This post is part two of an article on hiring graduates and interns – you can read part one here.
Get the basics right
There are some staples to supporting a graduate – and depending on the size of the business they may all be the same in implementation. These are things that sound easy but are hard to do well.
Provide a good mentor
Don’t pick the senior person, the manager, the specialist in the corner, or even the person who volunteers. Take the time to pick a mentor, and be clear that they have this responsibility. Be picky, treat it like a mini-dating process. Pairing up the right graduate and mentor based on attitude and personality is important. A lot of people think anyone can mentor, and that’s simply not the case. Apart from teaching, mentoring is relationship-based, and akin to personal development coaching. Having mentors who value teaching the skills needed is key. But they should also keep an eye on their health, well being and levels of enjoyment. Your mentor also needs to be flexible, and adjust their style accordingly. Most importantly the mentor needs to listen.
Put them in a situation where they feel they are achieving
Do you put graduates on a made-up internal project? It’s an all-too-common story. If you’re treating graduates like children who might break the precious things in your house, you need to rethink this. Graduates aren’t kids, and are aware of what’s happening. How would you feel if that happened to you? Put graduates on “real” work and not made up projects, where they can feel like a valued and contributing member of the team. The very nature of a team also means they are part of a wider support network along with their mentor.
Provide some context about what they do and what the company does
Whether you have a formal on-boarding process or just a simple chat, provide them with some background. There can be a lot of history in the simplest of things. The nickname an employee has, how a tradition started, or understanding the goal of the company. These are all significant events along the way and can make you feel like part of the team. While relevant to anyone joining your company, remember that graduates are often new to the industry entirely. For example, new employees will understand the general function of Human Resources and Payroll. Graduates normally haven’t been exposed to this before. Be honest and highlight factors that played a role in the company’s decisions and/or current state (such as economic factors, financial markets, technology choices, legislation changes etc.). You’d be surprised how much buy-in you get by opening the doors and treating them like an equal.
Focus on the things that are important
When hiring graduates and interns, we are inclined to forget how much we have learned during our own years in the industry. So start with the basics and stay there. There is a limit to how much graduates can take in during the first day, week, and month. More often than not I see attempts to try and stuff far too much knowledge into their heads too quickly (most of which won’t stick). Focus on short teasers of skills or theory, which allow graduates to take away an idea that there’s more to learn. Don’t spend more than 30 minutes on a single topic. If you train via formal methods such as workshops, remember you don’t need anyone to be able to recite the content. The main thing they need is to know who to ask when they have a question. Teach them to be able to find out more by providing the right resources (people, forums, knowledge bases, etc.).
Give them opportunities to look back and realize how far they’ve come
The most common sentiment I encounter with graduates is that even after a couple of months, they are focused on how much they don’t know as opposed to how much they have learned. Surrounded by people who are more senior than them, it’s easy to focus on the wrong things.
Provide graduates with a way to realize how they’re doing. Ask them to mentor someone else, push them to speak at industry forums such as Meetups, or get them to internally present on a topic they were on the receiving end of a few months ago.
Be the voice for your graduates. Remember that they often feel they’re unqualified to talk and/or teach, but they often can’t see the possibilities, so help them out. Can they co-present with you? Can they present on what they have learned as a graduate? We openly tell the graduates in their first week that we expect them to be the presenters for the next round of graduates. Of course everyone nervously laughs as if in disbelief, but after some time they’re perfectly capable of teaching the next generation and we encourage them to do so.
Hiring graduates and interns is easy, right?
If this didn’t sound complicated enough, evolve.
At Xero, our induction and training programs are still works in progress, and we don’t pretend they’re perfect. In the three years since we first loosely created the graduate training program, not a single iteration has been the same as the one before. Instead, we take into account feedback from the last iteration, as well as general trends and changes in the company. Each one is treated as experimental and open to change, and it gets a regular overhaul, a fact we’re quite proud of.
Whether it’s employees who have a passion for mentoring and training, or previous graduates who see something that can be improved, get feedback. Be sure you allow any processes you have to adapt as needed. This will help make the next generation of graduates even better, faster and stronger. Do you have the right people feeding into it, and is it driven by people “from the floor”?
None of this is rocket science, in fact, it might seem like a non-subject. However, it’s surprising how frequently graduate recruitment isn’t considered as anything other than another talent pipeline. Graduates are different, and should be treated as such. They are individuals unusually keen to prove themselves. Yet they’re at a stage in their development that they need opportunities to expand and learn, more so than most other staff. Graduate programs aren’t about “watering and feeding,” they are about acknowledging that to get the best out you need to first spend time and effort. Choose to make a truly solid investment in that principle.
If you’ve done it right, you’ve given graduates a leg up on their “place in the universe.” They should now know what’s expected of them, how to best do their jobs and where to go for help. Combine this with making the right hiring decisions on graduates. You want people who are (street and/or book) smart, go-getters, and looking for a challenge. You can end up hiring graduates who want to stay in your company, are great at what they do, and become the next superstars to push your company forward.