How students want employers to talk to them

This piece was first published on Luminate. In it I discuss the findings of a new research report exploring what students want from the recruitment and transitions process. In particular I look at how students want employers to talk to them.

Employers are very curious to know what is going on in students’ minds. Every year they set out to recruit tens of thousands of graduates and often have to rely on a best guess about what students are interested in, what appeals to them and how they want to be communicated with.

To address this the Institute of Student Employers and Debut undertook a new research project to ask student the burning questions that employers wanted to know.1 We received responses from 55 employers who provided us with 147 questions. We boiled these down to seven questions, which we then put to over 2,000 students and graduates who use Debut’s app.

Which channels should employers use to communicate?

We asked students and graduates to indicate their agreement from 1 (Strongly disagree) to 4 (Strongly agree) about whether employers should communicate with them using various common channels and platforms. The findings are set out in figure 1.

The results make for interesting reading, particularly in light of the energy that many employers have devoted to developing social media strategies. Overall students were very positive about being communicated with by email and LinkedIn. But, they were, on average, negative about communication through more informal social media channels.

Of course, just because people aren’t positive about social media campaigns, does not mean that they do not respond to them. There were still substantial numbers of respondents who were positive about the use of social media channels. So, 37% agreed that employers should communicate with them through blogs, 36% through Instagram, 33% through Twitter, and 28% through Facebook.

But, the message was clear: respondents were at best lukewarm to being contacted through social media. Perhaps this concern is driven by a fear of surveillance and the idea that employers are moving into domains that are normally reserved for non-work activities. 

What do graduates want to hear from employers?

Thinking about the channel through which communication should take place is only a small part of the story. We also asked graduates what they wanted to hear employers talking about. We offered them a series of statements looking at various aspects of recruitment as well as information about careers within the organisation and the organisation itself. Figure 2 sets out what we found.

The findings reveal that young jobseekers are hungry for information. They were very positive about every type of information that we suggested that employers might be able to provide. They wanted to hear about the recruitment process and were keen to access information about what recruiters were looking for in applications, about assessments centres and to gain some tips on the application process. They also wanted to know about the career, training and social opportunities within the organisation and to hear from employees about what it was like to work there. Finally, they were also interested in hearing about whether the organisation was committed to voluntary, charity and community work.

For employers, this question reinforces the message that students and graduates want to understand what they are getting into when they are applying for jobs. The more opportunities that employers can give to directly interact and connect to existing staff the better.

Not everyone wants the same information

When we analysed the results in more detail it became apparent that there were some important differences between different types of student.2 Not everyone cared about each type of information to the same degree.

Non-white and female respondents were looking for somewhat different kinds of information to white and male respondents. Broadly they were looking for reassurance that they would fit in and be treated well.

Non-white respondents (94% to 81%) and women (93% to 81%) were more likely to want to hear about the experience of employees from different backgrounds, genders, ethnicity and sexuality than white respondents and men. Some of these differences were cumulative with 97% of female, non-white respondents keen to hear from diverse employees, while only 71% of male, white respondents were interesting in hearing about this.  

Non-white respondents were also more likely to want to hear about the social aspects of the organisation (88% vs 82%) than their white counter-parts. Again, this may be linked to seeking confirmation that this an organisation that they will fit into. 

There was also an important difference in the degree to which respondents sought information about organisation’s voluntary, charity and community work. Non-white respondents (88% vs 82%) and women (90% vs 79%) were more likely to want to hear about corporate social responsibility. Again, this may be being used as a proxy for an organisation which individuals feel they will fit into and which will align with their values.

Final thoughts

For employers these messages should send out a clear signal that it is important to provide students with meaningful opportunities to learn about recruitment, your organisation and the workplace. For some students, particularly women and those from ethnic minorities, it is also important to help them to see that they will fit in.

For careers services these findings increase the case for robust and ongoing employer engagement. They also empower careers professionals to push employers to move beyond cheerleading for their firms and to attend to diversity and inclusivity as well as offering some deeper insights into what it is like to work for them.


  1. What do students want? Listening to the voices of young jobseekers, Institute of Student Employers and Debut, 2020.
  2. For more information about the report’s demographic findings see Tristram’s article Truly inclusive recruitment means focusing on nuances.

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