Onboarding Graduates For Maximum Productivity
A well-structured onboarding process can help your new hires in achieving the business goals you desire, faster. It’s even more critical to the development of your graduates and early career hires.
For many organisations, graduate drop-out rates are high. It is common to see candidates – before they start and during their first few months – dropping out or leaving. Subsequently, many graduates take longer-than-ideal to begin adding value. Often plagued by low confidence and steep learning curves.
Developing a well-structured graduate onboarding strategy is how you tackle those challenges. Aiming to reduce attrition, increase productivity and accelerate time-to-productivity.
Here’s what to consider as best-practice in your graduate onboarding strategy.
When they accept your offer
The graduate job search is a time of upheaval. Many graduates will be unsure about their chosen career direction, those that aren't, will have multiple competing offers to sway their attention. Plus, long offer-to-start periods give graduates plenty of time to rethink or reconsider.
What this means for you is that the time between offer and start is critical. At this stage you are likely to be in a huge danger zone for candidate dropouts.
Instead, you should consider onboarding from offer onwards. This allows you to amplify a grads’ excitement, foster loyalty and calm nerves. Meaning they’re less likely to drop out before they get started.
Call them to congratulate them
When you’re under pressure from ambitious headcount targets, it’s easy to treat new graduates like numbers. One down, onto the next. However, no graduate wants to feel like a box you’ve ticked to meet a quota.
They’ve just accepted an offer – that’s super exciting! As soon as they’ve signed on the dotted line, pick up the phone and congratulate them personally. This deepens their connection to your company and enlists an initial sense of community.
Send a welcome email from the CEO
Helping your new hires to feel valued can immediately provide them with a boost, minimising the likelihood of them dropping-out.
Show them that you value them by sending a welcome email from the CEO. You needn’t write this every time. Pre-draft something for the CEO to approve, then make small tweaks to personalise.
Set clear expectations
This is a confusing and stressful time for graduates, many of which usually have no idea what to expect. They’ll be thinking of things like:
- When will you be sending info?
- What info do you need from them?
- What happens if they don’t get the grades?
- What happens if they need to defer?
Set and communicate your expectations clearly, this can help to handle their anxiety and ensure onboarding moves a lot smoother.
The months before graduates start
You might make offers in the early New Year – but most students won’t be ready to start until August or September. Some graduates might even have deferred offers.
Staying front-of-mind is crucial, or you risk losing candidates to competitors or changes of heart, at times when it’s going to be much harder to find replacements.
Add them to company-wide comms
Make new graduates feel included. Consider adding graduates to company-wide communications, like emails, Slack channels, Teams and WhatsApp groups.
If you’re worried about security, you could start a new channel for your grad intake, or with a handful of employees dedicated to getting to know new hires.
The more embedded graduates feel into your business, the more commitment they’ll have. It’ll also improve their anxiety and mean that they will be less likely to drop out.
You can help things along by making the critical introductions early on, asking your new hire to introduce themselves to your team. Email is fine, or could the team record a welcome video? Could you ask new hires for a short video? Could you create or add them to a Slack, Teams or WhatsApp channel?
Have a pre-start social event
More engaged employees are more productive employees – and having friends at work is a crucial component to building that. Kick-start team bonding to accelerate the process – and accelerate productivity too.
Think… inviting graduates to casual Friday drinks, for example, or to your quarterly company BBQ. Even here at Tazio, we often take part in team building days or social events. Helping to engage our fully remote team and integrate new starters into our social environment.
Have regular conversations
One moment, everything’s dandy. The next, your sure-thing grad is screening calls and ignoring emails. A good rule of thumb is, don’t let graduates go more than two weeks without hearing from you.
Good old-fashioned telephone calls are important. You can better gauge potential problems and allow your graduates to directly voice their questions or concerns. Unresolved issues are the enemy, they can often lead to employee attrition and reduction in productivity.
The week before
We’re getting close to the wire now. For many graduates, this is when the nerves can really kick-in. At this stage them may be thinking:
- What if I wear the wrong thing and look silly?
- What if my boss hates me?
- What if they realise they’ve made a mistake in hiring me?
- What if I get lost when I arrive?
- What if they’ve forgotten I’m coming?
The week before is about making sure you’ve dotted your I’s and crossed your T’s. Every unanswered question or unresolved doubt can erode your new hires’ confidence – which threatens engagement and performance.
Send a countdown email
Offer your graduates reassurance that you haven't forgotten them by sending an email the week they start.
This opportunity provides you with a chance to tell them what to expect from their first day, week and beyond. Show them that they’re in good hands. The more graduates know what to expect, the more they’ll relax and enjoy the experience.
Send a welcome pack
Now’s a great time to send a graduate-specific welcome pack. This is the perfect opportunity to answer all the questions that your graduate might think are too small or silly to ask. Mentally walk-through their day and ensure nothing’s slipping through the cracks.
Major roundabout near you closed? Parking? Door code? Dress code? Receptionist’s name? Arrival time? Lunchtime? Vegan food available at lunch? Leave time?
Check special requirements
You should always make sure to double check that you know any requirements your new hires need. This can help you to smoothly accommodate their needs. Otherwise, you risk new hires feeling silly, frustrated or ignored, not compatible with your team or appreciated and valued.
The day before
Your last chance to set the tone for a successful and effective first day.
Take a few moments to call new graduates. It’s important to show your excitement: you can’t wait to see them! Take this chance to remind them about key information and reassure them you’re available to answer any questions.
Set-up their desk
A new grads’ first day is unsettling enough, without feeling unwelcome. And nothing says ‘unwelcome’ like not having a workspace. (Worryingly, in 2018, nearly a quarter of new hires admitted they didn’t even have a desk or computer on their first day. Not good!)
Set-up new graduates’ desk with everything they’ll need – computer logins, passwords, etc – and some extras – like company swag or their own mug. Giving graduates a space of their own helps them feel at home and an area to feel comfortable in.
Their first day
For many grads, the first day can be make-or-break. A fantastic first day sets the tone; a difficult first day can be hard to come back from. For context, 20% of new hires have felt frustrated and ignored on their first day. Spend some time with your grads on their first day, ask them how they think it went, get them involved in a discussion.
Meet and greet
Ease your new hires anxiety as soon as they arrive by sweeping them into the welcoming tour or a meet and greet.
The point is, don’t make grads second guess or worry. Make sure everyone’s briefed that they’re starting – including the receptionist – and is ready to meet them as soon as they arrive.
Bring in the big guns
Your senior leaders are perfectly placed to help bring your company’s story to life. Clearly signposting that the senior staff involved in your business take an interest in your new graduates can help to pique their interest. Also helping them to feel valued.
Initiate grads into your culture and company as soon as they arrive, instantly creating that emotional connection. Make sure you tell them exactly what to expect from their first few weeks too, to further ease any anxiety.
Make key introductions
Hopefully your new graduates have a good idea who’s who already, because you made introductions before they started.
This saves your grads a lot of time. Time that would have been spent trying to remember new names and faces for the first few weeks. Limit this stage to a few key players to avoid overwhelming.
New hires need to know where the loos, kitchen and beanbags are, of course. Show them the lay of the land, including any unspoken rules. Like, help yourself to tea but the posh coffee pods are Dave’s in IT.
Take them for lunch
Whether you’re hiring one graduate or fifty, their first day is an event that will set the tone. It’s not business-as-usual. If you treat it that way, you risk them feeling deflated or stressed out. Not a great first impression.
Taking them for lunch is a fantastic way to show you care, make the day special, and help your new hires bond. This can be a great opportunity for you to get to know your new team on a personal level too.
Their first week
Now graduates know the basics – what’s what, who’s who, where’s where – it’s time to focus on performance and productivity. Whether your graduate programme is a robust 12-month affair or a looser, play-it-by-ear situation, the first week (and months) have some key things in common.
Allocate a buddy or mentor
However open HR’s door is, there are things your new hires don’t want to talk to HR about. Or their manager, in some cases. That’s the perfect role for a mentor, someone who can show new graduates the ropes and be an ear/shoulder where needed.
Assigning a mentor makes a huge difference to grad engagement. With a recent study finding that 90% of workers who have a career mentor are happy in their jobs. HCI say, 87% of businesses that assign a mentor during onboarding believe it accelerates new hire ability.
Set first projects – and clear KPIs
New hires are eager to prove themselves by adding value fast. Facilitate that by setting new your new hires’ their first project. Something to really get their teeth into and display their ability.
Don’t assign a project that is unrealistic, pick something with clear deliverables and give them every chance to succeed. Those early successes and little wins create confidence, further snowballing into greater performance dividends later on.
Build a personal progression plan
Sit down with new graduates one-to-one, to talk about their development goals. Show them how you’ll help them realise their ambitions by creating a tailored progression plan.
This step proves that you take your graduates’ growth seriously: a major factor for job satisfaction. This process also helps you to spot roadblocks and manage expectations. So, graduates set realistic and achievable goals that spur performance, not stall it.
First Friday drinks (or similar)
Embedding socially is just as important to graduates as embedding into your business processes and systems. Employees with a vibrant work social network are more engaged, more productive and less likely to leave.
It’s easy for you to facilitate the organisation of a social event, so why not do it?
Their first month(s)
As new graduates become not-so-new, your onboarding should transition into your ordinary people management practices.
Siloes kill creativity and stifle productivity. Dissolve siloes by encouraging new graduates to collaborate with others across the business. That might mean a formal rotation, or it might mean casual cross-functional projects.
Hold regular performance check-ins
Performance management is vital during a new graduates’ first few months. Whilst this may sound easy, for most businesses it is an obvious improvement area - 24% of new hires wish they’d had more manager support.
Some graduates might struggle to adapt to the adult workforce. Active performance management means you spot and resolve issues before they become confidence-killers.
Graduates might need more handholding than other employees. Tell them exactly what’s expected and show them how to achieve it. (32% of new hires wish they’d had clearer goals and 38% wish they’d had more training, for example).
Hold regular emotional check-ins
Don’t neglect new hires’ mental or emotional health. Unresolved issues can quickly threaten productivity and engagement, so give new hires plenty of opportunity to share what’s on their mind. Even if it's not work related.
For example, maybe they’re overperforming, but eating lunch alone at their desk every day to meet targets. As an employer, you need to identify these issues so that you can implement positive changes.
Ask for feedback
New graduates are an exceptional source of insight for future graduate recruitment. Ask for feedback about hiring, interviewing, onboarding, management – everything’s valuable. Listening to the feedback of individuals who have been through the process can help you to streamline and be more efficient.
Plus, asking for feedback – and acting on it – proves you take your new hires’ opinions seriously.
Graduate recruitment gets easier over time, if you leverage your existing graduate workforce. Your grads can create content to attract future graduates. For example, written reviews and video testimonials are great sources of information.
The best time to ask for this is now, whilst the new hire buzz is still fresh.
Don’t suddenly drop off
Onboarding shouldn’t suddenly drop off, it should be a continuous process of development.
Check-ins should happen monthly through your graduates first year, for example, then perhaps quarterly thereafter. However, training and progression conversations should happen throughout the new hires career – not just during onboarding and at year-end.
Don’t abandon new hires as soon as they’re not new hires anymore. That way you’ll ensure the long-term health and success of your people – and business.
Hopefully this blog gives you a solid framework to start maximising the productivity of your graduates. If you have any questions or would like to find out how Tazio can help you in your gradate, early careers or apprenticeship recruitment, get in touch with our experts using the details below.
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