Designing successful graduate schemes
Based on our experiences in the graduate sector, here we share our advice for designing successful graduate programmes that will retain and develop your new talent as quickly as possible.
1. Make sure that the learning and experience are relevant and appropriate.
All elements of a good graduate scheme should exist for a reason. Make sure that your scheme has been designed with the business’s goals and ambitions in mind: be clear what your graduate scheme aims to achieve and therefore what elements it needs to include.
Clarify your desired outcomes, for the graduates and for the business, by the end of the scheme and in the following few years.
Targets such as ‘retain 75% of the graduate intake at the end of the programme’ or ‘have 15% of graduates moving into first management roles within two years’ will help to identify skills and training gaps.
2. Set expectations for the graduates clearly at the beginning.
Graduates can’t meet your expectations if they don’t know what they are. Make sure that you are clear about what skills are required of the graduates, what career progression you expect of them, and how you expect them to conduct themselves in line with the company’s culture. Then, starting with how you advertise, inform graduates at each stage what is expected of them.
Transparency is key. Make sure that your scheme teaches graduates about the company culture and how to work within it. Many promising careers have stuttered after exhibiting culture-incompatible behaviours in the first few days and months.
3. Make sure that you deliver on your commitments to the graduates.
Make sure the business delivers on its commitments, too. When it comes to training, development and career opportunities, few things demotivate more than under-delivering on your promises. Manage and meet your expensive investment’s expectations, and they are much more likely to meet yours – and to stay.
4. Make sure that graduates offer and provide real benefit back to their business and feel from an early stage that they are contributing.
Your graduate scheme should give your graduates real jobs that make a difference, with appropriate and increasing levels of autonomy to carry them out. The chances are that they are high in both enthusiasm and ambition at this stage: this is the time to engage them and gain their loyalty to the business.
Make sure their line managers are on board with this approach: micro-management rarely builds confidence or capability. Allow them some responsibility and some autonomy.
5. Ensure that the graduate programme has a high profile in the business and the graduates feel valued.
It’s one thing for graduates and graduate managers to understand the value of the scheme, but it’s a different challenge to get the whole company behind it.
Your colleagues may see the new talent as ambitious self-starters who have little idea how to conduct themselves in the world of work, and have a sense of entitlement to progression and success.
Do what you can to ensure that other colleagues understand and appreciate what the graduates are doing and what value it is adding to the business. Elements such as senior executives being present at key training events and milestones will show your graduates that they are an important part of the business.
Encourage graduates to network with other staff outside of their immediate operating unit, too.
7. Challenge graduates to identify their return on investment to the business.
Input is one thing, but measurable output is another. Include regular supervision sessions where your graduates are asked to consider, in a supportive environment, what they are contributing and where else they can add value.
Include training for mentors to support this developmental approach. Develop the habit of performance self-review in the early stages of your graduates’ working life and this skill will stay with them, and benefit your company, for the rest of their career.
8. Make it OK to make mistakes.
Nobody likes to get it wrong, and whilst some may naturally handle this situation with confidence and professionalism, others may find it difficult to admit that they have made a mistake.
Make sure your scheme teaches graduates how to conduct themselves professionally in the event of mistakes and failure, without losing confidence, in line with your company’s culture, and in a way that can actually enhance their professional image. Teach them to put it right, learn from it, and carry on.
9. The graduates know their current skill level, future potential and the development path needed to fully exploit their potential and the opportunities in your business.
Honest, supportive reviews and feedback from managers and colleagues will teach graduates the habit of personal analysis and self development in a positive environment. Most people are naturally predisposed to want to improve their skills.
Choose graduate managers and mentors carefully: people who have a genuine interest in bringing on new staff, who have time, and who have been trained in the key management skills of running performance reviews and giving (and receiving) feedback.
Discussing emerging opportunities and how to best position themselves to take advantage of them will motivate ambitious graduates to make the right professional choices that will bring them closer to achieving their career aspirations.