3 College Experiences You Want to Find in New Graduates

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Employers have always competed to hire the best and brightest new graduates. Bringing young talent on board gives companies a surge of fresh ideas and perspectives. While new grads might lack years of acquired wisdom and experience, they are excited to make an impact at a company they believe in.

But each year, as college graduations approach, there’s one consistent problem: how do employers evaluate untested employees?

Many employers develop a method for assessing new graduates over years of trial and error. But leaders at startups, often, don’t have the time or knowledge to figure these issues out. These employers need young talent now.

Luckily, new research revealed there is a science behind hiring new graduates. In fact, a Gallup study released last month found there are six key college experiences tied to workplace preparedness. The more of these specific experiences graduates had, the more confident they were about their ability to succeed in their first job. The experiences include:

  • Believing their professors care about them as a person
  • Having at least one professor who excites them about learning
  • Having a mentor who encourages them to pursue their goals and dreams
  • Partaking in an internship that allows them to use what they learn in the classroom
  • Working on a project that took longer than a semester to complete
  • Being extremely active in extracurricular activities

For inexperienced employers, it might be unclear why these experiences are essential for workplace success or even how to assess them during the hiring process. Let’s take a look at a few of these experiences and what they reveal about new graduates:

Working on a long-term project

What this reveals about new graduates

College learning happens in segments. Each class focuses on a specific set of skills or knowledge and once the semester is over, students move on to the next topic. There’s rarely overlap between disciplines. Students don’t need to use the periodic table in their psychology class.

But this isn’t how we use knowledge in the real world. We need to pull out a variety of tools we’ve learned to use over our lives to solve complex problems. Participating in a long-term project gives students practice seeing a bigger picture that is influenced by a variety of disciplines.

Long-term projects also force students to learn how to budget their time. They have to decide what small goals and deadlines to set so that they can build to completing the project’s overall purpose.

How to assess the experience’s impact on new graduates

It never hurts for a student to participate in a long-term project. But some new grads get more out of the experience than others. For example, if an adviser micromanaged their progress, new graduates were just completing assignments. They weren’t learning how to use a variety of problem-solving skills or about time management.

During the job interview ask for specifics about the new grad’s part in the project. See how they fit it into their schedule. Ask if they made mistakes that lead to missed deadlines. If so, follow up by seeing what they learned as a result.

Having a professor who excites them about learning

What this reveals about new graduates

Despite having completed their education, new graduates do not know everything. Every day on their first job will be a  new learning experience. You want to find young employees who are passionate about continuing to learn.

Knowing why a particular professor excited their thirst for knowledge also shows what the new grad is interested in. Was it the subject? Was it how the professor taught classes? These answer will help you see if new graduates’ motivations align with your organization’s mission and way of doing business.

How to assess the experience’s impact on new graduates

Don’t just ask why the new grad liked the professor and the class. You’ll get vague answers like ‘it seemed interesting.’ You want to dig further to understand what gets them excited.

Ask them to describe their first day in class or about a specific lesson that stands out. Inquire about their original expectations for the professor and how they were met or changed. Pay attention to their tone and the words they use. This will give you a better idea of what it takes to spark passion in the new graduate.

Having a mentor

What this reveals about new graduates

An employee’s relationships with their managers determine their chances of success. If the two can’t properly communicate or if the employee doesn’t get the support they need, they’re being set up to fail.

A new graduate’s relationship with their mentor is a good indicator of the type of manager they need to thrive. For example, some new graduates had mentors who guided them by asking them questions. Instead of giving the new grad the answers right away, they lead them to the solution by having them respond and think about problems aloud. If your company’s managers don’t work like that, the young employee won’t likely get what they need in your organization.

How to assess the experience’s impact on new graduates

Ask new graduates if you can contact their mentors as a reference. It’s more likely the mentors can provide insights into what ‘management’ strategies worked best with the young adults.

Find out what each new graduate struggled with as well as what accomplishments they achieved. It can also be helpful to describe your manager to the mentor and get their input about whether they’d be a good match for the new grad.

Want more information on what young people want from an employer? Check out our blog on Gen Z and employer branding!

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Val Matta
Val Matta
Val Matta is the co-owner and leader of business development at CareerShift, a comprehensive job hunting and career management solution for companies, outplacement firms, job seekers and university career centers. You can connect with her and the CareerShift team on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, LinkedIn.