Find success with virtual campus recruiting

Expect this trend to outlast the pandemic.
By Anita Dennis

During the COVID-19 pandemic, firms, colleges, and universities moved many traditional aspects of recruiting — including "Meet the Firm" events, career fairs, and interviews — online. As virtual recruiting is likely here to stay, recruiters say, firms should still consider it part of their hiring strategy even once the pandemic is over.

Virtual recruiting has certain advantages. Among other things, virtual sessions are a lot easier to schedule than in-person events. Many traditional Meet the Firm nights at universities have been one-time opportunities, noted Jacob T. Crowley, CPA, assistant professor of accounting at Ohio Northern University in Ada. "Now we're able to allow firms to schedule information sessions whenever the company has the availability," he said.

Virtual recruiting is also efficient in terms of time and money, said Mike Theobald, director of career services at Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Mo. Firms do interviews from their offices and avoid the cost of overnight or longer trips, making it possible to involve more firm members.

It also allows firms to recruit from a broader and more diverse pool of students. When events are held online, there are no geographic limits to prevent firms and students from getting involved, said Molly Davis, BKD CPAs and Advisors campus recruiting manager, in Springfield, Mo. The virtual platform that BKD uses for virtual recruiting has allowed the firm to stretch its branding outside its former geographic footprint and reach campuses where it may not have spent as much time in the past, she said.

Though virtual recruiting has its advantages, on-campus recruiting will still remain a core part of firms' strategies. Online events can't quite substitute for the connections made face-to-face. "In-person campus events build strong connections and good rapport with future interns and hires," said Kaylan Vrana, campus recruiter at BKD in Kansas City and Des Moines. On campus, firm representatives can connect with someone they run into in a hallway or make an impromptu appointment to meet for coffee with a promising person, while connecting through an online event by necessity must be more intentional, she said.

Karli Azar, talent and acquisition senior associate at Somerset CPAs and Advisors in Indianapolis, does not find virtual recruiting as effective as traditional methods. She saw fewer students coming to virtual career fairs, and believed it was mainly because of the stress and Zoom fatigue associated with the pandemic. "I think they are overwhelmed," she said. Vrana said that, while her firm's recruiting efforts were successful overall, she also observed lower attendance at virtual events.  

In years to come, firms may adopt a hybrid approach that retains the convenience and efficiency of online efforts but also involves in-person interaction. How it shapes up will depend on firm resources and priorities. For instance, recruiters might prefer to hold in-person interviews to get to know candidates better, but opt for virtual ones during busy recruiting times or when recruiting a student at a distant school.

Tips for virtual recruiting success

Firms and university representatives offered this advice for enhancing virtual recruiting efforts:

  • Be creative. KPMG, for instance, hosts "Lunch and Learns," in which the firm sends a group of six to eight promising students a gift certificate from a takeout delivery service and invites them to share a meal online with firm leaders. "These meetings have no agendas or slides, but provide informal opportunities for students to ask questions and get to know firm members," said Kathy Schaum, executive director, university talent acquisition at global professional services firm KPMG LLP.
  • BKD conducted a live online roadshow that allowed students to choose to "visit" and learn about offices around the country via Zoom or GoToWebinar, with the entire firm pitching in to highlight its culture. The firm has also used Zoom and Microsoft Teams to build camaraderie among smaller groups of interns in the same office or from offices around the country.

  • Pay attention to culture. In a virtual setting, "showing company culture is super difficult," said Azar. "We work on this every day. We believe our culture sells our firm, so we have had to figure out how to do that on the computer." They have involved firm members, including leadership and alumni from the schools where they recruit, in recruiting, and have promoted greater engagement in remote events by using fun activities such as virtual games.
  • Monitor and upgrade the quality of your technology. Firms should do research to find the right tools to ensure secure and reliable connections that offer the necessary bandwidth they will need for whatever events they plan, Schaum said.

  • Know each school's procedures and capabilities. Different schools have different rules around and capabilities for the virtual recruiting process. For the first round of interviews at Ohio Northern University, for instance, the school will organize interview times and let students use a designated room equipped with a school computer and online platform account, all while following pandemic protocols, said Jill R. Cadotte, CPA, assistant professor of accounting. However, since some colleges may not have a sufficient number of online platform accounts for events or interviews, firms also should be ready to step in and offer to set up and host meetings or information sessions, she said.

  • Coach candidates on the technology. Some information session participants or interviewers may be participating in the remote recruiting process for the first time. Remind them that, as with any business meeting, they should be aware of the quality of their background, audio, and video and should eliminate any noise or interruptions, Schaum said. At the same time, allow for some grace for students who may not have easy access to great technology or quiet spaces, she said.

Visit the Global Career Hub from AICPA & CIMA for help with finding a job or recruiting.

— Anita Dennis is a financial writer based in New Jersey. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien, a JofA senior editor, at

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