How has COVID-19 impacted intern recruiting activities?

As recruiting season arrives, we are still seeing the impacts of COVID-19 on our everyday activities. To gain some insight into how construction interns are being recruited this year, we sat down with two members of our HR team, Brittanie White and Sarah Stisser. We discussed what’s different, how we’re making the most of it, and what could continue to be valuable in the future.

How are recruiting events different this year?

The main difference in regards to intern recruiting this year is that most college career fairs are virtual. For example, Oklahoma State University (OSU) and the University of Oklahoma (OU), the two largest career fairs Ross Group attends, both moved to a virtual setting this year. These events will use a system like Zoom or Microsoft Teams to allow students to communicate directly with companies that are looking for interns. Students can book a quick session for one-on-one time with our HR team (typically about five minutes) to discuss opportunities and see if our team is a good fit for them.


Some career fairs are continuing in-person, with new, more stringent health and safety guidelines. Another large career fair we attend annually, Pittsburg State University (Pitt), is still hosting an in-person fair, but there will be fewer companies attending, allowing more space around each booth . Social distancing will also be enforced to keep students and recruiting teams safe.

Do you think these changes will hurt our ability to recruit interns?

There are both positives and challenges to career fairs shifting to a virtual format. One positive is that our recruiters will have more individual time with each student, rather than talking to an entire group of students at the same time. The flip side is that we’ll only be able to spend a few minutes with each student, rather than as much time as we want or need. That could potentially limit our ability to get to know them, their goals, and interests.


It will be interesting to see how selecting potential interns works in a virtual setting. One concern is that this format may not provide the same flexibility as officially interviewing students at the career fair prior to the in-person interviews at our office.


As a company, how has Ross Group been able to pivot and make the most of this situation?

One of the main shifts we made in terms of planning recruiting activities for this year was to focus our efforts more locally. In past years, we’ve traveled to a larger number of colleges and universities in states as far away as Florida. However, this fall we are staying close to home and limiting our efforts to the schools where we typically recruit interns who become full-time hires. The limited ability to travel was a major influence on this decision, as we are not able to travel to schools farther away and would also have difficulty bringing students to our office for the necessary in-person interviews.


Other ways our company has learned to pivot to accommodate the current situation is to update our new hire process. For interns and new, full-time employees, Ross Group has developed the ability to conduct virtual new hire orientations using Microsoft Teams and customized online forms. We also host a phone interview, followed by a video interview for prospective new hires before bringing them into the office. These new tactics limit the number of people coming in and out of our office, while also protecting potential new hires from traveling more than necessary.


Do you see any potential benefits or new processes that could continue to be valuable even after things return to “normal”?

There are absolutely benefits to doing things in these new ways, which we will continue to use in the future. The current situation with COVID-19 has forced us to learn and grow in unexpected ways. There are many ways of accomplishing our recruiting goals that we didn’t even consider until we had to. For example, our virtual new hire and onboarding process is something we didn’t know was a possibility for our team until it became necessary to develop something to replace and supplement the traditional system.

Conducting meetings and interviews virtually has given us different options and more flexibility. It’s a less rigid system because you don’t have to meet in person for everything. That expectation is no longer in place. For instance, if a potential new hire is in another state, you don’t have to fly them in for a one-hour interview. This creates the freedom to conduct business in a way that is more time and cost efficient for everyone involved.


Another advantage is that virtual career fairs are more specialized on a specific major, rather than on a group of varied majors. For instance, students majoring in construction management can select only construction companies to connect with, saving them time by eliminating the presence of companies that are not in their field of interest. This would be beneficial to continue in future years. Additionally, because most classes are scheduled to be online, some interns from this summer are staying on with their companies as a co-op throughout the school year. This expands their opportunities for real world experience.

While COVID-19 is certainly impacting this year’s recruiting season, not all of those impacts are negative. In fact, because of the need to adapt, Ross Group has learned new tactics that we can continue to use in future years. Most importantly, the changes taking place show that we are all working together to ensure students are still able to gain the valuable experiences they need from interning to succeed in the construction industry.

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