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Hiring College Graduates: What You Can Expect in 2021

Illustration of a hiring manager interviewing a college graduate.

Businesses plan to increase their hiring of graduates from the class of 2021 by 7.2% as compared to their hiring of 2020 graduates, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). 

After the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, increasing vaccination rates and a positive economic outlook have improved employers’ optimism. In fact, only 8% of businesses surveyed by NACE planned to decrease their hiring, with the vast majority, 63%, planning to maintain or increase their workforce.

Data shows businesses are planning to increase hiring of college grads.

If your company is one of the many businesses planning to secure new talent from the class of 2021, make sure you best evaluate candidates who finished their degrees during the pandemic with the help of background checks. 

This is your guide.

COVID-19 & The Class Of 2021

While college graduates from the class of 2020 graduated into a tough job market, those from the class of 2021 have faced other challenges.

These include:

  • Fewer internship opportunities: In 2021, up to 64% of student internships were canceled outright. Since businesses needed to comply with reduced building occupancy rates, taking on interns became a challenge. Likewise, the resources to implement virtual internships were in scarce supply. This may leave the class of 2021 with less concrete workplace experience than its predecessors.
  • Remote interactions with mentors: Employers often rely on letters of recommendation from students’ mentors—the internship supervisors and professors who know them best. But with at least 34% of colleges still online-only in the fall of 2021, candidates may have gone several semesters without meaningful face-to-face mentor interactions. This can make it more challenging to create a good rapport and receive a strong letter of recommendation.
College grads in 2021 faced setbacks due to Covid-19.

Conversely, the class of 2021 may be uniquely prepared for the workforce. Attending school and graduating in a pandemic equipped them with the following valuable skills:

  • Working in a virtual environment: Most 2021 graduates attended virtual classes, worked on projects via zoom, and even took exams virtually over the course of a year. This experience of virtual interaction and collaboration has prepared them for the possibility of working remotely, more so than the class of 2020.
  • Better autonomy: Due to having to attend classes virtually for so long, those in the class of 2021 have acquired more autonomy than those in past years. They had to manage their time and projects, meeting deadlines without reminders at in-person classes. Attending virtual classes alone, learning to manage online platforms and emails, and responding to important messages in the past year all have prepared them for autonomous work.  
College grads in 2021 are uniquely prepared for the workforce, due in part to the pandemic.

So, how can you effectively evaluate these candidates?

How To Screen New Graduates With Less Internship Experience

Without substantial workplace experience, it’s tempting to rely on concrete rubrics like GPA and test scores to evaluate your candidates. However, top companies like Google have found that these metrics aren’t usually measures of employee success.

While it’s important to create criteria to narrow your pool of candidates, this year, try looking beyond the numbers.

Identify Transferable Skills

New graduates may not have concrete work experience doing the specific tasks at your place of business, whether that’s compiling research for client pitches or working on a coding team.

But the skills they’ve gained through coursework and extracurriculars could still smoothly transfer to their new roles. 

Beyond a relevant academic major, look for the following experiences (or ask candidates to highlight them in their cover letters):

  • Volunteer and extracurricular activities that reveal leadership abilities, communication skills, self-motivation, and time-management skills
  • Group and individual projects that resulted in accolades, led to conference presentations, or otherwise helped the candidate develop teamwork skills or advanced research skills
  • Minor concentrations that provided a valuable secondary skillset (i.e., writing-intensive subjects that could confer strong communication skills)

Consider Predictors of Job Performance & Organizational Fit

Interestingly, the American Psychological Association has found that intelligence is not the main indicator of workplace performance. Instead, individuals tend to excel based on personality and disposition

Personality also plays a crucial role in organizational fit, another key factor in employee success.

Depending on positions you’re hiring for, you may want to identify candidates with the following traits:

  • Agreeability – A good attitude is key to success. This is even more true in workplaces that require teamwork and collaboration.
  • Interpersonal skills – Beyond mere friendliness, candidates will have to adapt to a complex social hierarchy, learning to share both praise and accountability with other team members.
  • Openness to experience – Curiosity is a hard trait to measure on a resume. But the most versatile employees are those who can move outside their comfort zone.
  • The right personality type It was long maintained that extroverts perform best in the workplace, and this can be true if you need to fill leadership roles. But self-motivated introverts may be better suited for positions that require intense focus. 
Tips for screening graduates with less internship experience.

You’re likely conducting remote interviews, which are easy to schedule back-to-back. Take advantage of technology to widen your pool of candidates and conduct more interviews than usual. That way, you’ll have the opportunity to suss out personality, openness, and other positive traits. 

You may even find some candidates who would have slipped under the cracks in previous hiring seasons.

Invest In Background Checks & Training

Once you’ve narrowed your pool of prospective candidates, it’s time to consider your HR processes.

You have less information on these employees, which makes it important to conduct a background check, which could include a Professional Reference Check as well as Education Verification. For college graduates with little to no work experience, a professional reference check may be conducted with a mentor, advisor or professor—someone who is able to provide insight into the candidate’s strengths, performance, characteristics (e.g. honesty, trustworthiness, adaptability, etc.), communication style, work ethic and more. 

Likewise, these recent grads have less real-world work experience than previous hires. That means your company should design a more intensive onboarding process to get them up to speed.

Check Your Candidate’s Background With GoodHire

With limited information on applicants from the class of 2021, it’s essential to run background checks before you put your new hires to work.

GoodHire’s FCRA compliant background checks have enabled more than 80,000 businesses to evaluate their candidates and clear the onramp to hiring. Beyond security, GoodHire provides speed. 71% of customers find that GoodHire empowers them to reduce the time spent processing background checks.

GoodHire offers basic, standard, and premium background check packages, while also providing the flexibility to easily create your own packages based on your company’s hiring needs.

Check out GoodHire and get your class of 2021 candidates into the workplace with full confidence.

Illustration of a hiring manager interviewing a college graduate.

The resources provided here are for educational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. We advise you to consult your own counsel if you have legal questions related to your specific practices and compliance with applicable laws.

About the Author

As GoodHire’s managing editor, Sara Korolevich produces educational resources for employers on a variety of employment screening topics, including compliance and screening best practices, and writes about GoodHire’s company and product news. Sara’s experience stems from 20+ years working as a B2C and B2B PR and communications professional.