Three things that a company can do to hire great new entry-level staff and integrate them successfully

For the past two years, my team has hired some new folks that are either just fresh out of school or new to the banking industry. I got involved in the interviews as well as the onboarding for the new blood. There were hits and misses, as you can expect when it comes to hiring. Some left after a short time, while others went on to become assets to the team and company. When I looked at my experience in this area, I noticed the following three things that could affect whether we hire the right people and get them integrated properly.

Curiosity and drive are what to look for in interviews

I work in the banking industry. The learning curve is steep, as one has to navigate through not only new concepts & new definitions, but also a labyrinth of data schemas, tables and fields. All under pressure to deliver results. After the honeymoon phase when a new hire can settle in and get acclimated, results, not progress, are the only yardstick of performance. It helps to be smart, of course. But the key in one’s success that I have seen so far is whether one has the work ethic, the curiosity and the grit to grind it out.

What do I mean by curiosity? It refers to the urge to understand how things work. Because the data is very complex, nobody has a 10,000-page handbook that answers every question. Neither do they have time to hand-hold a new hire through everything. A decent hire will do their 8 hours every day, go home and progress slowly. A great hire will strive to learn about aspects of the job that nobody has even asked yet. I am talking about spending time at nights and on the weekends building up knowledge and skills. Eventually, somebody will ask that question and the work beforehand will pay off. Handsomely.

Curiosity is great, but it’s not enough. You need grit. What I mean is the resolve to finish projects and figure out a tough problem. The refusal to give up. In the face of a challenging request that requires the use of different data schemas, tricky joins and multiple data steps, I have seen folks give up after one hour of effort. Giving up early means that they forgo a chance to improve their problem-solving and code skill. Even if a new hire completes a task with two or three more times the number of code lines that an experienced person would have, they will feel joy and satisfaction, as well as will retain the learnings long in the future. Indeed, there is a “you don’t know what you don’t know” area, but you only know the boundary of your understanding if you insist on pushing and don’t give up early. That’s what grit is all about.

Work ethic is the engine that makes curiosity and grit run. No amount of intelligence can make up for work ethic.

I often see job descriptions littered with skill requirements. They are important, but I do think they can be taught. What we will not teach easily are the intangibles such as curiosity, work ethic and grit.

First few weeks is key

I believe the first few weeks on the job is highly important as it sets the tone for one person’s tenure. When first joining a company, everyone is curious about the new workplace and eager to hit the ground running. It’s very difficult to replicate this energy again during one’s tenure. Hence, companies should take advantage of this honeymoon phase to keep a new hire invested, interested and engaged.

Let me give you an example at my company. I do think that this is the one area that we should improve tremendously in the future. When a new person joins, we tend to immediately throw them into tickets WITHOUT proper training. Learning by doing is great, but simply running a code written by somebody else and having little understanding of what it does is just demoralizing. Everybody is naturally proud of their intelligence and abilities. Hence, the helpless feeling of staring at lines of code that mean little and the fear of making mistakes dampens any excitement that a new hire has.

Instead, what we should do is to take the time to give new hires a rundown of how the business generally works, how the data is structured from a 30,000-foot view and what is expected by colleagues and managers. I helped onboard quite a few people at my company. The first thing I always do is to explain what a credit card is, how it works, how we make money from it and what the team does in general. No talk about data yet. What’s the point of talking about just a portion of data when they can’t relate or connect the dots yet?

Plus, I give them a book called The Anatomy of The Swipe and ask them to have a read. It’s a crash course on credit cards and equally important, it’s easy to digest, even for newcomers. Then, I gave them easy work requests that don’t have an immediate deadline so that they can take the time to finish. Of course, I still push them to deliver quickly, but I want to prevent the fear of making a mistake from disrupting the flow of learning. From there, I ramp it up with not only more requests at the same time, but more challenging problems. That should give them a taste of what we expect from new team members and force them to be more effective and efficient.

If your job involves coding, giving a new hire some basic code as a starting point helps a lot, but make sure that you add comments to explain what the code does and what the attributes/values mean. Don’t give the new hire everything. Leave them breadcrumbs and challenge them to figure it out. That’s how learning is done.

In-person meetings help

On-boarding new entry-level hires remotely sucks. There is no chemistry yet between you and the new people. Because they are new, they often feel that they don’t want to bother you so much with a barrage of questions when this is precisely the time for them to do so. In a remote environment, new hires have to schedule a meeting; which can be a barrier due to schedule conflicts. Delayed meetings mean delayed progress and dampened excitement; which I mentioned earlier is something that a company should leverage. In the office, questions can easily be asked during an impromptu meeting or a casual conversion.

Furthermore, even though there are many tools designed to help remote work and learning, it’s just much easier in some cases to talk in-person. Personally, I like to use a white board to draw diagrams and give examples. What we do is abstract in some areas. Creating visuals and giving specific examples, such as a mockup data table, greatly aids my explaining to new hires.

Hence, I believe that if it is possible, a company should have the on-boarding process in the office, instead of remotely.