Three ways to get the best from graduate recruits

A recent guest blog on the CIPD Asia website:

With thousands of keen graduates entering the workforce this month, consultant Anna Champion explains how to harness their energy and skills

It’s that time of year again. Just when you’d breathed a sigh of relief as the swarms of over-excited interns return to university, here is the next batch of enthusiastic and overly curious employees – your new graduate intake.


Their crisp suits, endless questions, and anxiety to jettison the “graduate” label and get on with the “real work” can be overwhelming. So how can you use their energy, channel their ideas and develop a talent pipeline – while still getting the day job done?


Close the expectation gap

Even before the graduate completed their application form, they would have been daydreaming about what they were are going to do in your organisation. The media, information from contacts and, crucially, the interaction they had with staff during the interview stage will have all contributed to their preconceptions of their new workplace.


The best way to start a working relationship is to talk to each graduate about what they expect and what they want to achieve. Prepare yourself to be surprised and don’t laugh out loud when they tell you they want to change the world. Listen carefully and be realistic with them about what their roles will encompass – but stay open-minded, too. Maybe they really will change the world one day.


Be clear when outlining your expectations of them, right from their part in bigger projects through to the simple stuff such as what time to turn up and not to eat at their desk. While you can expect them to be shocked and be sure they will test those boundaries (after all, these are people who were born knowing you can work from anywhere, anytime, thanks to laptops and smartphones), you have to set out these social norms clearly instead of letting them get into trouble through what is effectively a cultural misunderstanding.


Closing this gap will not only help your graduates adapt to the workplace more quickly, but ultimately will improve long-term retention rates.


Encourage curiosity

Once graduates have developed an understanding of their tasks and you start to trust them with more responsibility, it’s time to unlock their potential and ask them what they think could work better. Encouraging them to generate ideas and understand the implications of their decisions will boost your organisation, your team and, ultimately, your own reputation.


You need to become more curious, too; taking an interest in your new recruits’ lives will help you understand what makes them tick and how their strengths can be applied at work. Don’t waste this opportunity just because you are “too busy” with your day job.


Forget “back in my day…”

Just because you had to work until 4am, make tea for the whole team and call your boss “sir” doesn’t mean that is the only way to treat a new recruit. Think hard about how you learnt best, what you benefited most from and what didn’t help you. Use this information wisely to help your new teammate grow.


And maybe, just maybe, your new colleague might change the world one day.


Anna Champion is founder of consultancy The Talent Lighthouse, and a founding member of the South East Asian Association of Graduate Employers. She is based in Hong Kong.