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Consultant’s blog: Professional service organisations can anchor graduates using Entry and Exit Interviews

Opinion piece by one of Insync Surveys’ Research Project Managers

During this time of economic uncertainty it’s hard to attract and retain great staff in professional service organisations. Professions such as accounting, law and business were ranked second out of five in “salaries for growth in 2011” by Hays recruitment as they are in such demand. They are also consistently cited on the “Occupations in demand” list published by the Australian Immigration Department.

While this is fantastic as it attracts semi-screened, experienced and bright young people from oversees, I wonder: “what about the home-grown personnel who have been through our world-class education system, really understand the Australian culture and have their contacts and roots here?”

Insync Surveys partners with RedBalloon to run our Dream Employers Survey; the 2011 results combined with qualitative research indicate that graduates are often attracted to larger professional service organisations due to their reputation and image. According to McCrindle, cited in knowledge@australianbusinessschool, Australian staff stay in organisations for an average of four years, for graduates and new recruits this drops to two. In essence, graduates stay a short while and having benefitted from a big corporate name on their CV, exit shortly afterwards; often moving to smaller, less-well-known organisations. Alternatively, the more entrepreneurial grads, having learnt the ropes and began to establish a professional reputation, often leave to set up their own partnerships. Insync Surveys’ research and anecdotal evidence indicates that graduates leave prematurely for a number of reasons, including among other things; opportunities elsewhere, frustration at the time taken for career progression and lack of cognitive and behavioural engagement.

The employers who took these graduates on in good faith and invested significantly in a their programs are the losers here.

Many studies have been done to calculate the cost realisation of a new recruit.  It’s generally accepted that it takes 6-9 months for an employee to start becoming productive, meanwhile the professional service organisation is effectively bank-rolling their professional development.

In addition to the bottom line burden, new recruits can disrupt the status quo and may be involved in significant storming, norming and eventually performing with their colleagues to find their feet and their niche.  Once they have found this niche it can take several years for these recruits to transition through the roles of account management to fully understand the organisation’s core purpose, deliver a full service to the client and develop into the senior partners that are required to lead and generate revenue.

This is in addition to the potential loss of goodwill that short-term graduate staff generate among strategic clients who require consistent account management. According to McCrindle a recent two year project at a government department saw 70% of graduates leaving before completion and seven out of 10 leaving without adding any real value. Similar results have been echoed by numerous quantitative studies conducted by Insync Surveys.

Many short term recruits are costing your firm money, failing to add value, jeopardising key accounts and impacting existing staff performance and engagement. Professional service organisations are right in questioning how it’s possible to meet their sometimes starry expectations for longer-term career prospects in the workplace. Securing graduate employee engagement and anchoring their retention is a challenge for our clients.

First of all, we recommend that it’s necessary to understand key concerns from exiting graduate program employees with exit interviews. Clear insights into graduate program employees’ motivation to leave will provide a road-map of what can be done differently and better with regard to broad HR recruitment and retention strategies. Ultimately, this will improve organisational performance, particularly when contrasted with other metrics we offer such as Staff SurveysEmployee Engagement Surveys, graduate focus groups and 360 Feedback Surveys.

In your Exit Survey, it’s necessary to capture the primary reasons why staff are leaving to understand what can be done to improve specific areas, thus retaining graduate program employees and at the very least saving on recruitment and on-boarding costs.

It’s also useful to be able to benchmark against other professional service organisations within your sector to ascertain how your graduate program performance compares and thereby where your relative strengths and weaknesses lie.

Finally, our Entry Survey tool is necessary to capture the reasons graduates join your firm in the first place. This can help to crystallise your Employer Value Proposition (EVP) for graduates and hopefully assist you in attracting the right candidates who are willing to stay longer term.

Insync Surveys has an inexpensive Entry/Exit Survey system that will allow you do all this. This online portal is administered internally by your own HR team so that data is current and can be viewed and downloaded in real time. Data is stored in a confidential and secure manner and password restricted access ensures administration is ethical.

As one leading Melbourne firm pointed out to me last week “we are experiencing a tsunami of people to Melbourne in the next three years… in fact it has already started”, with this in mind, as a professional service organisation, can you afford to let your bright graduate talent have a short tenure?

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