IT careers: How to recruit the class of 2021

Want to attract top talent from today's uniquely qualified pool of recent grads? Consider these tips
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Recent college graduates have overcome the most complicated university experience of the last 50 years, as their final two years were marked by uncertainty, distanced or hybrid learning, and minimal access to professors and classmates.

For incoming IT professionals, close contact with mentors is often an important element of the college experience, as well as the first step in networking to begin a career in the tech industry. The challenges presented by COVID-19 also led to widespread cancellations of internships, often a vital experience for those entering the IT field.

As the class of 2021 enters the job market, enterprises will be challenged to make the most out of a new normal for IT hiring: Not only will the interview process itself look different, but the resumes of recent graduates and their priorities in seeking an employer will not look the same as pre-COVID. In place of a series of internships, graduates will need to demonstrate how they guided their own learning and developed new skills over the past 18 months. Likewise, employers will need to communicate how the pandemic changed their operations, and what impact that will have on the experience for new hires.

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What can businesses do to attract leading talent from the class of 2021? Here are four tips:

1. Emphasize in-person opportunities

After their final two years in college were turned upside down with remote learning requirements, it is no surprise that the class of 2021 is desperate for personal contact. According to the Class of 2021 Report from iCIMS, 88 percent of college seniors want to meet frequently with their coworkers in person, with two-thirds stating that they would prefer to work in the office several days per week.

Given the importance of mentorship and networking in IT careers, recent graduates have identified that getting into the office and building in-person relationships will offer the fastest way to make up for lost time and lay the foundation for long-term growth.

2. Embrace virtual hiring

While the class of 2021 will want to begin their career in person, they will be more than happy to participate in virtual hiring activities. Developed as a necessity during the height of the pandemic, remote interviews and other virtual screening practices have proved beneficial to both employers and interviewees.

[ Get more advice on talent retention: How to build a blockbuster internal IT talent program: 8 tips. ]

For enterprises seeking new talent, virtual hiring enables you to extend beyond your metropolitan area to reach new geographies, potentially resulting in new perspectives, increased diversity, and the discovery of new talent. And for recent graduates, virtual hiring allows them to cut down on the costs and complexities of a widespread job search: A candidate can interview with a Seattle-based startup at 10 a.m., followed by the Chicago office of a Fortune 500 company at 11:30 – no plane ticket necessary.

There is also increased opportunity to leverage AI-enabled evaluation and interviewing platforms to provide a more real-life experience during the hiring process. Some of these platforms help with coding challenges, gamification of aptitude/analytical skills, etc.

3. Lean into DE&I

Recruiting does not take place in a vacuum. The class of 2021 has made racial justice and social inequity issues a priority as they seek their first employment opportunities.

According to a survey from the Pew Research Center, 62 percent of members of Gen Z believe that increasing racial and ethnic diversity is good for society. When interviewing for a potential position, expect recent graduates to ask about a company’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I). A genuine, productive program could make all the difference for potential hires choosing between multiple opportunities.

4. Show commitment to learning

The days of joining a Fortune 500 company at age 22, working for 35 years, and receiving an engraved watch for your retirement are over. Today’s IT career path is far less linear, with young talent frequently shifting gears to work with new technologies or languages. One way to appeal to incoming employees is to acknowledge the elephant in the room and demonstrate how your company will invest in employees’ long-term development.

Using specialized courses and guest lectures, enterprises can show that they are interested in a well-rounded, curious workforce. For some businesses, these learning opportunities have become a key component of their sales pitch, offering six-month schemes where new hires are tasked only with learning; at the end of the program, the employee and company work together to find an opportunity that matches the new hire’s interests with the company’s needs.

Another idea is to experiment with 18- to 24-month job-rotation programs where new recruits are exposed to multiple aspects of the organization to help them be more effective in their permanent roles.

The class of 2021’s recruiting race has already begun. Now more than ever, enterprises must let go of their traditional methods and embrace new practices to attract Gen Z’s top talent.

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Rajan Sethuraman is CEO of LatentView Analytics. His vision for the company is to maximize the value of AI and success for clients with a human understanding of their business needs, guided by expertise in CPG, financial services, technology, healthcare, retail and other core sectors.

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