For no group is this more important than first-time employees — or recent college graduates with limited professional experience. Most of them will find everything about their new work environment different, so it’s important to create a program that factors in adjusting to the workplace alongside learning the skills of the trade.
Does the thought of teaching a whole new generation of workers how to be effective sound daunting? Don’t worry. They have almost all of the tools they need to succeed (you hired them in the first place for a reason!), and we’re here to help identify what they’re lacking, what they need, and how you can set them up for success.
Two words: soft skills. It turns out that despite being new to their roles, it’s not technical know-how that recent college grads are missing. In a survey done by Adecco Staffing USA, it was found that 44% of senior executives believed that the biggest gap in skills had to do with the following:
The distinction between technical and soft skills is important here, because a lot of these traits are developed over time and on the job. However, that’s exactly what recent grads are missing — time on the job. This study by McKinsey & Company further expounds on the point, by citing that while 72% of educational institutions believe recent grads are prepared to take on the workplace, only 42% of employers concur with that assessment.
While the above-listed soft skills are easy enough to comprehend on a word-association level, what do they actually mean in terms of the workplace?
Communication: The ability to clearly communicate ideas, and keep one’s supervisor and teammates informed, as well as the ability to ask questions and seek clarification when objectives or procedures are not perfectly clear.
Critical thinking: The ability to problem solve and find solutions in the face of doubt or when guidance is not available.
Creativity: Being open to new ideas and seeing problems from different sides. Bringing new solutions to the table or being able to adapt to changing demands.
Collaboration: Knowing how to work in a team. Making sure to pull one’s own weight as well as communicate effectively with all members of a team in order to produce the desired outcome.
What’s great about recent grads missing soft skills, as opposed to technical, is that soft skills can be naturally picked up on the job. Just working on a team forces members to adapt in order to succeed. The downside is that teams absolutely require them in order to succeed. Having someone throw a wrench in the works because they’re unable to communicate clearly with other members can have a big impact on business and office morale. Therein lies the dilemma, but what’s to be done?
Training. Pure and simple. While it would be ideal for candidates to arrive straight out of the gate as impact makers, the truth is that first-time employees aren't always going to come fully assembled. But that's OK — as long as you hired them because you’re invested in the individual, rather than the position.
If you’ve taken a chance on a recent grad, it’s likely because you saw them for their potential. With the right employee onboarding program in place, you can help grow that potential and mold these folks into the perfect contributors to your organization.
Another way to help these new hires adapt is by providing a mentor. This survey conducted by Atenga shows that 67% of millennials believe that strong mentors are important to their success with a company.
Even for the ones who seem to have things figured out, the right employee onboarding process is an essential part of the new hire experience. Why? It helps solidify their role in your company. Imagine weight lifting, for instance. You wouldn’t start by picking up the heaviest dumbbells in the room and trying to curl them, because you’d risk injuring yourself. The same applies to onboarding. Not giving new hires the chance to familiarize themselves with the various processes of your organization risks alienating them, lowering morale, and can ultimately lead to the high cost of turnover.
Instead, there are many ways to help get first-time hires ready for their new role. One of the best techniques we can think of is the 30-, 60-, 90-day plan. While traditionally it’s used as a means for new hires to evaluate their own progress with a company, there’s absolutely no reason you can’t adapt it and make it work as part of your company’s onboarding process.
Here’s how to structure the three different stages:
The First 30 Days
This is the learning stage of the process, where new hires look about the company and its culture, as well as navigate the professional landscape by determining one’s expectations and interacting with coworkers.
From Day 30 to Day 60
This is where more assertion takes place. It’s where the new hire should be discovering how they fit into the context of the company and bringing their own unique ideas to the table. They should be discovering how they can make an impact and should be taking on new opportunities.
From Day 60 to Day 90
The final stage is full assimilation — the transformation, so to speak. The employee should now be able to identify problems, bring their own solutions to the table, and work with others in order to make things happen. They should be able to identify new opportunities and take them on accordingly, well aware of how procedures work, and able to make high-level impacts from their role.
As you can see, the 30-, 60-, 90-day plan helps to address all of the soft-skill functions that employers have found recent grads to be lacking while at the same time ensuring that new hires gain a complete understanding of the company and their position in it. By partnering this with a mentorship program and providing them with check-ins to see how they’re coming along, you’ll be able to put even the most inexperienced new hires on the path for success. Which is good for you, good for them, and great for the company.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in July 2015 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.