May 20, 2014

How to Successfully Onboard Interns and New Grads

Congratulations! You’ve navigated a very competitive market and hired talented students and new grads to join your team. Your next step is successfully onboarding your new team members into your organization.

How well you manage this process will dictate how quickly they become meaningful contributors. A smooth transition will minimize organizational disruption and ultimately influence how long they stay (or, for interns, if you have a viable shot to bring them back). Don’t screw it up!

Here’s some quick advice to make that happen:

1.Make a Great First Impression – A great first day matters for establishing a positive tone going forward. Take care of important details ahead of their arrival. Make sure you have a functional work area and necessary equipment ready for them. Introduce new employees to everyone on your team, or even the entire company if that’s feasible. Plan to take them to lunch. You want to make interns and new grads feel immediately welcome, important, and part of the team.

2.Explain the Big Picture — Schedule time on their first day to provide new hires an overview of your organization, its history and story, and visibility into current & upcoming projects. Millennials want to know that their work is needed and important, so explain how what they’ll be doing fits into the big picture. If a company founder or CEO can contribute to this experience, all the better.

3.Communicate Values & Organizational Expectations – Don’t assume new hires will know when the work day begins, what is appropriate office attire, and other company policies. Set clear expectations upfront. As part of an orientation session, relay organizational values, important aspects of company culture, and relevant procedures they will need to be aware of. Encourage them to participate in discussions, collaborate on projects, and let them know their contributions matter.

4.Create an Initial Work Plan – Invest the time upfront to identify one or two specific projects, with associated milestones, where they can begin contributing in a meaningful way. This creates a powerful early connection to your team’s overall mission and purpose. For software developers, the ultimate projects offer them the ability to ship software. Avoid an overemphasis on initial projects that are simply for the sake of keeping them busy. Interns are great for project-based work. The more discrete and concrete the project, the easier it is to identify objectives, give guidance, and measure results. Anything with a clear beginning, middle, and end is usually good, particularly if the projects align within the timeframe that they’ll be with your company.

5.Find a Good Supervisor (for interns) – Given the significant upfront investment at the beginning of an internship, don’t just assume that because someone is a good supervisor of employees that they are necessarily the right person to supervise interns. As more senior people carry other organizational demands, choose a supervisor who is readily accessible and who can provide appropriate guidance and feedback to an intern. A rising star in your organization that you’re looking to further develop may also be a good fit for this role. This can be a great opportunity to provide an individual contributor with firsthand experience in the highs and lows of managing others.

6.Schedule Regular Feedback Sessions – Schedule feedback sessions to regularly touch base, create dialogue, and evaluate progress. For interns, these intervals should be more frequent given their shorter window at your company. Student hires can also offer unique insights, fresh ideas and perspectives that can broaden the knowledge base and skillset of your team. Be open to what they have to offer.

7.Provide Access to Mentors – Consider matching new student hires with at least one mentor within the organization who can advise and counsel them on their role at the company and their broader career. Ideally, at least one mentor is involved directly on the project team. Younger employees that have more recently entered the workforce also make good mentors. It’s a great way to bring relative perspective to the intern, help them see paths and career outcomes, and also help integrate them into social networks within the organization.

8. Integrate into the Broader Community – Finally, don’t stop with just in-house efforts here. Think creating or communicating opportunities for new hires to experience the community and socialize outside the workplace, especially if they are from outside the region. Sometimes this dynamic happens naturally. Even if it does, take it upon yourself to help facilitate ways to help your new hires build a strong network across the community. It’s good for all parties. For interns, their summer experience will help shape their view on where they should launch their career. They are evaluating your company AND your location. Forward thinking companies recognize that throughout the internship program they need to sell their locale/geography as enthusiastically as the career opportunity itself. The more enjoyable their experience outside the workplace and the further their network expands in your locale, the more likely these interns will envision your company as the place for them.

Michael Gaiss is the Founder of ThinkB1G.  You can find this post, as well as additional posts on his blog locatedhere.  You can also follow Michael on Twitter (@MichaelGaiss) by clicking here or sign up for the ThinkB1G newsletter here.