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Willorna Brock


HR Consultant, Coach

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How to recruit, onboard and retain early talent in a hybrid working environment

On National Careers Week 2022, we explore how the new world of work is impacting early talent and recent graduates

Many young people who started work in the past two years, especially graduates from Summer 2019 onwards, have never experienced the pre-pandemic world of work. They’ve never done the Monday to Friday 9-5 with their team physically around them, overhearing important conversations, learning from little social moments, hearing the office gossip, or experiencing those ‘water cooler moments’ or ‘stuck in the lift moments’ – all of which helps new starters to better understand the company culture they are embedding themselves in.

Instead this cohort of early talent has likely done a mixture of remote and hybrid working, mostly speaking to team members virtually and having to figure things out themselves.

There has been a lot of debate about the ‘Great Return’ to the office versus hybrid and remote working. While I’m not arguing for one or the other, a key benefit of more office time is that younger people starting their careers need more in-person support and interactions to help them develop into their role and get a better feel for the culture.

In 2022, graduate roles are set to rise to pre-pandemic levels. Despite this, some graduate recruiters are struggling to fill their roles. Dan Hawes of Graduate Recruitment Network (GRN) suggests that this is due to candidate self-doubt and low confidence. Hawes points out that graduates have not had opportunities for work placement and internship opportunities, and less opportunities to bridge the gap between university and work, making them feel less ready to enter the workplace.

Employers who realise the importance of investing in graduate and early careers recruitment and onboarding, the generation of our future, will reap the benefits of an engaged workforce.

How do recent graduates and early talent feel about the new world of work?

Curious to find out more about the experience of recent graduates in the world of work, I carried out a small survey to explore key areas such as their onboarding and remote working experience. The survey was undertaken by 99 graduates from Summer 2019 to Summer 2021 from public, private and not for profit sectors.  

Only 8% of respondents started work fully in the office during 2020 and 2021. In terms of onboarding, 62% reported that they had not been introduced to their team or engaged in any team activities prior to starting work.

When asked their thoughts on remote working, 47% stated that working from home will not hinder their overall career growth, 31% stated that working from home makes them feel like they have missed out on learning about company culture, and 22% felt that working from home made them feel as though they were missing out on opportunities to learn from more experienced colleagues. 

Zahra Motavasel, founder of Specula, a career network for graduates, confirmed that her members had expressed a desire to be in the office to learn.

What can recruiters and employers do to help this cohort of new workers?

Supporting the recruitment of early talent and graduate talent

1. Focus on lived experiences

Graduates have missed out on traditional in-person work placement and internships, sporting activities and team activities with their peers, plus had limited volunteering opportunities. These are all the traditional experiences early talent  use to evidence their skills and experiences on a CV. It would be advisable now to focus instead on students’ lived experiences during the pandemic, which will demonstrate key skills that are necessary for the new world of work such as resilience, adaptability, creativity and empathy.

2. Highlight digital skills

It goes without saying that with the pivot to online learning during their final years at university, students have gained vital digital skills. They will have learned important virtual communication and teamwork skills through online workshops and seminars, social interaction skills such as video conferencing etiquette, and time management skills.

3. Be transparent

In terms of inclusion and fairness, it is even more important now to be supportive and understanding in the application process. Be transparent about the selection process, encourage and give candidates tips as to how to articulate their transferable skills. Provide some guidance on interview skills and techniques.

As we move towards work being more human, get to know your candidate and encourage them to talk about their pandemic experience, some of which they can use to showcase their resilience and creativity in handling the challenges they encountered. 

Improving the onboarding experience for early talent and graduate talent

We all know that onboarding is a key part of a new starter’s experience and will impact how well they engage with their new role and their new employer. As this begins from the point of offer to day one and beyond, this is a critical process in the employment lifecycle. For graduates and early career starters, some of whom may have never worked in an office before, this is key.

  • Assign them with a buddy, someone in the team that will support them during their first few weeks in the organisation

  • Ensure that they are set up for success – laptop/phone/equipment provided way ahead of Day One with IT sorted. Don’t assume they have a workspace and are set up to work at home. Some do not have the luxury of a spare room/study to work from as they are still living in their parents’ home. Find out what they need and make provision for this.

  • Get in touch with them a few weeks before they start, to alleviate any anxieties they may have

  • Organise a welcome virtual team lunch so they can get to know their team informally

  • Be very clear about their role and expectations, how their performance will be managed, lunch and rest breaks, and expectations around time in the office and home

  • Help them to find out as much about your team and the organisation including key terms, and a bit about the culture throughout the induction process

  • Educate line managers to change mindsets and understand the nuances of managing a cohort that have had to navigate the pandemic

Helping early talent get a feel for the organisation’s culture

1. The personal touch

Do not rely on automated email reminders for them to complete essential onboarding training. To be honest, a deluge of emails can be overwhelming for even seasoned professionals. Provide support, perhaps during weekly or fortnightly check-ins, to ensure that they are following their Induction training schedule, and be ready to answer questions they might have.

2. Provide a jargon/acronym Wiki

Many organisations use acronyms and jargon that sound like a foreign language to a new starter.  Please be sensitive and don’t expect them to know this when in meetings etc.  Take time to explain.

3. Get them talking to people across the organisation

It’s of course important to share with new starters the organisation chart and details of key people, key dates, key events and other useful information about how things are done at your organisation.

But to get a real feel for the culture it is also helpful to get new hires to have informal chats with a selection of people across the business so they can get to know a more diverse range of people beyond their team.

Investing in your early talent

Employers who realise the importance of investing in graduate and early careers recruitment and onboarding, the generation of our future, will reap the benefits of an engaged workforce.

One Response

  1. With the changing time, it is
    With the changing time, it is very important that recruiters find the best way possible to find their candidates, who are not only right ones but the best ones! With automation, everything becomes efficient. Using coding assessment platforms, recruiters and hiring managers can kill at their recruitment revolution at their business!

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Willorna Brock

HR Consultant, Coach

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