In my years in various supervisory roles in a large software services company, I have often had to figure out ways to utilize fresh college graduates effectively. The extent of my involvement with freshers, as they are called in IT lingo, has ranged from being a direct supervisor in charge of delivering a module or project to crafting a fresher induction strategy for an account or business unit. This post is an effort to summarize what I have learnt about working successfully with freshers.
A critical aspect of utilizing freshers effectively is ensuring that they have the proper training to do the job. HR Departments in charge of fresher recruitment and induction usually have some generic training programs for fresh joiners. These programs vary greatly both in duration (anywhere between 2 weeks to 3 months) and in rigor depending on the organization.
When a fresher joins your team, do a quick evaluation to assess basic skills. For example, if the fresher has joined you as a software developer ensure that she has basic programming skills and knowledge of databases. You may assign simple programming tasks as a kind of warm up. For example, your project may require a small utility to automate some task. Such things are often put on the back burner while the team works on more urgent things. I have found it useful to assign such tasks to a pair of freshers with strict deadlines. Why a pair? Working in pairs helps in overcoming the the natural apprehension in being assigned ‘ real work ‘ for the first time. At the same time it builds critical cooperation and team skills. Why strict deadlines? Having strict deadlines (even on non-critical tasks) keeps the freshers motivated and gives a flavor of things to come.
This is also a good opportunity to introduce the freshers to the tools of the trade – version control systems and ticketing tools, for example and teach critical skills like debugging. While they will have programmed to some extent in college, professional tools are something they need to get used to.
Set aside some time each week for the fresher to read technical articles or watch video lectures. Sites like Pluralsight and Udemy offer excellent short courses on a plethora of subjects. This is the time to establish a habit of continuous learning which will hold the young professional in good stead all her life.
The overall goal of this on the job training should be to ensure that the new inductee ‘learns to learn’. In the years to come she will need to navigate an ever changing technology and business landscape and the ability to teach herself new skills will prove invaluable.
Once the fresher has cut her teeth on low priority but not necessarily unimportant work, she can be assigned more critical tasks.
When it comes to task selection, I like to assign jobs with a longer turn around time to freshers even if the work is moderately complex. This allows for course correction in case of errors.
With regard to task complexity, you need to take a call based on your assessment of the freshers aptitude. I have worked with really capable freshers who rise up to the challenge and handle complex tasks competently. The trick is to keep the bar slightly higher than what the fresher can handle effortlessly. The additional effort that she needs to put in provides for a great learning experience and keeps things interesting for her.
In the initial years of ones career it doesn’t harm to have the scale tilted slightly in favor of work than life.
An often overlooked aspect of working with freshers is communication.When working with freshers, it is important to not make assumptions about what they know. For example, sometimes we use corporate jargon that we assume is common knowledge forgetting that the new entrant to the corporate world may not be familiar with it. Also, in the Indian cultural context juniors are often reluctant to tell you that they have not really comprehended what you just said. So double check that you have gotten your message across.
The second aspect of communication is to explain the importance of communicating status accurately, even if it is bad news. It may not be immediately evident to a fresher that other peoples work is dependent on hers or that someone else likely has the big picture and needs to know how her work is coming along.
Assigning the fresher a mentor or buddy who is a year or two senior to her is a good practice. Having been in a similar situation not so long ago, the mentor is likely to have a better understanding of the challenges the fresher is facing. At the same time for the fresher, it may be less intimidating to turn to someone closer to her in years and experience rather than someone more senior.
Finally a very important lesson that I have learnt. As collective nouns tend to be, the term fresher is a generalization. There are the smart eager freshers who take to their tasks like fish to water, outperforming seniors in no time. There are the initial flounders who find their feet subsequently and go on to become solid contributors. And then there are those who continue to struggle long after outgrowing the ‘fresher’ tag, foisted on project teams by human resource managers and quickly shunted out on some pretext or the other.
With a little bit of effort on both sides, freshers can quickly become indispensable members in your team giving you the satisfaction of having done your bit in creating the next generation of professionals.