Posted by Louise ● 23 April 2020

WEBINAR: The Impact of COVID-19 on Undergraduate Programmes

On Thursday 16th April, over 400 university staff and employers tuned in to listen to our co-founder Oliver Sidwell’s webinar; The Impact of COVID-19 on Undergraduate Programmes.

Skipped it to finish off your latest painting by numbers masterpiece? We’ve compiled all the insights from the webinar into FIVE sections...

(Or you can relive the whole thing on YouTube...)


How are students feeling about work experience?

We recently ran a survey to find out how students are really feeling about the impact of COVID-19 on their career opportunities.

We received just shy of 1,400 responses, across 105 universities!

Here are SIX key trends from the results:

  1. 84% of students are worried about how COVID-19 might affect their career opportunities
  2. Students are mostly worried about finding work experience
  3. 92% want you to communicate with them via email, not social media
  4. 58% of students would like you to support them by creating virtual internships
  5. 42% would rather employers delayed the start of their summer internship
  6. Over half of students stressed the importance of communication

How is RMP supporting students?

  • Coronavirus Support Zone
    • Blogs by self-isolators for self-isolators on
  • Promoting key worker roles for free
    • Get in touch if you’d like to advertise your roles!
  • Work Ready Virtual Experience with Inside Sherpa & DBL
    • A series of programmes designed to upskill students
    • Starting with ‘Wellbeing & Resilience Under Lockdown’ on 7th May
  • Virtual Insight reviews
    • Insight review forms now cater for virtual experiences 

Screenshot 2020-04-22 at 16.14.23Virtual Insight review quotes from EY

What options do you have as an employer?

Whether you like it or not, the pandemic is going to have a big impact on your recruitment strategy. But with undergraduate programmes so integral to your talent pipeline, what’s the best step to take?

Well, you have THREE options...

Screenshot 2020-04-22 at 17.07.491. Continue

Continue ‘business as usual’ and adapt where possible.

How could this work?

For starters, move your onboarding process online, and even get students started on their schemes where roles can be done remotely. Offering heightened support from HR and line managers will help students feel more comfortable amidst all this uncertainty.

Who’s doing this?
  • IT firms are leading the charge, with a number of tech companies still keenly recruiting
  • EY’s virtual Easter Insight Days saw 40 attendees per day, and 100% attendance!

2. PostponeScreenshot 2020-04-22 at 17.07.54

… and run the schemes when you can.

How could this work?

This is all about being flexible with the dates and length of your programmes. For instance, you could start them later or swap your internships for insight days, running them over November reading weeks or Christmas.

Who’s doing this?
  • Savills moved their spring insights to summer insights
  • Goldman Sachs shortened their scheme from 10 to five weeks
  • Vector delayed their placement start from July to September
  • RMP Enterprise is considering hosting Christmas Insights for students who are impacted by COVID-19

3. CancelScreenshot 2020-04-22 at 17.08.05

You might be thinking about scrapping your programmes altogether.

How could this work?

Your priority should be clear and early communication with your students. Universities are adapting quickly, so students shouldn’t be penalised for not meeting duration requirements.

But if you do have to take this route, it’s worth being mindful of the long-term impact it may have on your talent pipeline. This year’s cohort won’t take kindly to having the door shut on them...

"One employer in the early 2000s stopped graduate recruitment completely almost overnight, and later estimated it took four years to rebuild relationships and trust on campus as a result." Gary Argent, Managing Director at Graduate Transitions

Who’s doing this?
  • Investment banks and law firms with Easter Insights
  • Hospitality, Leisure and Tourism has been hit particularly hard, with Enterprise students finishing their year-long placements early


Insights from our guest speakers

Hannah Rolph (Allen & Overy) and Helen Sherwood (IBM) then talked us through how they’re approaching the situation..

Screenshot 2020-04-22 at 17.29.49

Hannah Rolph, Head of Graduate Recruitment at Allen & Overy

To avoid turning away the very students who will be applying for training contracts with them further down the line, Allen & Overy are taking a blended approach to their programmes, going virtual where appropriate.


  • Currently still going ahead with summer vacation scheme (starts late July)
  • Virtual experiences restricted by technology and client confidentiality 
  • Students will still receive financial contribution for attending a virtual experience


  • Proactive and early communication, particularly with international students
  • Pushed 1st year programmes back to September for UK-based students 
  • Move summer vacation schemes online if restrictions are still in place

Screenshot 2020-04-22 at 17.29.57

Helen Sherwood, School Leavers & University Placement Scheme Lead at IBM 

Placement students are a huge pipeline for IBM’s graduate programmes. So they’re carrying on as best as possible, whilst working on a cohesive strategy for the 170 countries IBM operates in.


  • Flexible with hiring sprints - made 35 offers since early Feb
  • Online inductions and placement students starting remotely 
  • Research-based programme Extreme Blue will be ran completely virtually
  • More robust interviewing process covers competencies usually tested in group activities


  • Amended start dates for students who can’t get back to the UK
  • Check in to see if the amended experience still works for students

Skip to our panellist Q&As.

How can RMP support you?

Whichever route you’re taking, we’ve got plenty of solutions to help you get there...

  • Bespoke virtual internships
    • We’re partnering with Inside Sherpa to help you design schemes that upskill your future talent pipeline
    • Pioneered by KPMG and Linklaters
  • Virtual experiences on RateMyPlacement
    • Including webinars and virtual internships 
  • Register Your Interest
    • Start building your talent pool over the summer
    • Nurture students who have registered an interest in your brand...
    • ...even when you’re not actively recruiting!
  • Digital campaigns
    • Our campus offering On-Campus Promotions is set up to run digital-only campaigns 
    • Huge success in Autumn and Spring term campaigns, e.g. 74,398 students reached via email by HSBC’s 20 Brand Ambassadors 
  • RMP Connect
    • Capture data to build and engage with your talent pool
    • 75% of hires for IBM’s placement roles had signed up to their talent pool pre-application
    • Stay connected with students during the coronavirus
  • COVID-19 Advice
    • Weekly blogs for employers on RMP
    • Great content to share with your students
    • Subscribe to brush up on your early careers knowledge
    • 30 episodes packed with industry insights

If you have any questions or would like to explore our offerings further, please do get in touch! Drop your account manager an email or click below to contact us.


Employer Q&As

Our panelists were asked SO MANY amazing questions during the webinar, there wasn’t time to answer them all live. They very kindly took the time to respond afterwards...

Q1. When talking about pushing summer schemes back to later on in the year, how is this being managed with students going back to university?

Hannah: “We will honour some sort of contact into the business, but unfortunately it won’t be the full two-week experience they’d get in the summer. I don’t think any of us would expect them to miss university time, it’s already been extremely disruptive.”

Helen: “We’re offering amended start dates if students require, making sure that we accommodate where we can.”

Q2. It will be difficult to manage IT equipment with placement students, how do we overcome this?

Hannah: “First, make sure that students on your schemes have an equal experience by checking that they all have access to IT equipment. Then structure the scheme in a way that offers insight in bite-sized chunks throughout the day, potentially coupled with group work, so they aren’t on a computer screen all day.”

Q3. How do we be clear about communication when we don’t know what’s going on ourselves?

Helen: “Be honest. You can only tell them what you know right now, your backup plan and how you want to proceed. And check in with students to see if the amended experience still fulfills their requirements.

We also get students to collaborate prior to their start date. Engaging with a larger cohort creates a natural support structure for new starters; a network that pays huge dividends later on in their placement.”

Hannah: “It’s still worth doing that extended reach out, checking in regularly and keeping the conversation open so that students feel more reassured.”

Q4. Are you giving candidates the option to defer their entry?

Hannah: “It’s slightly more complicated from a legal perspective because of the timescales in the industry.”

Helen: “It’s not actually something that any of our students have asked us. But it might be that if we were to defer a placement student, they might not be able to come back into the role that they were hoping to fulfill. We have to fulfill the business needs as well as the students.”

Q5. How do you onboard remotely?

Helen: “We’re asking them to submit copies of their documents, but also having a video call with them holding their passport next to their face. Just so you can do the same checks you would do face-to-face.”

Q6. Are you finding that candidates are still accepting, even though there’s been no face-to-face interaction recently?

Helen: “We’ve not had anybody questioning whether they want to work for us because they haven’t turned up to an office. The fact that we’ve been really proactive is proof not only that the students want us, but that we want the students.”

Hannah: “Law students do a number of summer and winter vacation schemes throughout the year. Some students are debating whether to just accept the training contract offer from the firm that they’ve already physically experienced.”

Q7. Is anyone considering running written tests and assessments online as part of the interview process? If so, are you able to share any insights? 

Hannah: “All of our assessments processes have concluded, however I am very mindful there could be several waves of covid19, bringing with it future challenges. We will need to consider how our assessment process could operate, if we were to be in a similar position next year.”

Helen: “We do tests upfront as part of our application process, then application form, then assessment center and interviews. We've enhanced the interviews to accommodate any gaps by not being able to hold assessment centers and the group activities.”

Q8. How is the economic impact of the pandemic impacting your decisions, especially for graduate roles?

Helen: “We always recruit when and where there is business need. Our 2020 summer graduate numbers have already been finalised on this basis.”

Q9. Have you thought about your on-campus attraction this year? Would you consider attending virtual careers fairs? Will you move your attraction strategy to 100% digital?

Hannah: “Yes, I am already starting to consider options for later this year. Just this week, I have had several universities contact me about virtual law fairs. 

However, research indicates generation Z still value face to face contact, despite being extremely tech savvy. Therefore it is important we consider the best approach - at what point should digital be used vs face to face (if we have a choice) in a post covid world.”

Helen: “We stopped attending careers fairs en-masse a few years ago as they weren’t effective, so virtual ones may be an interesting approach.”

Q10. How will employers ensure that students applying in the next few years aren’t at a disadvantage because they couldn’t get work experience?

Hannah: “We always recruit a balance between those who undertake vacation schemes and training contracts. Therefore, as long as we have robust, fair and valid assessment processes, I feel confident in the hiring decisions we are making.

From a candidate’s perspective, I do feel insight and access to an organisation is hugely important. It may be as simple as including the cancelled scheme on the application form so that the recruiter understands why they lack the usual work experience we would expect to see.”

Helen: “Every candidate has opportunities, and should be judged on merit. There are a lot of other ways to gain experience, and should be highlighted as such.”

Q11. Given the current circumstances, are you looking at reducing intake for 2021?

Hannah: “The ISE released an initial survey last week, indicating that across a number of sectors organisations are looking at making cuts. In the legal sector we recruit 2-3 years in advance, therefore we need to take a long term view when reviewing this.”

Helen: “Every year intakes numbers are dependent on business need, and we will begin planning for 2021 intakes towards the end of Q3.”

Q12. Has anyone had any success in running virtual assessment day events? How has that worked?

Hannah: “Not personally. I know a few of the consultancies have rapidly put their assessment processes online and had success doing so.”

Helen: “Not needed to do this as yet as the majority of 2020 hiring had been completed prior to Covid-19.”

Q13. Have you heard anything from universities? Will they be amending some of their course calendars?

Hannah: “I haven't heard of term dates shifting at the moment. I'm sure most intend to start on time, whether that be in person or through a virtual learning platform.”

Helen: “Conversations with universities so far have been very positive, with a view to resume as close to normal term times as possible, whether that continues to be remote sessions or in person remains to be seen. They are supporting completion of placements where it is safe to do so, and many are lowering the threshold for the number of weeks needed to 'complete' a placement year.”

Q14. Has your attraction strategy changed for when you go live later in the year?

Hannah: “Yes, however we had planned for it to change before COVID-19 hit. Whilst we are still optimistically planning to run some on-campus events, careful consideration will be given to the size and suitability of these events. This may change if we get a second wave of the virus.”

Helen: “We've not looked at changing these as yet, but I'm interested in the virtual careers fairs you suggested earlier."

Q15. Do you think the industry would support universities in increasing their Career Mentoring offer for students on cancelled schemes?

Hannah: “Yes, I've heard of several universities taking their career mentoring online. Supporting young people at this uncertain time is extremely important and I would encourage universities to be proactive in this.”

Helen: “Yes, and it would be fruitful to reach out to employers who would usually have offered roles to your students to see if they are willing to offer mentoring as well. Shorter placement options should be considered too.”

Q16. In sectors that have been hit hardest by COVID-19, what is the best way to engage these types of employers while being sensitive?

Hannah: “The COVID-19 pandemic is placing a lot of strain on those organisations. They will be very inward focused whilst working through their individual strategies, so I would consider the purpose of the engagement to ensure you are using everyone's time effectively.

Perhaps question if it is a conversation which really needs to happen now, or can wait a few weeks whilst we see if there is a clear exit strategy.”

Helen: “Keep talking, be imaginative as there may be new paths to explore - what are they still offering, and can your students support those activities in a different way?”

Jayne Cullen from 106 Comms ran a brilliant webinar on a similar topic, alongside Stephen Isherwood, Chief Executive of the Institute of Student Employers. You can view their webinar here, and the write-up here, which includes questions and answers from their guests, including; Liz Noble from EY, Helen Sherwood from IBM, Phil Sartain from Aon and Tonia Galati from TC Consulting.


Topics: Undergraduate