Onboarding helps new hires drive the business outcomes you’ve hired them for, faster. And it’s especially critical for graduates.
High graduate drop-out rates – before they start and during their first few months – are common, and many graduates take longer-than-ideal to begin adding value, plagued by low confidence and steep learning curves.
Graduate onboarding is how you tackle those challenges, to reduce attrition, increase productivity and accelerate time-to-productivity.
Here’s what best-practice graduate onboarding looks like.
When they accept your offer
The graduate job search is a time of upheaval. Some graduates are unsure about their chosen career direction anyway, and most have multiple competing offers to sway their attention. Plus long offer-to-start periods give graduates plenty of time to rethink.
Those things mean the time between offer and start is a huge danger zone for dropouts.
Onboarding from offer onwards means you amplify grads’ excitement, foster loyalty and calm nerves. So 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. But no graduate wants to feel like a box you’ve ticked.
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.
Send a welcome email from the CEO
New hires who feel valued are less likely to drop-out. Show 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, stressful time for graduates who usually have no idea what to expect next.
- 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 clear expectations to handle their anxiety and ensure onboarding moves smoothly.
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 when it’s 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 or Slack channels.
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, the less anxiety and the less likely they’ll drop out.
Help things along by making critical introductions and asking your new hire to introduce themselves. Email is fine, or could the team record a welcome video? Could you ask new hires for a short video? Could you create a Slack channel?
Have a pre-start social event
More engaged employees are more productive employees – and having friends at work is a crucial component. Kick-start bonding to accelerate the process – and accelerate productivity too.
Think… inviting graduates to casual Friday drinks, for example, or to your quarterly company BBQ.
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 plus graduate are more likely to confide questions or concerns. Unresolved issues are the enemy.
The week before
We’re getting close to the wire now. For many graduates, this is when the nerves really kick-in.
- What if I wear the wrong thing and look silly?
- What if my boss hates me?
- What if they realise they made a mistake 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 erode your new hires’ confidence – which threatens engagement and performance.
Send a countdown email
Sending an email the week before reassures graduates you haven’t forgotten them.
It’s also your chance to tell them what to expect from their first day, week and beyond, to show 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, answering all the questions graduates 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
Make doubly sure you know any requirements your new hires t have, so you can smoothly accommodate their needs. Otherwise you risk new hires feeling silly, frustrated or ignored. Not compatible with feeling welcome, appreciated and valued.
The day before
Your last chance to set the tone for a fabulous first day.
Take a few moments to call new graduates. Show you’re excited: you can’t wait to see them! Remind them about key information and reassure them you’re there for any questions.
Set-up their desk
New grads’ first day is unsettling enough, without feeling unwelcome. And nothing says ‘unwelcome’ like no desk space. (Worryingly, nearly a quarter of new hires have 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’ space of their own helps them feel at home.
Their first day
Make-or-break. A fantastic first day sets the tone; a difficult first day can be hard to come back from. 20% of new hires have felt frustrated and ignored on their first day, for context, so there’s definite room for improvement.
Meet and greet
Ease grads’ anxiety as soon as they arrive by sweeping them into the welcoming company bosom. Something like that, anyway.
The point is, don’t make grads second guess or worry. Make sure everyone’s briefed that they’re starting – including the receptionist – and 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. And getting senior people involved shows you value new graduates.
Initiate grads into your culture and company as soon as they arrive, so they start connecting emotionally. Make sure you tell them exactly what to expect from their first few weeks too, to 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.
That’s perfect because it means new hires’ don’t spend their whole first day (or week, or more) in a flurry of new faces and trying-to-remember-names anxiety. 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.
Take them for lunch
Whether you’re hiring one graduate or fifty, their first day is an event. It’s not business-as-usual. If you treat it that way, you risk them feeling deflated. Not a good first impression.
Taking them for lunch is a fantastic way to show you care, make the day special, and help new hires bond.
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 things in common.
Allocate a buddy or mentor
However open HR’s door, there are things your new hires don’t want to talk to HR about. Or their manager. That’s the perfect role for a mentor, who can show new graduates the ropes and be an ear/shoulder where needed.
Assigning a mentor makes a huge difference to engagement. In fact, a recent study found 90% of workers who have a career mentor are happy in their jobs. And HCI say, 87% of businesses that assign a mentor during onboarding believe it accelerates new hire proficiency.
Set first projects – and clear KPIs
New hires are eager to prove themselves by adding value fast. Facilitate that by setting new hires’ a first project to get their teeth into.
Pick something with clear deliverables and give them every chance to succeed. Those early successes create confidence, which snowballs into better performance later.
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 and create a tailored progression plan.
This step proves you take graduates’ growth seriously: a major factor for job satisfaction. It also helps you spot roadblocks and manage expectations. So graduates set realistic, achievable goals that spur performance, not stall it.
First Friday drinks (or similar)
Embedding socially is just as important 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. Facilitate.
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 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 new graduates’ first few months – but 24% of new hires wish they’d had more manager support. That’s an obvious improvement area.
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 and emotional health. Niggling unresolved issues can quickly threaten productivity and engagement, so give new hires plenty of opportunity to share what’s on their mind.
Like, maybe they’re overperforming but they’re eating lunch alone at their desk every day to meet targets. You need to know, so you can make 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.
Plus, asking for feedback – and acting on it – proves you take your new hires’ voices 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, like written reviews or video testimonials. And now’s a great time to ask, while the new hire buzz is still fresh.
Don’t suddenly drop off
Onboarding shouldn’t suddenly drop off. It’s like wading into the sea, not jumping into the swimming pool.
Check-ins should happen monthly through graduates’ first year, for example, then perhaps quarterly thereafter. Training and progression conversations should happen through 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 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, click below to schedule a call.