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Why Onboarding Is Even More Important for Today’s College Grads

A new class of college graduates is coming to your workplace this summer. Are you ready?

This generation – often referred to as Gen Z – has been through a lot. Most of their college or high school years were spent learning in a virtual environment. While they are considered digital natives, the question is, do they have the skills to be successful in a professional environment?

In a recent survey of over 1,000 hiring managers by, nearly three-quarters said they feel Gen Z is more difficult to work with than other generations. The top reasons were a lack of technological skills (39%), effort (37%) and motivation (37%). Stacie Haller, chief career adviser with ResumeBuilder, believes this disconnect is the result of remote work and education where it’s more difficult to develop communication skills. “This generation may need more training when it comes to professional skills,” she says.

5 Key Elements of Onboarding

In many ways, this generation is similar to previous grads entering their first professional job. They don’t know what they don’t know. They are new to both the work and work relationships. Which is why the employer has to fill in all the details. For those of us who have been working for years, we forget how much we know intuitively. Good onboarding is making the implicit explicit. With new grads in mind, take a closer look at your onboarding process and see if it can benefit from these ideas.

Lay out the Process

All of this begins before the employee even steps foot in the workplace. Upon hire, it’s helpful to lay out the entire onboarding process for them beginning with signing the offer. New workers may not realize that the job offer must be completed within a certain amount of time, initiating a cascade of paperwork, background drug tests, etc. Explain what will happen after paperwork is complete and how soon to expect a start date.

Review Job Description and Expectations

Ideally, you’ve discussed job responsibilities in the interview process but upon hire is the best time to clarify and set expectations for the work. Now their focus is truly on the job, not just acing the job interview. Again, we sometimes gloss over details. For example, an accountant who has been in the industry for 10 years knows what to expect, but for a recent grad, they may not understand what the day-to-day job will be like. Share expectations around start/end times, dress, taking breaks, meetings, use of technology, etc. Assume nothing. 

Train, Mentor, and Buddy Up

Most organizations have a training program for new hires but the depth and length vary greatly. Especially for new grads, having a clear and concise plan of training and getting them acclimated is essential. Working with the hiring manager, define what the new hire needs to know to be successful in the first week, second week, first month and first six months. Set goals and weave this learning into the on-the-job training. Assign the new hire a buddy (colleague) or mentor. This person can be there to answer the “dumb” questions (where’s the bathroom?) as well as explain the unspoken rules. A buddy can take the new person to lunch or show them where the best coffee is nearby. A mentor can answer questions about how the job gets done. It’s great to have someone other than the direct manager to fill this role. New hires are often embarrassed or nervous, not wanting to bother their manager with little things. This kind of connection is critical for retention. In fact, employees who have no intent to leave are seven times more likely to feel strongly connected, according to research by ADP.

Build Relationships

Belonging to a team also makes people feel more connected. The same ADP research found that workers who are a member of a team are four times more likely to be strongly connected compared to not being on a team. This underlines the importance of establishing relationships early on. Coworkers need to make an effort to connect to the new hire, include them in activities and explain “how things get done around here.” 
This may mean that, at least initially, new hires need to be in the office, not working remotely full-time. Again, having worked virtually for much of the past three years, many new grads may not realize what is missed by being remote. There is so much information to be gleaned working in an office – body language, energy, seeing how others do the work, having someone to look over your shoulder and give you guidance in the moment. Otherwise, it’s easy for the new hire to feel they’re missing pieces of the puzzle.

Discuss Career and Development Goals

Early on, it’s valuable to sit down and discuss development goals with the new hire. It sends a strong message – “You have a future here and we value you” – and it’s not something to put off for a year or two. In a 2022 study by Amazon and Workplace Intelligence on upskilling, 74% of millennials and Gen Z employees said they are likely to quit within the next year due to a lack of skills development opportunities. When there is no clear path for growth, people will switch jobs to find it.

Just like all new graduates, the class of 2023 needs to learn how to successfully interact in a professional environment. This generation, in fact, wants connection, community and relationships. They just may need more help with work-related interpersonal skills like face-to-face interactions, taking feedback and sharing information. It’s up to the employer to build onboarding and training mechanisms to make sure this learning occurs.

Photo Credit: Canva

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