Graduate engagement and retention is still a big challenge for organisations. We know the scenario all too well. You put significant effort into your campaign and selection process only to lose your fresh new employees in the months or even weeks before they are due to walk in the door.
In 2019, Grad Connection shared results from a survey in which 16% of students stated that they had reneged on a graduate role and 35% claimed that they would renege on an offer if a better one came along.
Spurred on by competition for talent, organisations try to get ahead of each other by extending offers as early as possible, this can lead to Graduates not beginning their programs for up to 10 months. Whilst this scenario is inevitable, what is avoidable is the perception that once a student says ‘yes’, they are committed. As we can see from the stats above, this is not always the case. Candidates may be weighing up multiple offers and still applying to other firms throughout the year. So, what can you do to keep your Grads engaged over a potentially extended period?
I was speaking with one of the biggest employers of graduates in Australia and they believe that graduate engagement and retention strategies start from the time a student decides to submit an application.
“It’s all about the experience from application to start date, continuing to push your value proposition and building an emotional connection with the firm, team and role. Setting expectations, communicating often with meaningful content and allowing graduates to connect with their cohort or team are key factors in a valuable engagement experience”.
So, as a first step, prioritise a review of your recruitment process and make sure it focuses on a positive experience from application, right through to offer.
Here are some other suggestions on ways in which you could bolster your graduate experience:
1. Recruit Hiring Managers to support engagement
My colleague Nadine O’Regan wrote a recent article about building the capability of Hiring Managers (How to Train a Hiring Manager), which highlights the importance of setting strategic context in your Hiring Manager community. Recruitment doesn’t end once the offers have been made and Hiring Managers have the greatest opportunity (or perhaps responsibility) to help newly offered graduates stay engaged with their team. Work with your Hiring Managers on a plan and calendar of activities that everyone agrees to and participates in.
Some simple ideas where hiring managers can get involved:
- Connect with their Grads on appropriate social media and facilitate interactions with the team
- Identify buddies and mentors straight away and get them talking
- Include newly offered Graduates in team events, social gatherings and office tours – one firm has recently started regular breakfasts for their incoming Grads
- Bring them in for casual work or projects
- Share interesting articles or updates that will appeal to cohort or feature recent graduate joiners and their tips and tricks to tackle the study to work life transition.
2. Ask your incoming cohort
When in doubt, ask. To ensure you establish meaningful engagement, ask your incoming Graduates what they want to hear about, how they prefer to engage and how often? The act of considering their needs alone is a good way to connect and show them you are listening.
3. Provide coaching and feedback
Bring your newly-offered Graduates in for one-on-one feedback sessions based on the results of their assessment. We provide feedback to unsuccessful candidates but helping your new graduates understand where they can focus in terms of professional and personal development will ultimately benefit everyone. Adding value typically adds engagement and loyalty.
4. Consider a “work-readiness” program
Students want to know how they can prepare and what to expect leading up to their first day, week, month and for the rest of their program. Offering pre-boarding training on skills to help students transition and be successful when they join will be appreciated not only by your graduates but your business as well. Highlight how this learning will continue throughout their program.
The Career Conversation is a good example of a company that works with organisations to equip students with ‘job readiness’ content such as developing confidence, interpersonal awareness, communication, personal brand and other personal capabilities which improves the quality of connection and conversations. This is the sort of gift that keeps on giving of course.
5. Leverage technology
This will depend on your size and budget but customised apps are a great way to share information, videos and training. They also provide a platform to submit questions, share profiles and facilitate discussion amongst the Graduate cohort prior to joining.
6. Human connection, for the win
This generation of digital natives continue to crave face to face human interaction and connection. So while online platforms are fantastic, continue to look for opportunities where your graduates can meet and spend time with their teams.
Ultimately you’ll need to figure out what will work best within your context and budget. A pre-boarding engagement and retention plan doesn’t have to cost the earth but it will result in a more positive experience, greater conversion and ultimately pull through into improved performance and advocacy.
Having run Grad campaigns for several years, with firms like Macquarie and KPMG, if I can provide any more insight or guidance, just let me know – I am always happy to share knowledge and swap stories.
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