How to Help New Graduates Transition into the Workplace

Even with great professors and colleges working to prepare students for the working world, students often feel unprepared for what's to come. According to a recent Payscale survey, 90% of college students reported they feel ready for the workplace, however, less than half of managers feel the same way. Managers felt the new graduates lack skills in critical thinking, writing, and public speaking. Being a new graduate myself, I have experienced the shellshock of entering the workplace, but have been blessed with managers who were patient and dedicated to my success. Working with them helped me develop a strategy for transitioning naturally from college to career; here are four of my most helpful methods for doing the same for your recent graduate hires:

1. Never Assume Knowledge

It's natural to make assumptions; we unconsciously do it every day. The "curse of knowledge" is described as knowing something so well that you assume everyone else knows it as well as you do. The longer you've known about it, the more you assume it's common knowledge, which can often be a false assumption. This "curse of knowledge" rings especially true for the workplace and new graduates.

As a manager, you may assume that your new hire knows how to perform a task or has the skills necessary to accomplish projects common to your work. The graduate, who is likely eager to please, tries their best to succeed but inevitably makes mistakes or fails. This leaves you feeling frustrated and questioning their abilities, and leaves them feeling stressed and embarrassed for not living up to your expectations.

A phrase like "I'm sure you already know this" can increase pressure on the new graduates. Making these types of assumptions might put them in a position to embellish their skills, or else force them to admit that they don't know and therefore appear unequipped for the job. Instead, create a safe environment for questions. Use phrases like "what questions do you have?" and "has anyone taught you how to do this?" to allow them a place to safely admit their level of knowledge and experience.

Don't assume they know how to do anything unless they have demonstrated their abilities or you know for a fact they've been trained by someone in your organization. Being fresh out of college means they may not have historical experience in accomplishing routine tasks, but they are ready and able to learn.

 2. Distribute Work Using the Syllabus Method

The syllabus method is exactly what it sounds like; providing tasks in a list form similar to a syllabus. The syllabus method helps transition new graduates by using a work distribution method they are familiar with from college. This method generally includes the following:

  • The task with a description of what you are looking for
  • Due date or check-in date of each task
  • The urgency of each task
  • The delegation level of each task

New hires, especially recent graduates, will not know intuitively what you expect from them and may struggle with asking the correct clarifying questions without sounding unqualified. To set them up for success, the syllabus method gives them all of the relevant information for any project.

One of the most important aspects of the syllabus method is the delegation level. Delegation levels, as described by Michael Hyatt, are the levels of authority given on a project being delegated. The levels of delegation range from one to five, with level one being the most restrictive and level five giving the most freedom.

Level 1: Do exactly what I have asked you to do.

Level 2: Research the topic and report back.

Level 3: Research the topic, outline the options and make a recommendation.

Level 4: Make a decision and then tell me what you did.

Level 5: Make whatever decision you think is best.

Doing this helps the grad know how much freedom they have on each task and helps you better control the project they are working on without micromanaging. A new graduate stands a better chance of succeeding if he or she has a clear understanding of the tasks they are given.

The syllabus method also gives you an added layer of security, as should they not accomplish the projects assigned you have documented evidence of your clear expectations. It makes it easy for both you and them to refer to a hard list of expectations rather than guessing or pestering.

3. Give Frequent Feedback

There is an ocean of research on how important feedback is to the success of employees and organizations. So why is it that 83% of millennials say that they receive meaningless feedback? Building up your new graduate's faith in their own ability can equate to higher rates of overall success. When giving positive feedback, make sure to recognize their good work and discuss the next steps in improving their skills. When giving negative feedback try to optimistically reframe your critiques into an opportunity to learn and grow from their mistakes. Properly providing feedback is essential for new graduates to understand how they are advancing  and what still needs work.

When managing new grads think of yourself as an invisible hand there to guide and assist, allowing room for errors and growth. It is important to new graduates that you have trust and faith in their ability to do a task once they have been trained. Create an atmosphere of transparency on the projects they are working on so you can keep an eye on them without hovering. Maintain an open line of communication for questions and feedback. This can help with mitigating misunderstandings and gives graduates an opportunity to voice concerns.

The careful mentoring of new college graduates can lead to great benefits for companies that made the commitment to hire them. This ultimately allows the company to capitalize on the creative new ideas of that generation.

About the Author

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Aionna Campbell is a HR professional who is passionate about on-boarding recent graduates. She received her degree in Human Resource Management from George Mason University

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