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Graduating seniors received an average of 0.83 job offers in 2021, down from 0.93 for the Class of 2020.

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Students who graduated during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021 reported fewer job offers and less access to university career centers than the previous class, according to a new survey out today from the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

Graduating seniors received an average of 0.83 job offers in 2021, down from 0.93 for the Class of 2020. And students visited their institution’s career center an average of 1.19 times in 2020-21, compared to 1.55 visits in 2019-20, which NACE says is likely due to the pandemic.

The pandemic also robbed college students of internship opportunities. NACE found that last year about 22 percent of employers revoked internships and 41 percent delayed their start dates, reducing the length of many internships, which traditionally run 10 to 12 weeks. To make up for the lost internships, career centers at many institutions developed new virtual programming to give students job experience.

The survey this year was completed by more than 15,000 bachelor’s degree students -- including over 2,300 graduating seniors -- from February to May.

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It found a big uptick in virtual job recruiting, which provided historically marginalized populations -- female, Black, Hispanic and first-generation college students -- a better job-search experience than traditional, in-person recruiting, the report noted. NACE executive director Shawn VanDerziel said virtual recruiting can make hiring practices much more equitable.

“The move to virtual recruiting marks a momentous improvement in the job-search experience,” VanDerziel said. “The way that companies have had to rethink the way they hire has created more equity in the recruiting and hiring process, and this leads us to believe that employers should consider utilizing virtual recruiting as a viable tool for developing a wider and more diverse pool of candidates.”

VanDerziel said marginalized students, including 71 percent of Black students and 61 percent of Hispanic students, indicated in the survey that they learned more about employers virtually than in person; only 49 percent of their white peers said the same. Additionally, marginalized students reported better virtual interactions with employers or their representatives and got a more “authentic view” of a workplace virtually than through in-person encounters, VanDerziel said.

Multiple studies have shown that white Americans still disproportionately outnumber their Black and Latino counterparts when it comes to obtaining good jobs, regardless of their education level. And because employers shifted to using virtual career fairs, virtual information sessions and virtual one-on-one interviewing to reach students during the pandemic, VanDerziel said that could help them diversify their pool of applicants and pursue equity within their workforce.

“We know that employers have been looking to diversify their workforce,” VanDerziel said. “And in order to diversify the workforce, they need to start with their entry-level positions. That is the future of businesses and that is the pipeline.”

Another important finding in the survey, VanDerziel said, is that marginalized populations were less likely to have paid internships. The survey found that paid interns received an average of 1.12 job offers, compared to 0.85 offers for unpaid interns and 0.64 offers for students who had no internships. That means students who had paid internships received 30 percent more job offers than those with unpaid internships, and 75 percent more job offers than those who never had an internship.

VanDerziel noted that the disparity emphasizes the need to establish more equitable recruiting and hiring practices for interns, since internships often lead to full-time employment opportunities. He recommended institutions work with different employers to set up paid internships for students.

“In order to provide equity, we need to increase the numbers of marginalized students who have access to and actually obtain paid internships,” VanDerziel said.

The survey also asked students what they sought in a job or employer. The most desirable trait was the opportunity to develop specific job skills, VanDerziel said. Other top factors included job security, friendly co-workers and a good insurance and benefits package. Graduating seniors named a high starting salary as the eighth most important attribute of a job, according to the report, with more than 20 percent saying salary would serve as the tiebreaker in choosing between two competing job offers.

A separate survey from Universum, an employer branding specialist, found that students cited a preference for working remotely, with 75 percent of students saying they would consider remote work, including internships during the school year and full-time jobs after graduation. However, 56 percent of students said they feared being isolated from co-workers and missing social connections due to remote work.

The Universum survey, taken by more than 51,000 students from 310 U.S. institutions between October 2020 and March 2021, also found 43 percent of students worried that even an employer who permitted remote work might have a bias for in-person workers, and the same share was concerned that remote work might pay less.

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