The Class of 2020: What Employers Need to Know

6.5.2020 | Just a few months ago, millions of college seniors expected to walk across a graduation stage and into a welcoming job market.

But then it all changed.

The COVID-19 pandemic quickly transformed the graduation stage into a virtual platform and cooled the unemployment rate from a very approachable 3.5% (February) to an aloof 13.3% (May).

Right now, approximately 3,898,000 U.S. college graduates are facing an unheard-of situation and trying to adapt. To engage and secure this new talent – now or in the future – employers need to understand the situation, hold tight to best practices, and ensure a positive candidate experience for the Class of 2020. Here’s what they need to know:

The Post-Graduation Situation

Even with existing employees, companies have had to make tough decisions. Layoffs, furloughs, and mandatory paid time off are not uncommon amid the pandemic recession. For new hires, some organizations have gone beyond hiring freezes and rescinded offers, including internships. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, in April more than one in five employers rescinded their summer internship offers.

A labor economist for ZipRecruiter, an online jobs platform, said that while the site’s job postings have decreased by nearly half since mid-February, new postings for entry-level positions have plunged more than 75%. Among other factors, the work-from-home situation is not conducive to entry-level jobs. Also, the Class of 2020 is unexpectedly competing with displaced employees who have more experience.

How Grads are Adapting

After testing the waters, it’s not unusual for graduates to reframe their expectations or employ a backup plan. However, the Class of 2020 could not have planned for this drastic turning of the tide. In its “Class of 2020” report, iCIMS, a cloud platform for recruiting, surveyed 500 U.S. college seniors and 500 U.S. human resources or recruiting professionals in March. According to the report, before stay-at-home orders were implemented, seniors expected to apply for an average of 10 jobs; after the orders were implemented, that number doubled.

They are applying for more jobs and different types of jobs. Recent grads are willing to shift their focus to other industries, such as healthcare and logistics, and assume frontline occupations. In February, a LaSalle Network survey cited that 25% of would-be college graduates were willing to take on a temporary role. When asked the same question in April, the number soared to 89%.

What Employers Can Do

Human resources and talent professionals are in an unheard-of situation, too. While they contend with remote workers, layoffs, furloughs, and other COVID-induced situations, they need to ensure they don’t lose out on new talent now or post pandemic. The Class of 2020 needs a good candidate experience.

Some advice:

  • Do not rescind job offers unless it’s absolutely necessary as it can damage your employer brand. When necessary and appropriate, find a different position for the candidate.
  • Maintain your employer brand. Even if you are in a hiring freeze, find ways to stay in front of new candidates. Hold informative webinars covering topics such as resumes and interview tips.
  • Communicate quickly. Per the iCIMS report, 60% of graduating seniors said that during the hiring process, timeliness is pivotal. Also, 79% of them believe they should receive a response within seven days of applying for a job.
  • Look beyond salary. When deciding on a job, 65% of 2020 graduates plan to prioritize benefits and work perks, i.e. a flexible work schedule. The iCIMS report also notes that, on average, 2020 graduates expect to earn $48,781 for their first job out of college. However, surveyed employers are actually willing to pay $54,585 on average.
  • Stay in touch with high-potential graduates. As layoffs and furloughs continue to affect workers, data shows that grads seeking entry-level positions are more likely to stay engaged with recruiters.

Above all else, be kind. Now is a difficult time for everyone. The Class of 2020 is facing unique challenges, trying to adapt, and each newly-minted grad is eager to land their first “real job.” How you engage with them now will have a lasting impact on your employer brand and your organization’s bottomline.

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