Best Practices to Hire, Grow and Retain Junior Talent
By Bob Zimmerman, David Katauskas, and John Pobloske
The good news is that employers are now starting to add jobs. The bad news is that competition for talent is heating up. Once again, bonuses, creative perks and incentives are becoming the norm. A recent article in the New York Times mentions how even the largest tech companies find themselves exploring creative ways to attract and retain top talent.
The demand for key technical talent is high and the jury is out on when … and if … the supply will catch up. Not only has there has been a decline in the number of graduates with technology degrees, organizations that rely on a steady pipeline of young talent from major consulting firms are seeing this source dry up due to off shoring and other reasons.
Challenged to find ways to grow their local talent pool, companies are turning their attentions to proactively recruiting, growing and retaining young talent -- Gen Y (or Millennial), the fastest growing segment in today’s workforce.
Interestingly, in some organizations, the idea of bringing in junior talent has not been readily embraced. Organizations primarily made up of experienced senior level talent are having difficulties in gaining buy-in to recruit and make the cultural investment to retain young talent.
Junior Talent: Creative. Passionate. Tech Smart.
Why bring junior talent into your organization? Young talent comes with fresh ideas. They are flexible, willing to challenge the status quo and serve as passionate, eager and focused employees. Because they lack experience, they don’t perceive the same constraints as their more senior colleagues and often prove that the “undoable” is actually quite doable. Most importantly, this “Call of Duty” generation is ambitious and achievement-oriented. They want socially conscious employers, readily question authority, and crave meaningful roles. They enter an organization genuinely wanting to make a difference and can help to create a strong future talent pipeline. With the proper training, young talent can be highly adaptable and homegrown with company values.
Hiring junior talent is an investment in the future of a company. By their very nature, young talent is remarkably educated in the latest technologies. Hiring professionals state that young talent often has the specialized skills lacking in experienced employees with advanced degrees.
Best Practices for Hiring Junior Talent
Businesses that want to be attractive to top young talent may need to step back and re-examine their hiring practices:
- Keep the entire recruiting/interviewing team involved in the decision of whether or not to bring a young candidate into the organization. Make the hiring decision a team decision, rather than the sole pronouncement from a hiring manager. (For example, some organizations work by the rule that if anyone is thumbs down from a group interview, the recruit cannot move forward in the hiring process.) By making this a team effort, the junior recruit is sponsored by an entire team that is invested in his or her success.
- Stay focused on aptitude and attitude ahead of technical skills and make sure you have the team discipline to stick to your decisions. By definition, junior talent will not have years of experience demonstrating technical skills. You are looking for potential that can be found in their aptitude and attitude.
- Use internships to help the organization and potential employee get to know each other prior to making a long-term commitment. This can be an effective beta-test of on boarding junior talent to your organization. According to a 2011 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, almost 40% of entry level jobs are filled by former interns. Some companies employ more interns than full-time positions. While this may provide the opportunity to select only the stronger interns to bring on full-time, the benefit of bringing a team onboard together may never be realized.
- Test on boarding strategies with interns to validate your plans to introduce junior talent. This can help you address the challenges of determining which schools to target based on the types of roles available at your company and the practices you have in place to set these talented individuals up for success.
- Understand the millennial mindset when offering perks. While salaries and typical benefits are important, Millennials bring different expectations to the workplace. In spite of their young age, things like professional growth, impact, and visibility are important. Challenge them. Stretch their skills. Make them feel valued. Be flexible in terms of arrangements such as compressed work weeks and telecommuting.
- Leverage your Marketing Department to help get the message out: Your company is a cool place to work. Marketing copywriters can help tell the story of your corporate culture and develop intriguing job descriptions. They can create a Social Media strategy that talks to today’s talent!
Best Practices for Retaining and Integrating Junior Talent Into the Organization
So your company is ready to bring on junior talent. Congrats! Young, new recruits should get all the encouragement and support they need to foster meaningful connections to both their team and the company:
- Keep young recruits together. It may seem like a good idea to mingle young recruits with more experienced employees to mitigate the risk of their newbie-ness. However, in practice, young teams actually get up to speed quicker and over-deliver on expectations if kept together. The opportunity to stick together helps many teams gel faster and leverage their collective strengths to a surprising level. This enlightened mob mentality can raise the bar on expectations and will surprise you.
- Consider boot camp-style training as an effective way to immerse junior talent in company values and methodology as well as build strong team cohesion within the group. Boot camps allow you to work as a group and focus on key topics such as the importance of a strong culture, team based best practices and how to focus on results. For example:
A company may bring five to eight recruits into a three week boot camp curriculum. During this time, they are expected to deliver a software project from start to finish. As they learn to deal with “staged’ challenges (such as uncooperative business users and dated technology), they learn how to depend on each other as team.
- Create a team of mentors and guardians. Choose existing senior employees who share responsibilities for mentoring, on boarding and career guidance. While opinions differ on the level of mentoring necessary to be meaningful to new recruits, all agree that consistent feedback is key. Although mentorship can help recruits be productive faster, it also serves as an ongoing bond between the employee and the company.Having mentors with the same specific skills and roles as the recruit is always a plus. For example, the boot camp referred to earlier has a working team of a Senior Project Manager, Senior Architect and Senior Analyst who guide new recruits in their respective disciplines to become a more effective team.This type of guidance helps maintain learning beyond any initial training and allows the company to paint a vision for career growth. Additionally, it opens up discussion on softer, more subtle issues such as setting upfront expectations; ownership and accountability; the importance of asking for help and speaking up if feeling overloaded; taking on more responsibility; and team and career focused guidance.
- Have well-defined career paths. Be proactive in laying out a career progression that gives employees clear direction. While it is important to let young talent stray from any defined career path to explore their passions, establish a structure to support this discovery as well as guardrails to ensure they don’t get too far off track.
- Enable free agency with opportunities for junior talent to make a difference and demonstrate an impact in areas that are important to them personally. The technology available today gives employees more opportunities to perform activities they are passionate about. This ability makes them less beholden to a company and most will find the time -- even on the side.
- Implement a structured graduation program to inspire young talent and demonstrate the importance of their current and future role within the company. Whether it is a multi-year program or a shorter one that is part of the on boarding process, this kind of recognition can deepen the bond with the company.
The new generation of junior talent is looking for organizational transparency and leadership they can rally around. Unlike earlier generations, Millennials are more comfortable with a team mentality than an individual one and gravitate towards group challenges. They want to be part of something that makes a difference.
Young workers today also tend to be more interested in the “why” of things. They want to know why their work is important to the company. Instead of giving orders, be transparent around corporate strategy and decision making. While mediocre talent tends to hang on, talented young workers have plenty of options. Therefore, it is worth the investment to address these issues and create the type of work environment that is most appealing to this group. It’s more costly to an organization to lose a strong employee than to hire a new unknown quantity.
Some of the most common challenges faced by companies actively recruiting junior talent include:
Support and resource availability.
Some organizations have concerns about the time investment of senior resources to support, train and ramp up junior talent. One solution for this problem is to give these experienced resources more context on the problem being solved and allow them to feel more ownership.
Reactive hiring and boot camps.
Because many organizations need new hires to be productive 60 days ago, investing in boot camp type activity is a real problem. One way to confront this challenge is the idea of “fluid planning” as opposed to structured initiation. Typically, new employees learn about an organization from on-the-job training, mentorship as well as structured training. In a more fluid scenario, employees can benefit from all three opportunities in a flexible, non-linear order that still supports company needs.
Young workers today have a unique mindset that requires a fresh approach to retention strategies. Young talent needs increased responsibility, inspiration, and opportunities to explore their interests and passions. Recognizing and validating the work of junior talent keeps them motivated to do their best. Activities like code reviews help challenge junior developers to think of their work in terms of business value and build analytical skills.
Success in recruiting and retaining this “Call of Duty” generation, requires an understanding of their specific needs and a readiness to explore what works and what doesn’t. Keep these guidelines in mind:
- Purpose and value is a top priority: Milleniums want to make a difference and are surprisingly community-minded. They are ambitious, driven and need to to be recognized and rewarded for contributing value.
- Great mentors are esteemed: Millennials are passionate about career development, they get the value of good mentors and seek them out. Research indicates that their relationship with their boss has more meaning than older generations.
- Flexibility and openness: Millennials have been working on laptops all their lives and are always connected. Their perception of a typical workday might not include sitting in a cube for eight hours. Be open minded about their need for openness and flexibility – even if it means adjusting security policies.
Although businesses that want to be attractive to top young talent may get frustrated as they figure out what it takes to recruit and retain young performers, there are many benefits to hiring Millennials: They look at problems in new ways. They are educated in the latest technologies, are value-driven, and have passion to make an impact. Take the quest seriously because if they’re not working for you, they may be working for your competitor.