Recruiting, Talent

2020 College Grads: A Great Source of Innovative and Committed Talent

A whole new class of college students has just graduated in one of the most chaotic and uncertain times in recent memory. As unemployment rockets to depression-era heights, this class will have serious challenges when it comes to being employed. It’s important for employers not to dismiss this valuable source of talent.

Source: hxdbzxy / Shutterstock

I recently spoke about the issue with expert Pooja Sankar, CEO and Founder of Piazza, an easy and free Q&A platform.

Hiring Freshly Graduated Students Still a Good Bet

Some employers are reticent to hire freshly graduated talent, fearing a lack of experience. However, there are many advantages to hiring such employees, according to Sankar. She says, “The good news is college will give this graduating class the most recent, the most relevant set of skills.” Skills are viewed as having a particularly bad half-life. Some estimates say skills are obsolete within 18 months of learning them. More conservative estimates put that number at 5 years.

A lot of time and effort can be saved by hiring someone who already has the knowledge, but employers can and do have the ability to keep their workers up to date. Sankar says there is good news: Some talent leaders recognize this fact. She says, “I was recently speaking to a talent leader, and she shared some amazing perspectives that they are looking for learning ability and that desire to want to learn and lean in.”

That lean-in attitude is something Sankar recognizes in the students she connects with, remarking, “These students showcase their inclination to want to learn, and their desire to want to challenge themselves and be challenged I think will serve them really well.” And they don’t just want to be challenged, says Sankar; they are “better disposed to want to push boundaries.”

All employers need to do is give this kind of talent the right environment to thrive in. 

How Can Companies Expect Talent to Hit the Ground Running if They Put Hurdles Everywhere?

Sankar says she has experienced two kinds of leader-inspired cultures. There are those that put “a lot of emphasis on young talent and those graduating. In those cases, it’s really just ingrained in recruiting teams to go find and invest in growing young talent.” These kinds of leaders are poised to make a great place for recent graduates and reap the benefits in terms of innovation and marching forward.

Sankar also experiences the other kind of culture, in which “hiring managers place hurdles.” The main hurdle, she says, is hiring managers’ desire for people who can hit the ground running. In other words, they want experienced workers, the kind who don’t need to learn the environment. And while there is value in that type of hire, that experience can come at a great cost. “I think it’s more of an uphill battle for talent teams” like those, she notes.

Yes, recent college grads might have to adjust to their work lives, but they can also bring with them a special energy that, when tapped, can help foster and extend an innovative spirit. The world changes every 5 seconds, so an innovative spirit is precisely what many organizations need just to stay above water.

Based on my conversation with Sankar, recruiters looking at recent college grads, especially in the tech fields, should ask to see some of their side projects at school. She says that “candidates that are students in college can showcase projects that they took on the side or competitions that they participated in or hackathons or again, just whatever that could have been, skills that they acquired on their own outside of a classroom setting, going above and beyond, out of a love of curiosity.”

Hiring managers should look at these types of achievements to really get to know the potential of their college graduate candidates.

Accelerated Transformation Toward Digital Thanks to the Coronavirus

Many organizations that felt they were doing just fine using their tried-and-true methods have found reality a harsh landscape due to the coronavirus. I like to think of the pandemic as a layer of paint that has brought the wood grain to the surface.

The only way to scour away the many bumps that even well-established organizations have found during the pandemic is to poise your organization for rapid and useful change. A lot of that change involves embracing a digital world, including when it comes to hiring.

Sankar says that hiring managers have had to evolve rapidly, remarking, “They are having to more than double down, triple down, quadruple down on reinventing how they might engage with candidates in a meaningful way—all digitally. I think that’s requiring a ton of innovation on recruiting teams.”

Recruiters simply can’t conduct physical interviews or go to campuses and have had to relearn digital ways to engage candidates. Sankar says, “Now they are definitely able to dedicate mind share to figure out how they want to discover talent, identify them, engage them—all in a virtual setting.”

Avoid Culture Shock

The world of work is very different from the world of academia, and that offers newly hired college graduates a high potential for culture shock. But it doesn’t have to be that way, says Sankar. When it comes to creating a culture that accommodates college graduates, “I think the best thing employers can do is ensure that these recent grads have pathways to ask for help, that they feel comfortable and know where to go when they have a question or need help.”

Recall that most colleges provide as many resources as possible to encourage the success of their students. Workplaces should be no different. Sankar says, “I think faculty and professors spend so much time as educators in the field, making sure students know where to turn to when they’re stuck. They commit themselves to making sure that students are growing under their guidance.”

Ensuring that your organization has similar support for everyone, but especially new hires, can make a massive difference in getting recent grads successfully onboard and nurturing them as they get their sea legs.

Sankar knows this works from experience, saying, “I’ve seen the spectrum. In the last several weeks, I’ve seen talent teams go above and beyond to ensure that the incoming intern class has that sense of community and knows where to turn to and the frequent check-ins to make sure that they feel supported and guided through this experience and this transition into the real world, into the business.” That is the most important thing employers can do when considering recent grads as talent.

Don’t Do This

I also asked Sankar what the worst thing they can do when onboarding graduate candidates is. She said it was hard to say because there are so many things that can be done poorly but added, “But maybe something done poorly could look like losing the context of a project that you’re placing these recent grads on. And by not sharing context, I think these recent grads can be lost on the impact.”

We’ve all seen workplace projects take months, if not years, to come to fruition only to be discarded last minute, or by the time they work, everyone is exhausted. Keep in mind that college students are very goal-oriented. They don’t have the option of poorly implementing a project and then just abandoning it. When they encounter something like that in the workplace, it will be very difficult for them to navigate.

Keep them goal-oriented. Give them answers to questions like “Why am I doing this?” and “How will this help the company’s mission?” or “How will it help us move forward?”

Sankar left me with this: “In some types of settings, projects can be so fragmented, and the big picture can be lost. If the hiring manager or members from the talent team who are responsible for their year-1 experience for that seamless transition do not provide that context, I do find that recent grads can find it pretty de-motivating to be putting all of their time into this work and not quite know how it ties together.”