Three Crucial Elements Of New Grad Onboarding Every Program Needs

Written by
Kevin Swan
Last updated:
Created on:
July 14, 2023

That new grad you hired today might eventually become the CEO. But even if they don’t, you want them to be high-quality individual contributors and possibly managers or team leaders in the future. 

Achieving any of those goals–from simple productivity to C-Suite succession–starts with new graduate onboarding. Now VP of Finance at Willo, Kevin Swan worked at a global consultancy for eight years, both going through their new graduate program and later supporting graduate recruiting at the firm as a member of the tech M&A team. 

Looking back on his experience with new graduate programs, Kevin shared his perspective on three crucial onboarding elements that every corporation needs in place for day one. 

1. Develop a consistent training program

Most new grad programs contain some element of training. However, it’s often not enough.

While most new grads learn significant amounts on the job, you’re limited by the knowledge of the people you’re learning from. That’s not to say your current employees aren’t talented—just to point out that teaching a skill is different from knowing a skill. 

Apprenticeship learning also creates skill variance across your organization. If one manager is a particularly knowledgeable teacher, their employees will learn more than those of a manager who is stretched thin on resources and not used to teaching new grads. 

The solution is to build a training program for the raw skills a new grad will need on the job. This often means two things:

  • Software (e.g. Salesforce, Figma, or Google Sheets pivot tables).
  • Direct vocational skills (e.g. responding to customers or code QA). 

From there, briefly explain the working processes each new grad’s future team uses (e.g. agile for the dev team, outbound for the sales team). You can keep this step fairly light–this is where folks can learn on the job–unless your organization has a highly-complex and specific process or additional steps required by law. 

2. Give new grads real responsibility

An attitude exists in some organizations that giving new grads real responsibility is a tedious side task. As a result, new grads are often delegated boring and mundane work. While this can be valuable in its own way, it won’t help with talent retention and growth over time. Since the majority (86%) of new hires want companies that prioritize outcomes over output, if you’re not giving them real responsibility they might head for the door.  

While this might be the first “real job” for many, it doesn’t mean new grads aren’t capable or have some life experience under their belt.

You can give new grads genuine responsibilities; you just have to do it in a measured way—try these five steps for more experienced workers:

  1. New grad is a shadow: Let them observe you and work with you.
  2. New grad picks up specific pieces: Delegate smaller pieces, explaining where they fit in the bigger project (something hopefully the new grad already knows from step one).
  3. New grad completes all pieces individually, under experienced guidance: They are “doing the thing” but an experienced person is quality checking along the way. 
  4. New grad completes the work on their own, with a spot check: They are working independently but with your oversight. 
  5. New grad owns the work: Full independence and ownership of the results. 

This process ensures feedback comes in and engages a new grad’s intelligence, teaching them to take on more responsibility without risk of damage to the organization. 

3. Make onboarding sociable

While large corporations might have dozens–or even hundreds–of new grads per cycle, it doesn’t guarantee new hires won’t feel isolated. For example, a grad could easily end up in a small department or team where everyone else knows each other already.

New grad isolation is an issue for a few reasons: 

  • Learning: People learn faster when they have multiple different people to reach out to (especially when it comes to asking a peer versus asking their manager… yet again). 
  • Networking: Meeting more of their peers (and folks above and below them) helps new grads see what opportunities exist for their careers at the firm. 
  • Retention: New grads are more likely to stick around (and perform better) when they have healthy workplace relationships

The solution is to make purposeful social experiences that keep new grad cohorts together and connect them with folks hired before them (and eventually, after). Events can take multiple forms, whether that’s a big launch event at the start of each cohort or quarterly socials and outings. The key is to note these are important and encourage folks to prioritize and attend. 

Encourage performance, not pressure

New grads are smart—it’s part of the reason you hired them. 

But expecting them to jump from the world of academia right into your unique way of operating is a recipe for attrition. It adds a lot of pressure onto the new folks and doesn’t lead to high-quality deliverables for the organization. It doesn’t need to be this way. Focus on showing and telling new grads what success looks like so they know what it means to perform, connect, and excel in your organization. 

Whether your organization already has a robust new grad program or you’re thinking of creating one, setting up the right onboarding infrastructure is crucial. But once that is in place, you have to ensure your recruiting process is equally holistic, giving candidates the opportunity to showcase their whole personalities–and all their talents–that go well beyond a resume.

Kevin Swan
VP of Finance
LinkedIn profile

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