Soon-to-be graduates are feeling the stress and uncertainty of COVID. As their (potential) future employer, are you increasing that stress, or are you a beacon of hope leading them through it?

“Has anyone heard anything about…?”

“A friend of a friend’s friend said that because of COVID, [x,y,z] > is anyone else getting worried? Should I keep applying elsewhere in case my offer falls through?

“Is [insert employer name] still running their grad program? [shares link to news article about job losses]. This doesn’t look good.”*

[*Actual questions in whirlpool] Oh, and the response to question no#2 was “yes, keep applying for other roles. You might even find a better offer.”

COVID’s messed us all up *a lot*. Perhaps your recruitment process has been delayed or paused halfway through, or your 2021 graduate program has been cancelled.

As frustrating as that is, imagine the soon-to-be-graduate who was eight months away from their career-defining opportunity with the employer of their dreams now facing an unclear future with mixed emotions about the $30,000+ certificate that to them appears to carry little current market value.

For some young minds, it can be challenging to see past the present and feel inspired about the future, as they’ve unlikely faced this kind of disruption and difficulty. Heck, most of us adult types haven’t, either!

While it’s stressful and uncertain times for all, what you do in these times can catapult your brand and graduate engagement into another realm. However, a grounded fleet with misplaced voice boxes will flounder.

Therefore, it’s essential you maintain contact with your grad talent community while the turmoil of COVID continues in the background.

How COVID’s impacting grads

In a recent Indeed survey of over 1000 US students graduating this year, 54% said the coronavirus’ impact on the labour market has made them feel less confident in finding work after they graduate, while 33% said they feel they will struggle to get into the industry they’re graduating in.

The Whirlpool forum conversations echo this survey’s findings > graduates fear confirmed opportunities are at risk and other potential opportunities (perhaps for those already in a recruitment process) may be cancelled in future.

How you communicate can create clarity, build resilience, and cultivate engagement

“During such a crisis, when information is unavailable or inconsistent, and when people feel unsure about what they know (or anyone knows), behavioural science points to an increased human desire for transparency, guidance, and making sense out of what has happened.” (McKinsey)

In recruitment, no news generally means bad news. If you’re not talking to them, you’re not reassuring them. Grads are naturally going to worry, perhaps even panic that they’ll be dropped with nowhere to go.

But companies are still hiring.

Don’t let your silence be the trigger for your graduates reneging on offers.

Remember – COVID is affecting everyone. Graduates aren’t stupid, they understand the situation is bleak and uncertain and unforgiving. Don’t fear talking to them; they’ll likely read into that fear as rejection. 

Your aim is engagement. Engagement leads to trust which leads to loyalty.

Communicating clearly and consistently will help you nurture grad relationships and build brand engagement. They’ll start feeling more connected with their new employer, new team, and role, as you ride this out together.

That way, in future, if you must make that regretful call to withdraw your offer, if you’ve spent quality time nurturing relationships, grads are going to respond more favourably and empathetically than after silence and neglect.

Once you’ve established trust and loyalty with your intake, then it is more likely they will keep you in mind as an aspirational employer once the world settles and a new opportunity presents.

This is why we do it.

Long-term brand engagement.

5 shiny ideas to create connection

Acknowledging that for some, there is powerful information you’re holding, and it may be more difficult deciding whether to share it, and if so, how much to share. For some, there’s a potential PR fallout from giving too much away about your position. I’ll leave it for you to decide what does and does not apply.

Hopefully, you’ll still find a few golden nuggets in this list >

1. FAQs

Create a static webpage that you can share a link to via email, SMS or your social profiles that answers some of the commonly asked, safe to share questions. You might even invite grads to a Facebook live where you can bring them up to speed and invite questions. Don’t be afraid to say you ‘don’t know’, however, avoid saying it with a negative or deflated tone.

2. Fortnightly nurture emails

These don’t even need to be communicating a COVID related message. You could simply send emails that tell employee stories, company news, awards or achievements, CEO updates, recruiter tips, and/or grad cohort spotlights.

If you’ve put recruitment on hold, then this is your opportunity to shine!

Put together a series of guides to help grads prep for (survive) recruitment once things kick off for you again. For example:

What to expect from a virtual AC?

The difference between pre-recorded interviews and live

How to dazzle us with your personality when a screen’s in the way

The point is to:

  • maintain regular contact to remind them you’re still here,
  • help them with valuable and entertaining content, (what to expect?) and
  • reassure them that business really is business as usual (for now).

Look for content inspiration from the whirlpool forum, email enquiries, or social media interactions.

3. User-generated content campaigns

Introduce something fun with a user-generated content campaign. Create a hashtag and ask your grad community to join in by sharing things like >

  • What’s your life look like in lockdown?
  • Quirky lockdown inventions
  • New skill/s
  • ‘New normal’ bucket list

4. Webinars / live video

Whether that’s via Zoom, Facebook/Instagram live or you shake things up with LinkedIn stories (it’s boring so far, the fruit is ripe for your picking) – consider co/hosting a series of webinars on personal development themed topics.

For example, marketing skills, personal branding, networking, or that hard to nail > how to add frills to your LinkedIn profile / how to approach key industry contacts via a cold LinkedIn email. Has anyone nailed this one?

5. Connect new grads

Set up a Facebook or Slack group and invite your newly hired grads to join, connect with each other, and mix freely in the virtual communal kitchen unsupervised. Once they’re known, you could invite grad buddies into the fold to assist with any ‘what to expect when you’re not sure if you’re expecting’ questions.

Additionally, you could invite them onto a virtual project / Hackathon to problem solve a real (better) or created business problem.

Be the friendly, helpful beacon

Whether you’re operating in an uncertain or high-risk environment, OR in an environment that is business as usual, work on nurturing your relationships by regularly communicating with your grads to ensure they feel informed.

If you can be a reliable source of information and entertainment, and make them feel respected and valued, they will remember.

“…people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

One final food-for-thought note

Silence is deafening.

And while it may be ‘the employer’s market’, and while you may be faced with more options because so many are in the unemployment line, developing a poor brand reputation while the dust settles won’t help ensure the hundreds of applications you do receive are actually the good ones worth receiving.

About the writer: Kelly Stone gets paid to write clever and charismatic recruitment communication that enhances the candidate experience (and consequently, brand engagement). She’s on a mission to phase out jargony corp-speak, so employers better engage with young attention spans.