I am not suggesting that you chain your Grads to the coffee machine, but taking on relatively inexperienced new starters does require certain boundaries to be set.
It is great to welcome them with open arms and an effusive smile on their first day, but unless you set them to work in a rigid and organised manner, it is likely that they will float through their first month without achieving much in particular. Graduates come into a business to make things happen, but unless the business familiarises them with the rules of play, they will be likely to turn into loose cannons or frustrated drifters, neither of which do existing teams want to deal with. You must lay down the law for them to take their first steps within some “safe” boundaries.
They should, of course, be given challenges, but they will need close mentoring on their way to achieving them. They will want to be given the freedom that they were accustomed to in their studies, but their ambition must be tempered with some common sense. They may not appreciate the hand around the shoulder at the time as they get excited about the challenge at hand and impressing their new boss, but the intelligent ones will soak up all the advice and become all the more proficient for it.
Different businesses approach managing their graduates and emerging talent in different ways, but I like the approach of letting them dip their toes into the business before they are fully immersed. With every new learning, they will believe that they are capable of more, and there is nothing like a gradual journey to keep motivation levels high. Grads who are thrown into a sink or swim deep end won’t all last the distance – this may be part of the selection process in certain companies, but without sufficient supervision, it sometimes turns into a car crash.
The key to getting the most of talented graduates is creating a safe to fail, learning environment, rather than a fail-safe environment. They will learn from their experiences, both successes and failures, if they are provided with the necessary direction and an environment in which it is safe to do so.
We keep tracks of all our graduate and emerging talent placements; we stay in touch with them in the early stages and even eventually end up hiring for the ones who take the next step and need to recruit teams of their own. In our view, it is an indisputable fact that treating Grads “meanly” by clipping their wings a little initially pays off handsomely in the medium and long term. If you are not flying by the seat of your pants in the first six months, you have a little more time to stand back and soak up some of the crucial minutiae of how things (and other people) work. Providing the right environment from the start, one where they are pushed to learn and develop, where they are encouraged to think for themselves but given the tools and direction to do so, will produce graduates who are performing strongly in 12-18 months’ time.
A career is very much a marathon, not a sprint. Every employer should take a responsible attitude towards nurturing their graduate talent. Work them hard on meaningful projects and roles (otherwise they will never learn), but ensure that they are learning the lessons slowly enough to provide a solid foundation for future success. They might think that not being given the sexy projects is a little mean, but when they are experienced enough to take them on, you can be sure that they will be keen to impress and thank you for the support and direction in their early days. Hell, they will probably provide a similar environment for their own graduate hires further down their career.