You did it, you pulled the trigger and hired someone right out of college. Maybe you had a good feeling about the candidate, maybe you were looking for someone young in the first place, or maybe this was the best you could do with your budget.

We’ve been there. As a small business devoted to the college market, 75% of our workforce has less than 3 years of professional experience. We’ve learned many hard lessons in managing young professionals, too. Those mistakes, however, have really helped us figure out the best way to manage them. It’s as simple as 3 little words:

Train, trust support.

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The training part isn’t much different than onboarding someone with 10 or 20 years of experience, beside the fact that this person is much younger than you, and therefore quite terrifying. That said, if you’re going to help make this young professional successful, it’s important to develop a rapport with them early on.

If possible, start before he or she gets into the office– ask the new hire candidly what type of learner they are. Are they audal, literal, or visual? Do they like oversight while completing a task for the first time or do they like to be left alone? Detailed step-by-step instructions, or broad strokes? If you want this person to succeed, you’ll adapt to them, not vice-versa.

Come in with a plan, too. Know what you want to get done on day 1, day 2, week 1 and week 2. The plan won’t be perfect– you’ll probably only get about 80% of it right, but having a clear path towards making this person successful is important, it establishes trust in the candidate by showing that you are, in fact, a competent human who is considerate enough to plan ahead for the new hire.

From there, just do your best. Be open to questions. Let them learn over and over. Have he or she verbalize back to you. Do your best not to get frustrated. Trust is a mutual experience, if you’re patient with them now, it’ll pay off, just wait until we get to the “Support” section.

A few weeks in and they’re ready to leave the nest. Give yourself a pat on the back (and maybe a stiff drink), you’ve earned it.

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This is the hard part. 

First, remember that YOU hired them because YOU found the candidate capable and competent. You made the decision and now it’s time to stand by it. That means backing off. 

It’s imperative you display trust in this young professional. How? Well:

  • Don’t constantly look over his or her shoulder. You liked them enough to hire them, right? You trained them properly, right? So, why are you so nervous they’re going to fail? Because  they’re 23? Quite the fait accompli you got there.
  • Allow them to do more than the mundane. If he or she is stuck with low-level tasks that don’t engage their passions, they’ll never have a reason to improve. We’ve found people meet the level of expectation you set for them. Challenge them to do real work, and reap the real benefits. 
  • Listen to them. You are, comparatively, old. He or she will know of apps that can make the company’s life easier. He or she can inform you on trends. The young professional can reach demographics you lust over– the same demographic they’re in! Heck, if nothing else, they have new eyes on things you’ve been doing the same way for years. When’s the last time you thought critically about why you do that thing? Maybe it’s time to look at it again.

If you take nothing else from this, know you need to trust them. This is where we made one of our biggest mistakes ever. About 8 months ago we realized that we were treating an entire department of young professionals like assembly line workers. We had very exact ways each needed to do that very thing, and if they deviated from that very step, that was a mistake. There was no room for error, no room for their voice. 

This, obviously, crushed morale, and we hit a mistake spiral. One mistake compounded the previous one over and over. When we sat the team down to discuss why everything was going poorly, we found that 2 very bad things had happened:

  • We had built a set of rules so monolithic and strict that the team just…couldn’t succeed. So many rules along the way meant they had to remember each distinct step in like, a 100-step process, from memory. That is hard. Worse yet, rules would contradict one another. Literally, they were unable to do the right thing.
  • Because of the above, they all shut down. Given they couldn’t do anything right, why even try in the first place? Morale was horrible– we expected them to be robotic, so we got sad little robots in return. 

Given all the above, does it seem like we supported them? Of course not! This is what we should have done:

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Young or old, people are going to make mistakes. You need to be supportive of them. Very few mistakes will do long-term damage to your company. Almost all are fixable. All of them can be learning experiences, especially if the young professional is willing to come to you to admit the mistake because you’ve already built trust with them. Toldja we’d come back to it.

That’s what you have to do: Make mistakes learning experiences. Acknowledge that the mistake was suboptimal, but clearly and calmly talk through the mistake. Most of all, don’t tell the young professional how to fix the mistake. Use the Socratic Method to lead him or her to the correct conclusion. In doing so, you’ll make them feel better about whatever it was they did wrong, and empower them by providing them the tools to think through solutions in the future.

Push ‘em, too. Constantly provide them new opportunities to contribute to the team. Listen to their ideas. Give ‘em a few tasks that are way out of their league, but are things that are trivial to the company in the long run. Show them that they’re valued, and they’ll go to war for you.

More than that, lift the young professional up! When he or she is assigned a new task, reassure them of their ability to complete the task. Guide them, don’t tell them how to do it. Make them feel capable, display confidence, and make it clear that it’s ok if they don’t get it exactly right the first time.

We know this works  because we’ve lived it. Following that very rough conversation, we rebuilt the department from scratch using our Train, trust, support methodology. It’s been a long road, but the department is in the best place it’s ever been, and growing. It’s also reduced stress among management. Train, trust, support, there’s not much more to it than that.

Are you a hiring college students and it freaks you out? We’d love to hear from you! Connect with us on LinkedIn at: 

Signing off,

Atish Doshi, The Black Sheep Founder and Brendan Bonham, The Black Sheep Integrator