5 Ways to Motivate and Retain Entry-Level Employees

July 13, 2017 •

5 Ways to Motivate and Retain Entry-Level Employees

“5 Best Strategies for Hiring Entry-Level Employees.”
“6 Ways To Engage And Recruit Recent Graduates.”
“How To Successfully Recruit New College Graduates.”
“5 Ways Companies Can Attract (And Keep) The Best Young Talent.”
“6 Ways to Create More Successful Entry-Level Hiring.”

In just a couple seconds, I found all these results (and more) with a quick Google search. There are TONS of articles out there on hiring entry-level employees and/or recent college grads. So, let’s say you follow all that sage advice and hire a bunch of talented young ‘uns. Now what do you do with them?

Some companies certainly do have strategies in place to deliberately engage and nurture recent college grads and their careers. But many other employers seem perplexed at how to bring out the best in their entry-level employees. I was a new college grad myself not so long ago, and as I’ve kept in touch with friends since we graduated, many of them have expressed that they feel underestimated and underutilized in their jobs. A lot of my peers graduated from top universities with multiple internships under their belt, yet sometimes spend their days making copies and performing other menial tasks.

Underemployment is a pervasive problem, and it won’t be solved overnight. However, just because employees are young or “entry level” doesn’t mean they should be discounted or treated as if they know absolutely nothing. Based on my experience as a recent college grad, here are some suggestions that I have for employers who want to make the most of their relationship with their early career employees:

Treat them as an integral part of the team. I love to watch hockey and basketball, so I’m going to explain this with a sports analogy. Now, your entry-level employees may not make the starting lineup right out of the gate (i.e., they may not be the strongest, most experienced players in the group). That’s to be expected, since they’re new to the team and just beginning to train at the pro level. But they’re still a part of the team, and you drafted (er, hired) them for a reason — so don’t treat them like the water boy. After all, you draft them in the first place because you saw their potential and want to cultivate it, and maybe even think they could be part of the starting lineup one day. Plus, no one likes to waste a draft pick on players who move onto better franchises as soon as their contracts are up because they didn’t get enough opportunities to contribute.

Get to know their work talents. It’s supposedly common knowledge that entry-level employees don’t know what they want to do career-wise, since they have relatively little experience in the workforce. However, most recent college grads have at least a broad sense of what work they prefer to do — whether it’s writing copy over compiling statistics, or interacting with a lot of people versus working quietly by themselves. Get to know their professional likes and dislikes, and then adjust the work you give them based on their talents and interests. They’ll be happier employees, and you’ll get better work if you play to their strengths rather than their weaknesses.

Be proactive about professional development. You don’t want to stop at identifying your entry-level employees’ professional talents — you’ll also want to support them. This professional development can include self-directed training, guest speakers, company retreats, networking events, and more, so get creative and choose whatever works best for your company and your employees. Encouraging professional development shows that you’re serious about their careers, you believe they’re capable of great things, and you’re invested in their long-term trajectories as working professionals (and as a member of your team).

Know the next career steps. A clear path to promotion, with timeline markers if possible, will keep employees motivated and give them a vision to stick around. The whole purpose of an entry-level position is to move beyond it to the next level (and the next, and the next). Any moderately ambitious, career-minded employee will want to avoid getting stuck in entry-level limbo for an indeterminate amount of time, so know the path out and communicate it to them. Obviously, don’t create fake milestones with a promotion every six weeks — savvy graduates will be turned off by such artificial benchmarks — but do give them concrete goals to work toward. Even if your company doesn’t have enough layers to support an official title change after one year on the job, formalizing smaller steps (such as running a project or account by themselves) will give entry-level employees a series of increasing responsibilities they can work through.

Remember that the job market is recovering. Some employers seem to think that the job market permanently stopped changing circa 2008, which was the worst time in recent history for early career employees to find a job. Many recent grads accepted whatever offer they got and held onto that job for fear of not finding another due to the terrible economy. However, it’s now 2017, and “the entry-level job market is the strongest it’s been in years” (as a recent USA TODAY College headline declared). Entry-level employees no longer feel as tied to their first jobs as they once did. If their employers don’t treat them well or they feel underemployed or neglected, they won’t be afraid to seek work at another company. Make a good impression on your entry-level employees right out of the gate, and they’ll stick around to become great contributors.

Entry-level employees and recent college grads may be early in their careers, but they still have a lot to offer companies like yours. Embrace their potential rather than underestimating it — or you may find yourself having to go through the hiring process all over again.

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About the Author

Kara Sherrer is a marketing coordinator at Right Source, where she supports existing client accounts and helps execute strategic plans on a day-to-day basis. She graduated from Vanderbilt University with a double major in English and marketing & communications. You can find Kara on Twitter, connect with her on LinkedIn, or read her other posts.

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