How to Navigate Early Career Hiring in a Recession

Consider this your guide to safeguarding your organization.

Following the COVID-19 pandemic, talent teams experienced a hot market with candidates in the drivers’ seat — one so competitive that it had been referred to as ‘the war on talent’. But an economic cooldown at the tail end of 2022 has shifted companies’ focus from fighting for top talent to planning for worst-case scenarios by tightening budgets and instituting hiring freezes and layoffs. 

In fact, 91% of CEOs across the country are predicting that we are heading toward a recession within the next 12 months, and half plan to or have reduced headcount in preparation. At the same time, 95% of those CEOs are also confident in the growth of their companies over the next three years, and 92% expect their headcount to grow in the near future. In other words, despite preparing for setbacks now, companies today do believe that they can weather this storm and continue to thrive. 

It goes without saying that an investment in early career talent is an investment in the long-term success of any company — especially if that talent can be nurtured in-house. But as hiring for entry-level roles slows down, how can early career talent professionals make strategic choices to ensure that their organizations continue to succeed now, and will be ready for when hiring picks back up again? 

In our guide, Key Investments in Early Career Talent in an Economic Downturn, we lay out 5 areas you should focus on now to help you build a strong pipeline of fresh and motivated candidates to tap into when the economy recovers — and avoid having to start from square one. 

See below for some highlights from the guide, and download the full report here

Strategy One: Invest in Your Internship Programs

Running a meaningful internship program and managing a slew of students with varying backgrounds is no small feat for your talent team — but it is an investment that will set you up for successful and cost-effective hiring seasons to come. That’s because strong internship programs can lower recruitment costs, increase job acceptance rates, and lead to higher retention rates. 

Here are some helpful stats:

  • Nearly 70% of 2020-21 interns were offered full-time positions after their program concluded, and 75.5% accepted those offers. 
  •  The one-year retention rate for 2021 interns is 67.7% — compared to 36% of hires with no internship experience. 
  • The five-year retention rate (looking at 2017 interns) is 41.5%, compared to 26% of non-interns. (source: NACE)

Plus, as more students begin searching for internship opportunities in an attempt to recession-proof their post-graduation plans (by padding their resumes with real work experience), you’ll have that much more promising talent to invite into your funnel now, and to bring on full-time in the future. 

Strategy Two: Remain Steadfast in Your D&I Commitment

Gen Z cares about what their future employer is doing to help move the needle on diversifying the workforce. In fact, we found that 75% of today’s early career candidates would reconsider applying to a company if they were not satisfied with its D&I efforts. And as more Gen Zers enter the workforce, the demand for a more diverse workplace will only grow in importance for companies looking to hire top talent. 

Slowing down on the progress your organization has made on its D&I efforts will hurt your organization in the long-term, especially as Gen Z keeps a close eye on how companies are treating traditionally underrepresented talent before, during, and after these trying economic times. Even further, it will also harm those most affected by recessions — women and people of color. As the makeup of your company changes due to a decrease in headcount or restructuring, it’s important that you are involved in those conversations to ensure that you aren’t walking back on progress you’ve made to support traditionally underrepresented talent. 

Strategy Three: Solidify a Clear Path for Growth

As your organization strategizes how to survive through this period of economic hardship, students nearing their graduation dates and preparing to enter the workforce are trying to ‘recession-proof’ the next stage of their professional lives as well. And that includes making themselves as competitive as possible. 

Historically, when the economy has plummeted, people have flocked to college and universities because the opportunity cost of losing out on collecting a salary while earning a higher education is significantly reduced as good jobs are scarce and pay is low. The motivation is also clearly fueled by a desire to appear more competitive when hiring resumes. That being said, we might see an influx of qualified talent with college degrees enter the talent market, and your organization would be wise to build a strategy for connecting with those students now. 

Plus, if candidates were willing to invest in themselves during times of economic distress, you can be sure that when it comes to time to apply for jobs, they will be looking for companies that will provide them with the support and tools to advance during times of economic prosperity. In fact, a clear path for advancement is essential for retaining Gen Z employees.

Strategy Four: Build Your Brand With Early ID Candidates

In times of economic turmoil, employer brand may not be top-of-mind for your team — despite the fact that significant changes and decisions might be occurring that can have large impacts on how your organization will be perceived. That being said, employer branding may actually be even more important during times of uncertainty, as it can both help you build a strong and diverse pipeline of talent to tap into when hiring does pick back up again.

It can be difficult to get buy-in from leadership for early ID strategies when organizations are hungry in the immediate future for fresh, new talent. But a slow-down of hiring is the perfect time to make the case for engaging with a larger share of younger talent who aren’t yet looking for jobs — but will be when hiring picks back up again. That means building connections with college freshmen and sophomores, and fostering those relationships through their senior years. 

Pro Tip: Something your organization can do to build a positive and strong brand recognition with early ID students is to offer skills workshops on or off campus, and involve employees at your company who can share their knowledge and serve as resources for those students.

Strategy Five: Leverage Technology to Do More With Less

As the economy began to shift in 2022, talent professionals were already beginning to feel the effects of tightening budgets, hiring freezes, and a reduction in headcount. But despite having leaner teams, they were still being tasked to work on high-stakes initiatives, such as helping their organizations to meet hiring and D&I goals. And as companies expect the economy to take an even further dip before it recovers, talent teams will have to learn how to do more with even less. 

That’s why it is key that you invest in recruitment technology like RippleMatch that will allow you to scale your efforts by automatically sourcing the right talent, and significantly cut down on the amount of manual work required by other tools. In fact, RippleMatch is the only solution that automatically generates warm leads — resulting in recruiters spending 87% less time sourcing candidates. And not only can RippleMatch reduce recruitment costs, but it will also help you strengthen your employer brand and meet D&I goals. 

The economy is unpredictable, but you and your team are not powerless during a recession. To support your organization now you should be focusing on initiatives that will allow you to (1) connect with and nurture younger talent who will be job-searching a few years down the road, (2) continue to build a positive association with your employer brand through D&I initiatives and opportunities for professional development, (3) and leverage technology to help you scale your recruiting efforts and make the most of your team. By doubling down on these elements today, even the leanest of talent teams can mitigate the effects of a recession on their company, and come out the other side even stronger. Read the full guide for even more tips here


Ready to learn more?

Book a demo to learn why leading employers rely on RippleMatch to efficiently hire the right talent and build diverse teams.

Cindy Loggins

Global Head of University Recruiting & Programs

"Centralizing everything on RippleMatch reduced our overall applicant review time by 70%."

Ebonee Bradley

University Recruiter

"With one click of a button, I can get tons of great candidates from underrepresented groups."