Who wouldn’t want an extra pair of hands? Graduates can be a cost-effective addition to the team! Someone who can help your team to get things done! Someone who can do all the jobs that no one else wants to do! How many times do we see graduates / trainees / interns being requested and onboarded and then not being utilised to the best of their ability? What about the considerable amount of time spent by multiple departments (HR, Hiring Team, etc.) interviewing and deciding on the best candidate for the position?

Anticipation builds for the graduate, often excited by the prospect of getting a foot in the door of a big company, where they may dream of becoming whatever they want to be!

Then… they start.

Problems for Graduates

Over the last 15 years, I’ve seen many graduates come and go. I’ve seen dreams crushed by the ‘busyness’ of their peers who haven’t the time or the patience to provide these graduates with the education, nurturing or opportunities they need to succeed.

At one client organisation, in a managerial position, I recall they were being appointed a university graduate every 6 months who, for the most part, spent their days collecting mail, cleaning the coffee machine, set up catering orders and serviced the printer with paper and toner. This is not good enough.

At another, I was appointed a graduate who was well into her first year at a large consulting firm. She’d spent her entire days creating quick reference guides; the same ones, repeatedly. For 6 months, that was all she’d done. Until she was allocated to my team that was.

These aren’t unique experiences. In fact, they’re quite common. In speaking with another graduate recently, they had heard of how poorly one of their classmates were being treated at their first industry placement rotation. When it came to their second rotation, and they’d been allocated an interview at said placement organisation, his response to the question “why did you choose [company name]?” was “I actually didn’t. I was allocated this interview”.

A Mentor’s Perspective

Throughout my career, I have mentored many students and graduates. Quite often these were individuals who’d been neglected by the system; those who were ignored time and time again when offering help or asking how something is done. All too often it was seen that doing the work oneself was quicker than teaching someone else to do it. Of course, this is only a temporary solution, a solution that has zero longevity.

These are student and graduates that often had a desire for Business, Entrepreneurship, Projects and PMO. For one graduate, I can recall MAKING a lot of time to spend with them. I would ask what they wanted out of this learning experience and then making sure goals were set. They were allocated responsibilities and targets along the way and asked to stretch themselves beyond their comfort zones to try and find solutions to the problems I’d identified.

I made sure that a consistent feedback loop was open, so that they could learn and develop from their mistakes. As they became more competent and more efficient, I would drip feed them more and more responsibility. I also benefited by understanding what exactly their university education covered and allowed them to embed the theory they’d learned; cross-skilling on both sides.

In their 6-month rotation, they’d become a valuable member of my team. I ended up extending his contract for another 12 months until the program was completed.

Through effective mentoring and ongoing feedback, this student became an invaluable employee. It was not long after leaving this client that we both went our separate ways, but we always kept in touch. He held skills that I’d not had around IT and Technology, which were pivotal to the set up and success of Agile Management Office a few years later.

It was not long after, that I was in a position to recruit my first employee. Guess who the first person I called was? You got it, my graduate from all those years earlier! He was personally trained, guided and coached by me. He is very switched on, adaptable, talented, personable and proactive. He was the perfect fit.

He is now one of 8 in our team and I look forward to many more years of working together, growing our organisation, and learning from each other.

I asked him what it was like in having been in a graduate’s position; this was his response…

From a Mentee Perspective

During University, I was given guaranteed opportunity to TWO industry placements with organisations that had partnered with our University. Additionally, I was awarded a graduate position at a large telecommunications company, where I was to have another THREE rotations before settling into a permanent position. It’s safe to say that, at this point in my life, I’ve spent the majority of my career as “the graduate”.

I’d spend a great deal of time researching position descriptions and attempting to match my personality and my capability with the roles that were on offer. I would often be told, during interviews, that working in ‘X’ team is ‘AMAZING’, that ‘THE WORK IS SO INTRIGUING’ and ‘YOU WILL HAVE SO MUCH ROOM TO DEVELOP AND GROW’.

Sadly, in many cases, these words amounted to nothing. I was placed in teams who were simply excited by the prospect of free labour, as the student and graduate programs were typically funded by other departments. Some of these teams had not appropriately taken into consideration my availability (i.e. planned enough work for me), nor did they truly understand the time (of theirs and colleagues) I would need to consume learning and understanding their business, department, and specific software systems they operated / supported. All of this was needed to be successful in that job.

In one of my FOUR rotations, at a client, I recall asking, time and time again, things like “how can I help?” “what can I do today?” “Can you please help me understand this?” and would consistently be shut down with answers like “I’m really sorry I don’t have the time”, or in some cases even “I’m sorry it’s easier to just do it than teach you”. In fact, and I’m not proud of this, I recall giving up. I stopped asking for and offering my help. I recall that my opinion was asked, but not professionally considered because I was “a student”. I even recall being told that “I was lucky to be here”, like the opportunity to sit and do nothing was somehow a favour. I was, in many ways, forced to stop caring.

In the FIVE times that I’ve been a graduate, my potential was only taken seriously TWICE. Once by Fatimah, whom I am proud to work for (and with) today, and another during my time at said telecommunications company. I have learned an immense amount from these two, and I will forever be grateful for their time and commitment. I have been led to feel like they are colleagues, mentors and friends rather than managers.

Having read the above section, I cannot agree with Fatimah more. We, as graduates, should value the opportunity to develop and grow, and be given a pay check that ultimately supports us in life. Companies should value us just the same by seeing us as an investment into their future and as their future leaders. After all, it’s a two-way relationship.

Benefits Both Ways, for Graduates and Organisations

Contrary to the fact that many people believe that they ‘don’t have time’ for graduates, the benefits and return on investment will far outweigh the time investment in this relationship. Some of the key benefits include:

Mentor benefits

  • Proactive individuals with the desire to go above and beyond
  • Long term relationships and continuity
  • Making a lasting impact on someone’s life

Mentee benefits

  • Practical learning experience
  • Opportunity to gain insights and access real time feedback from Mentor
  • Fast tracking career progression opportunities then going it alone

It makes sense to have graduates. It’s beneficial for everyone involved. If done right, it can become a long-term relationship where both parties grow and develop as a result. We are always learning; sometimes we can learn a lot simply by taking the time and the care to support and develop another’s career and aspirations.

So, next time you are considering hiring a graduate / intern, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you have the ability to make time to provide a good learning experience?
  • Are you willing to invest your time in the future of another person?
  • Can you provide a challenging and fun learning environment where the individual will be encouraged to flourish?
  • Will you be open to two-way constructive feedback?

What’s been your experience as the mentee / mentor? We’d love to know, share your comments on this article.

If you’d like to hear an interesting perspective on what it not taught at universities, listen to this podcast with Fatimah Abbouchi where she explains how most of what she learnt in her career was gained not sitting in front of a blackboard.