Every year, a new wave of college grads enters the workforce, eager to begin their careers and totally clueless about retirement funds, employer benefits, and operating a break room coffee machine.

As HR professionals, you’re called to create an onboarding experience that helps these young workers acclimate as quickly and painlessly as possible. Here are some thoughts on how to do just that:

1. Onboarding starts with the offer letter.

If you’re not engaging and impressing your candidates from the moment you make them an offer, they might never even make it to their first day.

So don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through in the offer letter. You’ll make candidates feel special and give them a glimpse of the nice, charming people they could be working with. Then, once a candidate has accepted your offer, reassure them that they’ve just made a GREAT choice by rolling out the red carpet in the weeks before they show up in the office:

  • Mail them some fun company swag.
  • Ask the candidate’s future team members to write welcome emails—or share a fun welcome GIF.
  • Email a first-day (or even better, a first-week) agenda a week in advance of their start date. For bonus helpfulness points, include a list of great lunch places nearby, the closest post office, and some fun facts about your company culture that might help them feel less worried about fitting in.
  • Send a link to your benefits decision support tool if you have one. Recent college grads haven’t enrolled in company benefits before, so they’ll appreciate extra time to get caught up to speed.

This is also a good time to get some annoying paperwork out of the way. Email any forms that can be digitally signed.

2. They’re on their phones. You should be too.

Recent college grads are part of Generation Z, the first generation of Americans to never know a world without the Internet and email. If they can’t find something on their smartphone, it might as well not exist.

So don’t share information in printed form. Instead, email guides and other important forms as PDFs. Then upload those resources to a company intranet, microsite, or the cloud.

Beyond that, consider using your smartphone to create a few videos that explain your company policies in a fun way. If you need help, enlist younger coworkers who are used to recording and editing videos from their phones. And if your company uses team collaboration software like Slack, create a channel where new hires can pose questions and your team can share answers for all to see.

3. Presume they know zilch about benefits…and act accordingly.

Your newly graduated new hires have likely never had to choose their own benefits before. Keep their inexperience front of mind when you create benefits communications for them. Specifically:

  • Define industry terms—deductible, premium, HDHP, EOB, roll-back periods—the first time you use them.
  • Err on the side of over-explaining topics like vacation policies, PTO, leave of absence, and what you actually mean when you say the dress code is “business casual.”
  • Create new hire FAQs that answer questions in a friendly, jargon-free way. Some top contenders might include:
    – “What do I pay to be on the plan, and what do I pay to use it?”
    – “How do I check if my current doctor is in-network? What happens if she’s not?
    – “What exactly is an HSA…and how do I set mine up?

4. Don’t be shy about offering financial guidance.

Most recent Gen-Z college grads carry a massive amount of student debt, don’t understand retirement plans, and have probably never heard of an HSA. They need your help, but they might not realize it. Here are some powerful ways to help them out:

Offer straight talk about the company match

Be blunt. A retirement match is essentially free money that they should not turn down. Yes, some 22-year-olds aren’t in a position to put anything aside for retirement. But those who can might need this extra push to convince them.

Be specific when talking about potential HSA and 401(k) tax savings

Don’t just tell your newbies that contributing to their HSA and/or 401(k) can save them money on taxes and leave it at that. Run the math and share some numbers to make those savings real.

Share resources about budgeting, saving and debt-relief

You don’t need to offer a financial wellness program to help employees make smarter financial decisions. A simple email with suggested tools and apps like the one below can go a long way:


Share these tips (and others) regularly

As you know, employees can make changes to their HSA and 401(k) elections any time. So make a point to share advice often throughout the year.

5. Deputize your managers.

Your new grads may have benefits questions that don’t surface until weeks after orientation, which is when they’ll turn to their managers for help.
By proactively preparing managers, you empower them to answer questions without contacting your busy team. Specifically:

  • Ask your managers what support they need to help their youngest workers.
  • Incorporate their responses into a training session for those managers.
  • Include resources to help them talk about benefits and retirement in particular.

6. Get feedback. Make changes.

You won’t know whether your onboarding program is helpful unless you ask for honest feedback. A few weeks after their first day, send a quick survey to your new employees with five to ten questions about the onboarding experience. Questions like:

  • On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being extremely unhelpful and 10 being extremely helpful, how would you rate your onboarding experience? Please explain why.
  • What did you find—or do you still find—confusing when it comes to our company policies, benefits, culture, or job expectations?
  • What could we have done to make you feel more welcome in your first week?

Create your survey for free using Google Forms, SurveyMonkey or Typeform. Make it clear to employees that their feedback is anonymous so they feel comfortable being honest. Once you’ve gathered a healthy number of responses, share the feedback you received with the employees you polled and their managers, along with any ideas you have for improving your process. Being transparent and responsive will show your new hires that their opinions matter and will give them another reason to rave about their new employer to their talented, job-seeking pals.