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January 09, 2024

2024 University Recruiting Trends Unveiled

The University Recruiting and early talent landscape continues to evolve at a rapid pace as we enter 2024. To remain competitive and achieve lofty goals, University Recruiting leaders need to stay ahead of the curve. Here are the top trends our research team anticipates will shape University Recruiting this year.

Trend #1: Generative AI

In the wake of the emergence of ChatGPT and similar chat bots, the recruitment process has undergone transformation. Student reliance on ChatGPT for job and internship searches continues to grow – from 9% of students in March 2023 to 38% in November 2023 – and we don’t expect that to slow down. This presents both opportunities and challenges for University Recruiting teams.

While employers are taking a very nuanced approach to AI, we’re seeing students running to it with full force. One use case is students using ChatGPT to train them for an interview. Not only do I love this example, but I endorse this to students. I encourage them to prompt ChatGPT to be their interviewer and generate questions based on the job description. This is remarkably useful and a stronger option than simply asking their peers to interview them. 

This example is considered a low-level threat to UR teams and the recruitment process, but other use cases can pose a greater threat. Instead of fighting back against the technology altogether, my recommendation is to prepare for effectively responding to different use cases.

• AI-Powered Research – Students using generative AI for job searches or skill extractions pose a low threat. UR teams should audit public information for accuracy about their company to minimize misrepresentation by AI. 

• AI-Enhanced Copywriting – Moderate threats arise when generative AI is used for creating or editing application materials. During interviews, probing for examples and specifics helps assess the authenticity of candidate submissions.

• AI-Fueled Fraud – The most substantial threat involves the fabrication of work samples or entirely fictitious application materials. To combat this, teams may consider modifying hiring practices most susceptible to fraud, such as shifting from take-home to live assessments.

Trend #2: Economic Uncertainty

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released data in Q4 of 2024 that showed the lowest rate of new job openings in the last two years. Students are feeling the impact of this, with 82% reporting feeling concerned about the economy. 

There’s a working hypothesis that when the economy slows down and students receive fewer job offers, the rates of reneges would decrease. But, it’s important to dig deeper and understand the nuance of reneges. In response to concerns about the economy, we’re seeing two distinct ways students are responding when it comes to accepting offers. Let’s call them Holders and Hoarders. 

Holders are most likely to accept the first offer they receive. Even if it’s not the ideal role or they may not be the best fit, their fear of not receiving another offer prevents them from continuing to search for opportunities. Hoarders are more likely to continue searching after accepting an offer or even accept multiple offers. They fear offers may not be stable and could be rescinded, so they will keep recruiting and ultimately renege on their least-favored offers closer to the start date. 

It’s critical that recruiters are communicating job stability to students throughout the process, most especially when there’s public news of layoffs at your company or in your industry. Students need to feel confident that their job will still be there in order for them to accept and make it to day 1 of their job or internship. Having a strong keep warm strategy can support this.

Trend #3: Higher Applicant Volumes

Use of generative AI and economic uncertainty combined with other factors have fueled a massive uptick in applications. Higher applicant volumes necessitate the optimization of your recruitment processes to use your same resources to field an influx of applications.

While there are various approaches teams are implementing to handle higher volumes, the reality is that they all come at a cost. For example, we’re hearing from students that automated top-of-funnel assessments are something they have come to expect at this point. However, up to 25% of students may drop out when they see there’s a pre-recorded video interview. Employers are using these assessments to weed out students, but any additional hurdles might cause top talent to simply stop recruiting with an employer. 

Although there may not be a perfect solution for dwindling down applications, one best practice is that if UR teams are expecting delays in their process due to an increase in hiring volume, it’s imperative to communicate that to students. Consistent communication prevents students from feeling as though they’re being ghosted and dropping out of the process altogether. 

Trend #4: Students’ High Expectations

Even in the wake of economic uncertainty, students continue to expect high salaries. When reviewing the pay range for an entry-level, full-time position hiring recent graduates, 70% of students expect their own salary to fall within the middle or top third of the range listed. Anecdotes from their peers or on social media about landing entry-level jobs with impressive pay influences them, and students are also anchoring to the higher end of transparent salary ranges presented in job descriptions

A real example of how this manifests: A team posts an opening for a Leadership Development Program (LDP) with a salary range of $60,000 – $110,000, with pay varying by experience and location. Many undergraduate students will see this range and anchor to the higher end, unaware that the job ad is for undergraduate, masters, and PhD students, and only PhD graduates will start at the $100,000 range. This misalignment between expectations and offers will result in disappointment when offers include a salary at the lower end. Employers who manage expectations from the start can avoid this later disappointment. 

There are also more nuanced expectations, such as how accessible the hiring team or executive team is to them in the recruiting process or even how recruiters interact with them directly. 

A student I interviewed this fall started doubting whether they wanted to work with an employer after their recruiter seemed “really rude.” The student had questions about one of the biggest decisions of their life thus far (their first job offer), and the recruiter insisted on getting all questions in writing and not via a phone call. My reaction was naturally to remind them that they’d be working for the company, not the recruiter. And yet, the student insisted that the recruiter’s behavior indicated what life would be like at the company. The entire situation really highlights how important the candidate experience is for students.

Trend #5: Political Impact  

While politics should not technically play a role in any recruitment process, the reality is that (especially in an election year!) politics are influential in students’ decision-making when it comes to applying to and accepting offers from a company. We’re seeing this particularly with location preferences, such as women being less likely to apply to a job in a state that restricts abortion and 92% of LGBTQ+ students being less likely to accept a job in a state that restricts gender-affirming care. 

Of course, we’d be remiss to bring up political impact without addressing the SCOTUS’ decision on Affirmative Action. How UR teams adapt their DEI programs moving forward will continue to unfold this year, but we have seen some ways teams have responded thus far. Some examples include reconsidering names of DEI programs, shifting language in recruiting material, and consulting their legal team. 

Importantly, we are not witnessing a decline in DEI efforts in the early career space. Indeed, the exact opposite may be true, with 9 in 10 employers rating DEI as a top priority for their UR teams. Strong UR programs are embracing a focus on belonging and inclusion. The shift is in accepting that some diversity-focused sourcing efforts are under heightened scrutiny.

When it comes to how to interact with politics in the workplace, the truth is that those types of statements should be coming from the C-suite, not the UR team. But, it’s helpful to think strategically about the political impact on recruiting and how to guide conversations that may come up with students.

Trend #6: Advocating for University Recruiting 

The final trend is one that is present every year, but this year we expect to be especially top of mind amidst economic uncertainty. University Recruiting is challenging and often even misunderstood. But, a business case can certainly be made for the value UR teams bring to the greater Talent Acquisition team, especially as it pertains to the long-term impact that comes with diversifying pipelines, nurturing early talent, and launching future leaders. 

Our team will continue to monitor these trends and keep an eye on others as they emerge throughout the year.

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