Two-thirds of HR leaders plan to continue virtual onboarding after Covid, research finds

But nearly half of graduates are concerned about ‘fully or accurately conveying themselves’ as online recruitment processes look set to stay

Two-thirds of HR decision makers believe their company should continue interviewing graduates virtually once Covid restrictions ease, research has suggested, with many believing the remote process has improved inclusivity.

A poll of 500 people professions, conducted as part of Milkround’s My First Virtual Job report, found that 64 per cent wanted to continue using virtual interviews after coronavirus restrictions are lifted, with 71 per cent saying the pandemic has made their organisation reconsider how they can make their recruitment process more inclusive.

The survey, conducted in February, found that while just 17 per cent of companies used online interviews as part of the recruitment process before the pandemic, this increased to nearly four in 10 (37 per cent) over the past year.

Employers also saw benefits of virtual onboarding. More than two-thirds of HR professionals (71 per cent) cited the time-saving advantages of virtual onboarding; three-quarters (74 per cent) said joining teams virtually benefitted graduates from lower socio-economic backgrounds; and almost three in five (58 per cent) said they believed new graduate starters have enjoyed remote working.

The report also polled 3,242 students and recent graduates, three-quarters (74 per cent) of whom believed being able to join a team remotely would help graduates from lower socio-economic groups who would otherwise be unable to relocate for a job.

However, graduates were also more concerned about some of the implications of virtual interviewing and remote working. Half of graduates (49 per cent) said they feared not being able to “fully or accurately convey themselves” during a virtual interview, while 63 per cent stated they would like to have an initial virtual interview before attending an in-person interview.

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The report advised employers to adopt “a combined approach to interview processes [that] could help ensure they’re getting to know graduates as effectively and authentically as possible”.

Both employers and graduates also raised concerns about the implications of joining a new team remotely. More than half (53 per cent) of graduates who started remote jobs since March last year said they struggled to make friends in the workplace, while three in five (59 per cent) HR professionals said their remote working graduates have struggled to make friends.

The report said graduates entering a business at the same time typically build bonds and friendships through the induction and onboarding process – which acts as a “key time to make friends and find their feet”. However, virtual onboarding has removed many of these opportunities.

“It is important HR teams review and adapt their processes accordingly so new starters can feel included both when within and away from the office,” the report said. “In turn, this will help attract better candidates with more diverse backgrounds, as a result of remote working, and enable teams to extend these learnings out to the wider workforce, when it comes to recruiting and onboarding future employees.”

Chris May, graduate jobs expert at Milkround, added that employers needed to ensure they understood individuals’ circumstances and remember, for example, that some graduates may not have a formal desk space, or might be working in the same room as others. “Reach out to graduates and ask if there is any equipment from the office that can be sent to them to help ensure they have everything they need to complete their work,” he said.

Businesses also needed to create opportunities for younger workers to meet colleagues, such as through virtual events or a “peer buddy system”. “Do not let these systems just form part of a graduate’s onboarding – instead, ensure they are an ongoing part of their progression strategies,” said May.

May added that employers should continue to offer development opportunities – for example, online courses or training facilitated by in-house experts – stating: “This is each employer’s responsibility and there is a clear business case for ensuring young workers continue developing sought-after skills.”

Young people have been some of the hardest hit by the pandemic, with the CIPD’s Covid-19 and the youth labour market report finding that, in December 2020, less than half (46 per cent) of employers planned on hiring a person aged 16-24 in 2021.