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'Don't call me a grad!' 5 Things to Consider if you're working with 'Grads'

Having judged graduate programmes for GradIreland for the past number of years, and through my own involvement running and supporting award winning graduate programmes, and mentoring third level students through to coaching graduates, I have become aware of some needs that organisations can also recognise towards improving their offering, and capacity to attract talent during a time when the war for talent is truly raging.

If our thinking is that it’s up to the graduate to impress us, to meet us on our terms and adapt to what we want, there is a genuine risk of losing out on talent that you will find it costly and time consuming to replace.

My Top 5 Points to Consider

Make Time :

As a leader it’s important to recognise that grads don’t always articulate a defined want that you will make time for them. That doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t need it, value it or benefit from that time. I meet with grads regularly who will tell me that they are ‘fine finding their own way,’ ‘happy to work things out’ for themselves, or that they ‘don’t need the weekly/monthly meeting with a manager or mentor.’ In the same conversation with a notable smile and cheer, they become positively animated when they tell you about the manager who checks in, who asks them about their weekend, who asks them if they need anything or if they 'understand everything expected of them at that time.’ There is a particularly positive response for the manager who helps them understand how what they are 'learning fits with organisational goals.’

With particular reference to Gen Z, it is important to recognise they are in some ways defined by their competitive nature. This can impact their ability or willingness to ask for help for fear of appearing less than capable. Don’t wait to be asked, and don’t offer time, schedule time. Make it about them and their work.

Development Plans:

Countless grads, despite the sense that contact isn’t always necessary, crave clarity, and clarity in relation to how the program takes into account their professional development. We are told repeatedly that Gen Z are more career orientated than their Millennial predecessors and have a will to work hard to achieve and succeed. This will to work needs to be met with a plan of action, that includes recognition of their capabilities, and, potential for promotion opportunities . (You may laugh but research suggests that 57% of Gen Z expect to be promoted yearly)

Gone are the days when a graduate is satisfied with doing the work more senior staff members don’t want to do. The repetitive admin, the scanning, the running for tea or coffee. Modern graduates are highly skilled and capable and there is an expectation that the experience provided by the company recognises that and responds accordingly.

An important part of this process is in having a clearly outlined journey map that helps them to recognise the stages of their development, how the work they are doing fits their programme trajectory and how it contributes to their development beyond the program.

For managers new to the graduate space, this can take time to consider and design. Your current graduate may be well placed to offer insight or collaborate on the design of this plan. The work done here will pay off. A well designed career plan will give the graduate faith in their placement, a sense of purpose, and it saves the manager from the fatal error of offering up less than challenging work for the sake of keeping their graduate occupied.

Hybrid & Remote Working:

Grads absolutely recognise the barriers to their learning and impact on their opportunities when working remotely. Interestingly, they also recognise the value of social interaction that happens in the workplace, yet, in the main, prefer the idea of remote work. This has been a common topic of conversation across the last two years.

‘You can’t just lean across a desk to subtly ask for direction.’

I hear often about the discomfort of committing questions to email, ‘it’s too formal,’ ‘it leaves a trail. There are concerns that they can’t show the best of who they are. This in turn may limit their scope for recognition and the ‘opportunity to work on the more interesting projects.’ I am also aware that even at graduate level, there is a desire from the graduate and organisation towards establishing a 'personal brand’ and awareness capability, and to do this ‘I need to work on more challenging projects.’

Working remotely is the new reality for many organisations, and whether we like it or not, we will have to evolve our processes and programmes to accommodate this new way of working. Graduates want to be seen, recognised for their effort, and rewarded. This means leadership will have to adapt towards finding new ways to achieve these goals in a remote or hybrid model.

International Grads:

As Ireland becomes more diverse in population, it is important that organisations are set up to respond to new requests and challenges. If a company wants to move beyond diverse into being inclusive, organisational systems and structures need to evolve to satisify that appetite, and this seems especially relevant for HR personnel. The Visa process for example, can create a sense of uncertainty and stress for international grads.

They will look to HR for support, and expect HR to have answers. Where this is lacking, further anxiety and stress is understandably common. Where programs don’t have a definable transition format, (where, when and how, or if contracts will be offered), from grad to full time employee, there can be challenges in communicating the role to the appropriate authorities towards securing the next stage of a visa.

This may be entirely outside the thinking of many organisations, and I have met with a number of international graduates trying to manage this challenge. At the very least and organisation can acknowledge their current limitations, offer support, improve their understanding and learn from the process with a view to supporting future grads.

This is also important in the context of organisational culture. It is worth noting that Gen Z are a purpose orientated cohort and select their jobs based on a number of variables with culture being one of the main deciding factors.

‘Stop calling me a grad, I’ve been here for six months already.’

Organisations are locked in a war for talent. Grads are being actively pursued and approached by recruiters before they have finished their programmes. I see this often, and I also see the surprise from organisations when this happens and the grad leaves. There are also multiple avenues for the proactive grad to find new and interesting opportunities, infinitely more than the classifieds in a newspaper, the standard approach in my 20s.

Grads* are seeing their peers achieving new roles with titles that don’t include the term graduate, on LinkedIn, through college WhatsApp groups, through Instagram etc…. (Remember the point on promotion expectations above) It makes people wonder why they’re still being called a grad when people with the same level of experience are being called consultants, analysts, senior consultants etc… It may seem a small issue, I have certainly seen managers scoff or laugh when I’ve mentioned this expectation. It may be something a more senior person will dismiss and being purely aesthetic, arrogance or typical of a young person’s impatient attitude or lack of awareness of working life, but it matters to Gen Z and can be a catalyst for their desire to move on.


Gen Z are a competitive, hard working career aware, if not orientated, generation. They have options, many of which are energetically chasing them. They also entrepreneurial opportunities from which they do not shy away, universities, VC funds, companies like Red Bull, are hosting events, offering new and exciting ways in which our Gen Z cohort can work for themselves.

If you want to keep them in your space, the kind of elements that impact their decision on whether to stay or go, culture, opportunity, challenge, purpose, relationships with leaders and your investment in their career, are worthy of your consideration.

Always happy to discuss this content in more detail:


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