring process worked.

The results underlined the narrow approach companies continue to take for entry-level recruitment, the inefficiencies in current screening practices, and the broad scope for change.

Limited scope of entry-level options

Despite the ongoing attention on non-university career paths, the majority (55%) of the companies we investigated listed a graduate program as their only full-time option for entry-level candidates. This means that recruiters are missing out on huge swathes of entry-level talent, just because candidates didn’t go to university.

Arbitrary degree requirements

Of the 65 companies that had graduate programs and listed degree requirements, over half (54%) stated no subject preference - indicating that companies aren’t looking for specific knowledge from their graduates but are just using degrees as an arbitrary screening measure.

Over reliance on the CV

Of the 74 companies that offered the relevant detail on their process, over four-fifths (84%) ask graduates for a CV as the first step, regardless of its well-reported limitations. This means that candidates are being judged on where they have been, not what they can do.

Multiple interview stages

While companies are bringing in new assessment types and formats to get to know candidates better, this is significantly impacting the length of the hiring process. Three-fifths (61%) of companies have 4 or more stages, and almost two-in-ten (16%) have at least five - which won’t make for the best candidate experience.

With clear room for improvement, how should talent leaders be thinking about adapting entry-level programmes beyond COVID-19?

Broaden your talent pool

Diversity has to be the first place you start - broadening your talent pool and evaluating candidates based on potential, rather than experience.

That isn’t to say you can’t maintain a shortlist of colleges and universities to visit. But your graduate team must be casting as wide a net online as possible.

With exams cancelled for the year, you also have the perfect excuse to move away from arbitrary predictors like grades. Going straight into an online assessment that tests candidates on their competencies will not only ensure this, but also remove the need to review their CV.

Hire by competency

Interviews have the potential to provide crucial insight into candidates’ skills and potential, but it can be difficult to scale human interviewing across a large candidate pool. No matter how good our intentions, we bring too much variability and inconsistency to the process.

Here, online assessments such as on-demand video interviews become an absolute necessity. They offer you the ability to handle a far greater volume of interviews, in a manner that is both consistent (for candidate and recruiter) and provides a more 360° candidate view.


Today’s graduates expect their candidate experience to be snappy – that means a seven-stage, six-month process just isn’t going to cut it.

Use this as an opportunity to significantly modernise and dramatically shorten your hiring process, as well as making it more tech-savvy. Look for solutions that can accelerate the process by measuring multiple things and compressing steps in the process. And do away with those that aren’t providing value.

As we face unprecedented global disruption, the prospect of embracing further change can be daunting. But virtual hiring is not an unknown. It is tried and tested. And it’s what candidates want.

This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for recruiters to implement lasting change in how you bring in entry-level talent – breaking down the barriers within the current graduate recruitment process, encouraging a far more diverse applicant pool, and delivering a better candidate experience.

Kevin Parker is chairman and CEO of software developer HireVue

Further reading:

Employers confident in recruitment and retention due to coronavirus

The changing face of grad recruitment

Entry-level job recruitment predicted to stagnate in 2020

The dangers of recruiting for cultural fit