How has Covid-19 changed recruitment? What can I expect and how do I prepare? 

Alison Parkinson sheds some light on one of the questions we’re hearing a lot just now.

Back in March we reported on the initial impact of Covid-19 on student and graduate recruitment. To keep candidates moving through their recruitment processes many employers moved to virtual platforms and assessments and cancelled all face- to -face activities.

Two months on, there is still uncertainty about whether the changes implemented during the lockdown will continue; but a recent survey of student employers found  there is a strong indication that online recruitment may become the new normal”.

So what does this mean if you apply for a role in 2020? What can you expect and how can you prepare?

First be reassured many things will be the same.

“Methods of recruitment – application forms, interviews, assessment centres – are not changing but employers are deploying them differently. This means that students need to get comfortable with the relevant technology by setting up practice online interviews and assessments”   Stephen Isherwood, Chief Executive ISE (Institute of Student Employers),  The Guardian, May 2020

Early stages of recruitment  

The early stages of the process (CV or application formgamificationselection tests) were typically online anyway – so your experience won’t be very different.

An initial interview might have been face to face or on the phone,via Skype ,or pre-recorded . Employers might now be using a few other platforms (Zoom, Teams, Google Hangouts etc) but our tips on how to prepare are the same, regardless of the tech.

YouTuber Jack Edwards has some great advice on how to ace your first job interview when you are behind a webcam.

Assessment centres have moved online

In the days before Covid-19 you could normally expect to be invited to a 1-2 day assessment centre, held on the employer’s premises. Here you would take part in a range of exercises designed to test your suitability for the job and employer you’ve applied to.  The types of exercise may have included an interview, psychometric testscase studypresentationsgroup exercisein-tray/e-trays.

What to expect now? 

Due to social distancing measures employers are moving these to online video platforms.  Stephen Isherwood believes “these practices are long-term trends accelerated by coronavirus….. Employers won’t revert to labour intensive methods as business returns to normal”   The Guardian May 2020.

Logistics will vary between employer; most aspects will be live, but some e.g. introductions and de-briefs could be pre-recorded. You will be sent a schedule and log in details. You may be asked to complete 1 or 2 exercises and send them to the assessors in advance.

How will group exercises or case studies will be conducted online if they involve more than one candidate?

Group exercises are typically designed to assess your ability to work well with others, but they might also measure other skills e.g. presenting an argument, effective listening, problem solving.

The tasks themselves will vary from employer to employer. Some, where you are given a scenario to discuss as a group and reach a decision/conclusion, have been easier to recreate online e.g. via a Zoom break out room with 4 or 5 candidates where the aim is to simulate the type of virtual interactions you’ll have in the role.

Building rapport online is harder than in real life; take opportunities to make small talk, give good eye contact and smile as much as possible” Sophie Millken, SRS, Guide to Digital Assessment Centres

The advice above applies to your interactions with other candidates as well as assessors.

Other group exercises can’t be easily re-created online so how you work collaboratively might now be assessed in an alternative way e.g. an additional interview and/or a case study.

Our advice in this new normal…

Prepare for an online assessment centre in the same way as you would for an in-person event; employers are generally using the same criteria and, in most cases, the same materials.

But there are some additional things to consider when being assessed online:

1.Check your tech….then check it again

  • You won’t be in the dark on the tech, you might even get a “how to” guide or a pre-assessment coaching call. If you are not told what platform(s) exercises are going to run on, ask. The more informed you are as to what to expect, the more confident you will be and the better you will perform.
  • Be honest with assessors. If you are worried about anything, tell the recruiter upfront e.g. if you live in a shared house/rural area and don’t have strong wifi that will support video, tell them.
  • Control the controllable (adapted from Ratemyplacement)
    • Download relevant software/set up an account
    • Test your wifi connection
    • Test your webcam and microphone, and the volume setting
    • Plug your device in (you don’t want to run out of battery)
    • Is your background neutral?
    • Have you warned others in your home not to disturb you?

It’s really important that you see this as the last stage in the recruitment process and give it the same level of respect as you would if you were doing a face-to-face interview. Think about how you dress for the part: are you dressed appropriately? Make sure your background is suitable.”  Lauren Davies, Resourcing Partner, Group GTI , Next Step Support April 2020

But don’t worry about things outside your control… the thing we all worry about the most…what if I lose internet connection during an assessment task?

Ratemyplacement put it like this “You’ve done everything beforehand to ensure a good Wifi connection. But on the day you are disconnected from the internet. Don’t freak out. These things happen. It might seem like a living nightmare at first. But as long as you have a contingency plan in place you can get past this. That might mean switching to a mobile device and using mobile data, or even hot-spotting your laptop. If not, the employer may conduct tasks, where possible, via phone call. So make sure your mobile is fully charged and you have a number to call in case this happens” 

  1. Prepare even more 

If you can’t visit an employer’s premises then you can expect they will do all they can to bring the office to you e.g. virtual Q&A with current graduates. But do your own research too to find out if their values match yours; read all you can from multiple sources on social media e.g. use LinkedIn and PlatformOne to seek the views of alumni/current graduates. How do they seem to be responding to the current crisis? What are their leaders saying and doing? What have been my impressions during the process so far? Have I felt supported?

  Organisations used to be black boxes. Now they are more like glass boxes; candidates can see their values and culture by how quickly they respond in a crisis”  – Tom Chesterton, Tonic agency.

  1. Practice what you can ahead of time
  • Use the interview simulator in our Interview Training resource in MyCareerHub to rehearse as much as you can.
  • Book a practice interview with a Careers Consultant
  • Practice aptitude tests
  • If you are asked to prepare a presentation in advance then practice it with someone before-hand, ideally on the platform you will be using at the assessment centre.  Or record yourself and ask friends/family for feedback.

We hope you’re feeling a little clearer about what the recruitment process is looking like now – and how it’s likely to continue.

Follow this blog so we can keep you posted about further developments as they emerge, and don’t miss our updates on the impact of COVID-19 on student and graduate careers 




(Photo by Marcus Aurelius from Pexels)

(Photo by Marcus Aurelius from Pexels)


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