The Persistent Disconnect Between Recruiters and Early Talent

In the age of digital connection — where unprecedented access to information and each other is the norm — the disconnect between employers, educators, and early talent is more rife than ever. 

Why is this so? After all, hasn’t early talent walked the same pathway for decades? Go to school, build skills and knowledge, apply and interview, and then enter the workforce. You would expect this safe and mapped out route to be a well-oiled machine that’s been refined over time to serve all parties effectively.

But it turns out that our current system of “educate, interview, employ” might not be as efficient as we’d like to believe. Worse, it’s failing many candidates and employers alike.

A Forage study of over 10,000 participants found that 32% of graduates and early talent were “very unclear” on how they were going to move forward in their careers. Furthermore, the research highlighted four key areas of misalignment between recruiters and employment, and proposed three useful tactics to reduce this disconnect. 

The 4 Pillars of Disconnect Between Recruiters and Early Talent

1. Timing

Research shows that 40% of graduates said they would start taking steps to enhance employability after their second year of college. 

Except, employers and educators recommend that early talent take steps to become employable from their first year at college. Students, however, only consider taking those steps midway through college — and they become increasingly uncertain about best steps to take as they progress in their education.

2. Engagement 

Employers state they look at students’ listed extracurriculars as a key hiring signal, but only 13% of students report listing extracurricular activities among the top three most important factors of their application.

While employers highlight the importance of extracurricular activities for showcasing consistent interest in a particular industry or role, students believe their limited time is better spent pursuing relevant industry experience. 

3. Intent 

One-fifth of students apply to over 40 jobs and use “hot words” — or key phrases from an employer’s website or value statements — to game ATS systems. However, employers are looking beyond such phrases by noting, for instance, who attended events and engaged outside of the application process.

In other words, both employers and students want a human approach to the hiring process, but their preferred markers of authentic intent are misaligned. Students have come up with a way to “appeal” to employers in their applications, never privy to the fact that employers are looking at something else entirely. 

4. Skills

Sixty percent of early talent believe evidence of technical skills is the most important aspect to make their application stand out. Additionally, fewer than 6% think attending a company event is important. But the latter is important, say employers. 

Employers value candidates who can illustrate how their general skills translate to the workplace — but students struggle to know what employers want and agonize over gaining job-specific technical skills. This evolves into a vicious catch-22, where early talent is often guessing which skills employers want to see them exhibit, only then to face uncertainty about how to learn said workplace-specific skills.

Combine these four pillars of disconnect with the fact that many workplaces are currently having to navigate the unexplored waters of remote work and you have a recipe for disaster. Still, It’s not all doom and gloom though. 

The Forage study also highlights three workable steps recruiters can take to help them reduce the disconnect between themselves and the early talent they seek

3 Strategies to Solve the Disconnect

1. Remove the Unknown and Boost Early Talent Morale

Almost four-fifths of early talent report that their main source of information about a role and company is anecdotal from the internet. 

This is a problem. 

Before we resort to asking a stranger on Quora about a health condition, we ask our doctor (at least we should). Why, then, are students and early talent resorting to forums and second-hand sources to understand jobs to which they are applying?

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It’s a breeding ground for anxiety-inducing misinformation, which not only leads to poorer quality applications but poorer confidence levels of early talent whose applications are often met with deafening silence.  

By demystifying this experience, and explicitly describing roles to job-seekers, employers are perfectly placed to be the solution to this area of disconnect. To do so, companies should aim to be the prominent voice of information online by answering questions from potential candidates, like which traits are needed to be considered for a role.

2. Offer Free Opportunities for Talent to Develop Relevant Skills 

As mentioned prior, early talent often falls victim to an exhausting catch-22 when applying for roles. Graduate-level job openings sometimes require workplace-specific skills that can only be obtained from working in a role outside of college. This can feel like a paradox for many graduates and students who, if given the chance, would be extremely willing to learn the skills required of them. 

This can be damaging for morale and can leave early talent feeling like they have wasted time at college. In fact, over 70% feel they lack opportunities to gain relevant industry experience in fields they are desperately trying to break into. 

To combat this, employers and educators once again have the opportunity to make a difference and bridge this disconnect. By funding and offering pre-skilling opportunities, employers can invest in a refined recruitment process, one that enables students to develop technical skills, gain career insight, and display authentic intent for a role at a prospective company. 

Pre-skilling can entail virtual job simulations, day-in-the-life experiences, and work-experience seminars, all of which have shown to be highly effective ways of providing free opportunities for early talent to develop relevant skills. 

3. Reward Talent Who Engage and Show Authentic Intent

Positive friction — or creating a healthy hurdle candidates choose to overcome to help recruiters bubble up to the surface those who are genuinely interested in their company — has been shown to improve the quality of applications. It’s a way to gauge genuine intent and engagement, a valuable criteria in today’s age of one-click applications. 

These hurdles, such as pre-skilling workshops like virtual job simulations, provide early talent with information on what a role actually entails and helps them attain skills that only real-life work experience can provide. Consequently, this breaks the catch-22 experience paradox.

Closing the Gap

Although the disconnect between recruiters and early talent transcends industry and international borders, the solutions are quite simple. We must holistically work toward improving communication between educators, early talent, and employers at each stage of the talent pool’s journey. 

The process of demystifying the workplace by providing clear information and expectations, as well as actionable steps early talent can take, will work wonders to bridge the disconnect. 

Tom Brunskill is the co-founder and CEO of Forage, a job simulation platform that helps students bridge the gap between education and work opportunities. On a mission to make education-to-workforce pathway more equitable, Tom co-founded Forage in 2017 to provide the ability to pre-skill through virtual job simulations produced by the world’s top companies, including Walmart, J.P. Morgan, and Lyft. By breaking down barriers to gaining workplace-specific skills, Tom hopes to level the opportunity playing field and empower anyone to pursue their dream career.

Tom started his career as a corporate lawyer at a multinational law firm in Australia before moving to San Francisco and has been featured in Business Insider, Financial Times, and TechCrunch, among others outlets.

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