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What ongoing support should I provide?

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Once you have recruited your graduate, you’ll need to consider how to engage them with your business in the first days and weeks, and perhaps even how to retain their commitment in the longer term.

This section is intended to introduce common HR practices relating to performance and retention.

The important first few days

Sometimes known as ‘onboarding’, this is an important phase for building relationships and helping your intern, placement student or graduate to understand what you expect from them and what they’ll gain in return. 

Bear in mind that this is likely to be a new experience for them and, particularly if you are only employing them for a short internship – they’ll need to be up and running as soon as possible.

Top tips for welcoming a new recruit into a small business include:

  • begin building a relationship before they start - let them know what will be happening during their first few days
  • on day one, show them around the office and make sure they meet as many of the team as possible
  • where relevant, ensure they have a work-station and the required equipment to perform their role effectively
  • be clear about what you expect from them, and make yourself easily available for questions and clarification.

QuickBooks provides a new hire onboarding checklist. While this checklist is designed for longer-term hires, it gives you lots of useful ideas to consider.

Give a grad a go also offers a process checklist, including advice about virtual onboarding.

Learning and development

Setting goals and objectives

According to the CIPD’s, Internships that work guide ‘it is imperative that the intern is given as much responsibility and diversity in their work as possible’. They also recommend devising a work plan that ‘should act as a guide at the beginning of the internship and subsequently merge with any goals and objectives set during the induction process.’

Make sure your recruit has a clear sense of their duties and understands the outcomes you expect to see at key points throughout their internship, placement or graduate role. This will give them a greater motivation to perform well and take away any stress caused by uncertainty. You’ll also find it easier to monitor their progress and provide useful feedback. 

Personal and professional development

Research shows that training increases employees’ commitment to their job and that this commitment enhances their job performance, which in turn increases job satisfaction (Neuman et al, 2020). 

Students and new graduates will value opportunities for learning as they progress through their time in your business. For example, they may need some training on certain systems that you use, or they may learn from working closely with an experienced member of your team. 

Your regular interaction with them should include checking on any learning needs they have and looking at ways to meet those needs. 

The CIPD has a wide range of relevant material to help you in Developing your people, including fact sheets, podcasts and reports. 

Buddies and mentors

Another way to enhance the learning experience for a student or graduate, is to provide a buddy or mentor during their time within your business. 

Skills for Care provide a clear outline of the differences between the two roles, and the part they can both play in supporting the wellbeing of your employees, highlighting the benefits of buddying for new employees versus the more formal, goal orientated role of a mentor.


A buddy is a member of your team who agrees to be a designated contact person for a new recruit, providing informal support and encouragement during their first days and weeks of employment.

Many universities have introduced buddying roles within their own staffing structures, including the University of Sheffield, which explains the role in useful detail. 

Wellcome, also provides a useful overview from an employer’s perspective – focusing on Buddying at onboarding to prevent depression and anxiety in young adults in the workplace. Their report recommends regular face to face meetings (where possible), with some training provided for the buddies to ensure that they understand the purpose of their role. 


A mentor is someone who can draw on their own experience and knowledge to advise and guide a less experienced person, enhancing and supporting their development.

Mentoring is a more widely recognised tool, which employees at every stage of their career can benefit from. For example, you may have found a mentor useful yourself when looking to grow your business. 

The Muse blog post 7 Qualities That Make a Good Mentor (and How to Find Someone Who Has Them All) suggests that a mentor should be someone with relevant experience and expertise, and an enthusiasm for sharing it, good at listening and able to give honest and direct feedback. 

Do you have anyone on your team who could step into that role? As well as being beneficial to the mentee, mentoring can be a developmental experience for the mentor, particularly if they have management or leadership ambitions. It can also boost their own self-reflection and motivation. The Art of Mentoring suggests 11 reasons why you should be a mentor.

Mentoring doesn’t always have to be done on a one to one basis. The University of Leeds explores different types of mentoring in Which type of mentoring relationship is right for me?, including upward and group mentoring.

Performance management

Even if your recruit is only with you for a short internship, some element of performance management will be valuable for both of you. 

According to the CIPD, in Performance management: an introduction, ‘there’s no standard definition of performance management but it describes activities that:

  • Establish objectives through which individuals and teams can see their part in the organisation’s mission and strategy.
  • Improve performance among employees, teams and, ultimately, organisations.
  • Hold people to account for their performance by linking it to reward, career progression and termination of contracts.’

Once you’ve set your expectations, keep an eye on your new recruit and be ready to step in if they need your support. Explaining why you’re stepping in makes it into a learning opportunity rather than giving them a demoralising sense that they’ve done something wrong. Once they’ve had an opportunity to learn the correct way to do something, you can monitor their improvement and take further steps if they continue to make mistakes.

There are several performance management techniques you might use. 

Performance review 

Traditionally, most of us have become used to the idea of an annual performance review or appraisal. This is a formal assessment meeting in which a manager evaluates our work performance, identifying strengths and weaknesses, offering feedback, and setting goals for the future. Often, the employee is involved in setting future goals and targets. 

But rather than conducting an annual appraisal or talking to the student at the end of their internship, making this into an ongoing performance conversation with regular discussion points can be much more productive.

If you want to explore the options in detail, the CIPD’s Performance reviews page includes relevant fact sheets and reports. They have also produced this useful video explaining the benefits of having a continuous conversation, and of focusing on strengths rather than weaknesses. presents a selection of staff appraisal templates and forms that you might find useful. 

Peer review or 360 degree feedback 

360 degree feedback is a review process in which employees receive performance feedback from several individuals, including managers, colleagues, peers, and customers, as well as self-evaluation. The review process often requires individuals to use a numeric assessment scale and/or answer open-ended questions.

The Motley Fool Blueprint business service offers useful information and advice in The Small Business Guide to 360-Degree Feedback

Personal development plans 

A personal development plan is a record of the skills and experience an employee has, and the skills and experience they want/need to develop. 

  • The employee can use it to reflect on what they want to achieve and how they plan to get there – giving them something to work towards. 
  • The employer can use it as the basis for performance management, identifying opportunities to facilitate employees’ aims and monitoring how well they meet their targets.

TSW Training recommends that every employee should have a personal development plan, and there’s no reason why that shouldn’t apply to interns and placement students too. Their blog post How to manage personal development plans, includes templates and suggestions for low-cost support, ranging from work shadowing opportunities to hosting knowledge-sharing meetings.

Total Jobs also provides a useful overview in Creating a personal development plan with your staff.

Retaining top talent

If you recruit an intern or placement student who really impresses you, you might consider offering them employment on graduation. The ISE Annual Recruitment Survey 2018 found that employers rehired an average of 52% of their interns and 43% of their summer placement students that year. (The COVID-19 pandemic has skewed the data since that report.) 

Employee retention focuses on how good your business is at keeping its employees over a given period of time. In a recent Cibyl graduate survey, 46% of students questioned expected to stay with their first employer for one to two years, but are there ways you could potentially keep them for longer?

Some of the key topics have been mentioned in previous tabs, such as fair pay and benefits, and good employer/employee relationships. Other considerations include introducing the potential for career progression, perhaps tied in with the future success of the business, and making employees’ day to day roles as varied and interesting as possible. 

One of the advantages of a small business from a new graduate’s perspective, is the opportunity to become involved in wider elements of the business, beyond the scope of the role they were initially recruited to, and working closely with senior staff.  

Support available

Once you have recruited a graduate from a particular university, the support offered by the university focuses mainly on the graduate. University alumni societies can support your graduate with a range of benefits, including:

  • offering membership of peer support groups, either face to face or via social media 
  • networking events 
  • discounts on meeting rooms
  • peer mentoring programmes
  • alumni achievement awards
  • lifelong learning opportunities, etc.

As well as supporting your graduate, some of these benefits could have a knock on advantage for you too. 

Other external organisations with an interest in supporting SMEs, including offering advice on recruitment and retention, are:

  • The Chartered Institute for Personnel Development (CIPD) People Skills Hub – developed specifically for people managers of small businesses, this site offers resources, guidance and information on the essentials to help you in your day-to-day role, improve your people management skills and strategy, and to get the 'people' aspect of your business right.
  • – offers advice and support for UK small businesses and SMEs, including a category on employing and managing staff, which advises on employment law, recruitment and training etc.