Hiring practices are evolving faster today than ever before. With the advent of technology, new generational demands, and life-long learning, both employers and job candidates are looking for a new type of employment relationship than even ten years ago.

Today, online learning is more popular and more accepted than in previous years, giving students the opportunity to gain educational credentials with increased flexibility and customized learning platforms. Expanding your search to students with a non-traditional education not only widens your candidate pool, but allows your organization to build a more diverse team with employees from unique backgrounds.

Here are some ways to recruit students with an online degree:

Understand the Power of Online Learning

There’s no doubt that online learning is growing in both popularity and acceptance by employers. In 2015, almost 6 million students (28% of all college students) were enrolled in online college classes. A more recent 2017 study revealed that of all online students, almost half were only taking online courses.

With more students taking distance learning courses, it’s getting harder for employers to ignore candidates with alternate educational backgrounds. Today, according to a Northwestern University study on educational credentials, 61% of HR leaders hold online learning equal to in-person learning. Further, 52% believe that most advanced degrees will be completed online in the future.

Although recruiters are still more likely to prefer candidates with traditional college degrees, the evolution of online learning has snagged the attention of employers, students, and universities alike. 58% of employers believe that “an institution’s brand and reputation is the main driver of a credential’s value, regardless of whether or not it was earned online.” Businesses would be remiss not to include online students in their strategic recruitment methodologies.

Know the Online Education Options

Like all college recruitment programs, employers should analyze a student’s online educational background as it relates to their hiring needs. Just as you would analyze which colleges and universities are most useful to your campus recruitment strategies, look at online programs with the same critical (yet open-minded) eye.

What types of online education are there?

  • Online college courses: 
    Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are classes offered by traditional universities, and can be applied for credit to a traditional college degree. They’re also available to adults who are not seeking a full degree, but would like to continue their education on an ad-hoc basis. MOOCs are offered on a wide scale and are typically not limited in enrollment. 
  • Online certifications:
    Many career fields offer online certifications, which are often designed to supplement a traditional or online degree. The types of online certification programs are wide-ranging — from business to IT to nursing — and are a way for candidates to demonstrate advanced knowledge on a given topic and stand out from other job seekers. 
  • Educational apps and programs:
    It’s not hard to find professional development opportunities online these days. From Udemy to LinkedIn Learning to Kahn Academy, there are infinite options for employees who want to invest further in their occupational education. You might see these course completions listed on candidate’s resume, and you might even consider offering employees access to educational apps as a part of your overall benefits package. 
  • Bootcamps and other college alternatives: 
    Especially in tech fields, bootcamps and other college alternatives are becoming increasingly popular options for students looking to become proficient in their field quickly and at a lower cost than traditional university degrees. Organizations like General Assembly and Flatiron School offer 3- to 6-month-long courses in software engineering, data science, UX design and more, and are often as highly regarded by recruiters as a traditional education. 

How can you determine the quality of an online education? 

Examine the quality of the curricular content. Does the online program align with real-world work? Does it include experiential learning? What is the duration of the program? Is the program solely online, or do students have the opportunity to interact with professors and each other? Do students produce any portfolio work throughout the course that you can review?

Further, identify your hiring needs, just like you would for any college graduate candidate. Are you focused more on finding candidates with specialized skills? Are you looking for students who demonstrate the commitment and internal motivation that often accompanies online learning? By investigating not only the online learning program but also your organization’s hiring needs, you can better recruit students from across a broad spectrum of educational options.

Meet Candidates Where They Are: Online

One challenge in recruiting online students is that they’re not located on one central campus, where you can easily visit, get some face-to-face time, and answer questions about your employer brand. Online students are spread across the country (and the world), which means you’ll need to come up with digital recruitment strategies that reach candidates where they are.

Host a virtual information session for candidates who are looking to learn more about your company. It’s a great way to reach as many students as possible, engage your talent community and stand out from the competition with a non-traditional recruiting tactic. Unlike in-person events, virtual recruiting events can be archived and accessed at any time, ensuring candidates who missed a live event can still learn about your company and opportunities.

Keep job seekers engaged with a full candidate relationship management (CRM) strategy, using email, text and other channels to share company news, recruiting updates and more. 

From online hire to in-person teammate

As the hiring market continues to evolve, considering students with a non-conventional education is crucial to employers who want to compete for top talent. It starts with knowing the right qualifications to look for, understanding the online learning landscape, and selecting candidates based on your organization’s specific needs. Hiring online students will not only help your organization increase your talent pool, but build a more diverse team.