How Can Recent Graduates Be Effective Team Players?
In this series, we take a look inside our Master’s in International Business students’ classrooms. Publishing the research and results of the exceptional papers they’ve been graded on—in full. First up, a thorough look at team roles and insights for success for graduates and employers alike.
Class: Communication and Collaboration 2
Date of publication: 24 January 2023
Team 9: Annannya Sharrma
Enja de Lange
Mailaihe Yves Roland Yeo
Recent Graduates in a New Team
How can recent graduates be effective team players from the perspective of graduates, managers, and companies? This research focuses on the theme of teams and teaming. Specifically, how to be a team player after graduating and starting a new job. The study aimed to address the questions that future graduates ask themselves about their integration into the world of work after they graduate. Considering this, the study employed different work methodologies, namely primary and secondary research, such as the analysis of academic research articles. Moreover, ten managers were interviewed to gain insight from their personal experience working with recent graduates and their own experience of when they were younger, as recent graduates. As a result of this methodology, we got opinions from people and companies all over the world such as Spain, China, America, etc. As well as insights from different industries such as banking, consulting, non-profit, healthcare, finance, journalism, and energy sectors.
Navigating the Early Stages of Employment: Insights for Recent Graduates
In conducting interviews with managers, we discovered a diversity of opinions on the best approach graduates should take during the early stages of employment. Some of our interviewees emphasized the importance of fulfilling the specific responsibilities and duties of one’s job, while others placed greater emphasis on building relationships and getting to know one’s colleagues. This discrepancy in perspectives led us to the conclusion that it is essential for graduates to understand the specific expectations and norms of their team in order to be successful. In this section, we will examine strategies for becoming a valued team member and for effectively fulfilling the responsibilities of one’s job, with a focus on the perspectives of recent graduates.
Research conducted by Stanford University illustrates the significance of soft skills in determining long-term job success. Specifically, the study found that 75% of long-term job success is dependent on soft skills, while only 25% is dependent on hard skills (American Management Association, 2019). These skills are often what distinguishes a leader from others in the field. This concurs with the primary research. It was discovered that the development of soft skills is crucial for graduates to be successful within a team setting. Interviewees emphasized the importance of several key skills and important actions that a graduate should do, including the ability to ask questions, get to know the team, manage time effectively, understand one’s role within the team, and offer assistance with time-consuming tasks. Additionally, it was highlighted that being passionate about the team’s goals and projects is essential for success. As one of the interviewees mentioned, “If they lack motivation, they will lack action”.
A common theme that emerged during the primary research was the experience of imposter syndrome. Several managers, we spoke with during our interviews identified feeling self-doubt and disconnected from the team as significant challenges faced by new graduates. Imposter syndrome is characterized as an inner sense of “fraudulence” or “phoniness” caused by a feeling that one is not as competent or capable as others perceive them to be (Cuncic, 2022). According to Zimmerman, graduates can overcome imposter syndrome by acknowledging it as a normal experience, focusing on their accomplishments (and celebrating them), having the courage to take risks, and preparing well for important meetings (2022).
Additionally, several managers we interviewed emphasized the value that graduates bring to their organizations. To overcome imposter syndrome, it is essential for graduates to understand and acknowledge their own unique contributions and value to the team.
One aspect of soft skills that should not be overlooked by new employees is the art of impression management. By understanding the significance of first impressions and how they are formed, graduates can take proactive measures to improve their body language, vocal language, and language to make a positive impact on their team from the onset. This can lead to the establishment of strong, long-lasting relationships with colleagues and stakeholders (Brent & Dent, 2010).
In conclusion, the acquisition of soft skills is crucial for graduates as they begin their careers.
However, we can’t help but notice that our primary research has shown that some employers are more concerned with individual performance than with a graduate’s ability to work as part of a team. This can include things like hard skills, organized and structured work (speed of tasks, clear step-by-step reporting), and the level of general interest and engagement. It’s interesting to note that the idea of prioritizing hard skills over soft skills is more prevalent among the older generation, according to our interviews, while Millennials and Gen Z want to see more team players. The difference in preference also depends on the industry. For example, information technology (IT) requires good basic technical skills as well as communication skills (Patacsil & Tablatin, 2017). Furthermore, the aforementioned study suggests that graduates and employers rank the importance of basic technical skills slightly differently. This difference in opinion only speaks to the subjectivity of employers and, consequently, the importance for graduates to clearly understand their requirements and not be afraid to ask questions, and for employers to be clear and transparent in their requirements for a new employee.
In addition, based on a second study in the medical field, the culture of teamwork is not so developed (although it is recognized as a necessary part of effective work), because more than 50% of respondents do not see signs of a team around them, which means that such a culture and patterns of behavior in it somehow become the standard for people who have been in it for a long time. This may explain the tendency of our respondents from this area to be more focused on individual tasks and performance, as the culture of teamwork may simply not be as pronounced for them.
Nevertheless, the general impression is that managers who value productivity want a more trainable employee and see the positive in the graduate’s lack of experience. The ability to learn comes to the fore, as companies are given the opportunity to train an employee to fit their needs. Especially, in light of recent trends, hiring managers are more interested in non-traditional candidates and are “less concerned with industry experience and technical skills,” so diligence and hard work can be crucial when hiring a new employee (McRae & Aykens, 2022).
The same article makes another interesting point: Gen Z’s soft skills have been significantly impacted by the pandemic, which puts people with advanced communication skills at a higher level in the job market. As a result, a secondary study puts advanced soft skills above technical skills, making arguments such as (Balcar, 2016):
- A lack of the aforementioned in candidates makes them more desirable to employers.
- An easier and clearer learning process for people with gaps in hard skills.
- The dependence of the development of technical skills on communication skills, but not vice versa.
In conclusion, recent graduates will benefit from improving their soft and hard skills, but what is most important is to know what their team expects.
Supporting Recent Graduates: Insights for Managers and Companies
The following part focus on the topic from the perspective of managers and companies.
Insights from a manager’s perspective
Perspectives always seem to change. But from a general speaking point of view, managers tend to have a fixed perspective when it comes to looking for the right individual to fit their team structure. While it is up to the individual to change the perspective of the manager and it may not always be the case.
As research conducted suggests, a manager’s opinion varies. It can be very polarized at times. Based on secondary research conducted and initial interview findings managers seek to hire new graduates based on personal interviews and how their behaviour impacts the workplace. This is why a lot of time is spent researching the background of a new hire. A candidate should be looking to prioritize what the recruiter is looking for in terms of an ideal employee in a team setting. “The quality of the working relationship is based on the attributes of a new employee, and it shows in the early stages of the employer-employee relationship” (Straz, M. 2016, September 16). Further secondary research found that managers tend to lean more towards hiring graduates who follow orders in a team, than looking for graduates who bring fresh ideas to the table. This ties into lessons learned from class where managers and new hires fall into the trap of maintaining the status quo. Granted this may not be the case all the time.
From research conducted through interviews, it was found that not all managers think the same. While there may be some who prefer to utilize team building activities, other managers prefer getting the new hires into the thick of things, where they make their own mistakes, but in the process, they come out of it a better individual and team player. Managers also believe by doing this you will naturally earn the trust of your team as they see you struggling to get work done and it makes them want to help you, which in turn leads to a better team. No recent graduate after landing a job wants to fail. It all boils down to whether they have the drive to succeed with their team or fail by themselves. A quote said it best in one of the interviews, ‘if they lack motivation, they lack action.’ This is the bedrock of what drives a team player, motivation.
Lastly, what makes a team function well is a great leader. Many teams are built around a good leader. But to become a good team leader one must fairly estimate themselves with their team members. A common mistake most new team members make when trying to be a leader is falling into the overconfidence trap. This can easily be avoided by calculating your own abilities and understanding your team members. One of the managers we interviewed also mentioned that having the right inspiration makes for a talented team leader and that reading the book Maverick by Ricardo Semler can help broaden a new recruit’s horizons.
The Impact of Work from Home
Working from home has disrupted communication at work. Not only is it more complicated to work with your more flexibility-oriented peers now, but it is also harder to know their availability. Your team members could be taking their kids to school, taking training sessions, or going to the gym. This makes it harder to know when they would be able to respond to urgent emails or what time would be feasible for a team meeting. Although technology allows for easier communication, it is certainly not as effective as an in-person discussion.
For new employees, complications in communication mean it is not as easy to access the team and the team leader or their supervisor. So, newcomers cannot ask questions as quickly, understand their tasks, or get to know their peers. But the problem persists on the managers’ end as well. According to an interviewee, it is particularly difficult to relay the expectations and requirements of the job to new graduates while working from home. Without face-to-face conversations, it is not feasible to confirm whether the new employee has understood or not, allowing openings for misinterpretations. Unsurprisingly, newcomers end up feeling disconnected from work or, oftentimes, isolated from the team. Team managers must avoid such situations altogether and lead teams to be well communicated and to help new employees to adapt to the team.
Some measures managers can take to overcome these challenges includes providing clear job and task descriptions, using video meetings (like using zoom) to introduce team members and new employees where remote members are involved, provide a work partner to the newcomer who can personally help the employee is adapting well, provide regular feedback to help improve, and to always ask for questions and concerns.
However, it is important to note that working from home does have its benefits like flexibility with work hours and style, which is increasingly becoming important for employees. To be competitive, companies must continue to offer flexible job options (Dua, Ellingrud, Kirschner, Kwok, Luby, Palter & Pemberton, 2022), and managers and team leaders need to be skilled at managing flexible teams while addressing issues like mental health and difficulty in communicating and networking with peers.
This study sought to answer questions future graduates ask themselves regarding their integration into the workplace after graduation. With primary and secondary research, including interviews with managers from various industries, we discovered that soft skills and hard skills are both critical for recent graduates but the relation of their importance to each other very much depends on the sphere of the new employee. Additionally, to be successful team players, graduates must understand the specific expectations and norms of their team and acknowledge their own unique contributions and value to the team. Also, it helps to understand the recruiter’s needs before applying for any job, as research suggests that different teams work in different ways.
Managers must take proactive measures to overcome challenges that arise with remote teams, like miscommunication in teams and new employees not being able to adapt well. In light of the benefits of working from home, companies can continue to offer flexible work options and develop the necessary skills to effectively manage remote teams.
American Management Association. (2019). The hard truth about soft skills. Retrieved from https://www.amanet.org/articles/the-hard-truth-about-soft-skills/
Balcar, J. (2016). Is it better to invest in hard or soft skills? The Economic and Labour Relations Review, 27(4), 453-470. doi:10.1177/1035304616674613
Brent, M, & Dent, F. E, (2010). The leader’s guide to influence: How to use soft skills to get hard results. United States: FT Press
Cuncic, A. (2022). What is imposter syndrome? Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/imposter-syndrome-and-social-anxiety-disorder-4156469
Dua, A., Ellingrud, K., Kirschner, P., Kwok, A., Luby, R., Palter, R. and Pemberton, S. (2022). Americans are embracing flexible work—and they want more of it. Mckinsey & Company. https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/real-estate/our-insights/americans-are-embracing-flexible-work-and-they-want-more-of-it
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Mayhew, R. (2017, November 21). What Does a Manager Look for in a New Employee? Work – Chron.com. https://work.chron.com/manager-look-new-employee-9305.html
McRae, E. R., & Aykens, P. (2022, December 22). 9 future of work trends for 2023. Gartner. https://www.gartner.com/en/articles/9-future-of-work-trends-for-2023
Patacsil, F., & S. Tablatin, C. L. (2017). Exploring the importance of soft and hard skills as perceived by IT internship students and industry: A gap analysis. Journal of Technology and Science Education, 7(3), 347. https://doi.org/10.3926/jotse.271
Straz, M. (2016, September 16). How Employees and Managers See Things Differently — and How to Fix It. Entrepreneur. https://www.entrepreneur.com/leadership/how-employees-and-managers-see-things-differently-and/282397
Zimmerman, A. (2022). Imposter syndrome at work: Tips to overcome thoughts and feelings of imposter syndrome. Leadership Excellence, 39(9), 32.
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