If being a leader is tough, then leading employees in their very first job out of college is like the Spartan Race of leadership! These new grads enter the workforce with excitement, wonder, determination, and sometimes anxiety. And as every blog post or article on Millennials and Gen Z will tell you, they often enter the workforce with unrealistic expectations and unchecked assumptions.
As their first boss, you have to give the new grads a dose of reality while not crushing their dreams and killing their motivation. It’s a tough balance. In addition to the normal onboarding process you complete for all new hires, be prepared to invest significant time on unexpected topics.
For example, for many top students, school is easy. Read the book, listen to the lecture, take some notes, and pass the test. Rinse and repeat for 4 years. These days there are so many cheating methods prep tools online that even mediocre students can lead the pack. For many of these graduates, their first job will be the first real challenge they experience. Workplaces are far more complicated to navigate than the predictable nature of education. There are politics, stretch goals, ambiguity, silos, and toxic team members. Each of those challenges may derail a star student.
Be prepared to reinforce the importance of being a team player. Education is rarely a team experience. Star students who are used to winging it or pulling a fast all-nighter the day before the test may have survived college with those tactics, but they will irritate and derail a team that is counting on work to be done collaboratively and on time.
Set the tone early that work is often unstructured. There is no syllabus for the workplace. There is no study guide for passing the performance appraisal. Even star students may not be prepared to have to network and problem solve to find answers to their questions.
Next, think back on your first year in the workplace. That first professional job probably wasn’t your ideal job. But if you were lucky, you had a great manager who spent time helping you envision a career path both at that organization and beyond. Occasionally, you’ll need to put on your career counselor hat to help guide these employees on a path that will benefit the organization while leveraging their talents and passion.
You may also need to put on the life coach hat as well. You might have to address everything from dress code to use of social media during the day. These new employees haven’t learned the social norms of the workplace, so don’t let the off-the-wall questions surprise you. Be kind and considerate in your responses so these new team members learn to trust and be open with their managers for the rest of their career.
Remember, you set the tone for these new employees’ perspectives of work culture, professional relationships, and performance expectations for possibly a very long time. Handle with care!