Startup leaders might be scared to hire new grads because of their limited experience. The concern is that a startup only has so many resources—and leadership only so much time—so it can’t be wasted showing new grads the ropes.
However, it’s a misconception that new grad recruiting has to be like this. Employee success at any level is less about seniority and more about how you onboard, train, and retain talent. In short, it’s a process problem.
Dialectica also has two ways to ensure new grads have people to connect with and learn from: a mentorship program and regular check-ins.
Dialectica also has two ways to ensure new grads have people to connect with and learn from: a mentorship program and regular check-ins. Maggie Da Prato, the Head of Talent, Americas at Dialectica, experienced this firsthand when she built the company’s new grad hiring and onboarding program for the European company as it expanded into Canada. Now, the company ranks as one of Canada’s best employers for recent grads and Canada’s Top 100 Employers. Speaking with BetaKit, Da Prato shared how she makes new grads successful at Dialectica and beyond.
Building a candidate funnel
The decision to focus on new grad recruits was one of practicality: the main role Dialectica recruits for is the Client Service Associate, a junior role that requires no-to-limited experience. But that doesn’t mean new grads immediately flocked to Dialectica when it expanded to Canada.
“We were not very well known,” said Da Prato. “So when we started, that was a very key challenge.”
Starting from near scratch with no employer brand recognition in Canada, Da Prato explained that the company partnered with “local communities” whenever possible on a deeper level. This process started with universities, but Da Prato added that the company went beyond attending career fairs—conducting workshops, and social media activities such as Instagram take overs with associations—that helped them build more trust with candidates. The company also partnered with YES Montreal, an employment services and entrepreneurship program for youth in Quebec, to continue its outreach.
“You really build a strong partnership that can enable you to build your brand image and create brand awareness and interest towards your company,” said Da Prato.
Onboarding is retention
A simple fact about hiring new grads is they usually have limited, if any, work experience. If these new employees aren’t given the right support, things can go badly both for them and for their managers who then have to spend significant time cleaning up easy-to-avoid mistakes.
To combat this issue, Dialectica built a “fully structured” onboarding program that starts with 10 days of role-specific training to ensure all employees know what they are doing day-to-day. From there, Da Prato said the concept of “onboarding” extends throughout a new grad’s first year, and features additional training for new responsibilities that might pop up in the job, such as project management, and client communication.
Dialectica also has two ways to ensure new grads have people to connect with and learn from: a mentorship program and regular check-ins. When new grads join Dialectica they are paired with someone in their role who is more senior or experienced; that person becomes an informal go-to resource for new employees if the training was confusing or they encounter situations not directly covered by the training.
In terms of check-ins, Da Prato said managers are expected to informally check in regularly during a new employee’s first month to see how they are doing and support as needed beyond that from their mentor. After a month on the job, managers conduct a formal check-in to see if the new employee feels comfortable on the job and to share feedback on the individual’s performance. The final check-in happens with Dialectica’s people and culture team a few months into the role; Da Prato said that team asks questions about “all levels of engagement” to get a full view of the employee’s onboarding experience.
“The feedback asked is structured during the check-in: manager, team, work environment, support received, tools and resources available, efficiency of the onboarding, etc.,” said Da Prato.
After an employee’s probationary period is over, assessments slowly switch from overall progress and learning to output and deliverables, based on KPIs for the role.
Finally, Da Prato said cultural alignment is a critical part of overall feedback for all employees—so much so that Da Prato added everyone is assessed against the company’s principles as they are a “big percentage of the equation for the Performance Reviews and a key part of the Promotion Criteria.” To make this measurement easier for everyone, Dialectica built a 360-degree feedback form with tailored questions for senior leaders evaluating new grads that translate “how our values should be lived by them based on their level of contribution and responsibility.”
“How is the person starting to integrate themselves into our culture?” said Da Prato. “Do they have the curiosity and take initiative? Things like that.”
Finding and training new grads is one thing, but integrating them as valuable members of the team is crucial for retention—especially with Gen-Z talent, who disproportionately value interesting work and team connection.
Da Prato said Dialectica focuses its retention efforts on helping employees grow and support one another, which leads to new work opportunities. For example, as soon as an employee shows they can work autonomously, they are given the opportunity to coach other team members rather than just be an individual contributor. Another example is the company’s approach to additional training: Dialectica has a “mini-MBA” program that teaches soft skills and other transferable business skills employees can leverage throughout their whole career.
The final component of retention is career growth and opportunities, which Da Prato said can happen in two years or fewer at Dialectica compared to the 3-5 years required at many other client service consultancies. The speed of development, said Da Prato, comes from how much the company invests in training, citing the multiple Canadian employees who have already been promoted even though Dialectica’s Canadian office is only two years old.
At the same time, Da Prato is conscious to note that Dialectica doesn’t want to promote people before they are ready—instead, it’s about providing the right training when someone is ready and has become more “autonomous” in their role.
“For those people who want growth opportunities in new roles, it’s something that is definitely achievable and probably more achievable than in a bigger organization where there are fewer opportunities,” said Da Prato.
Photo courtesy of Dialectica.