After 12 months of building, pausing the project, then rebuilding from scratch, we eventually launched Gradguide and ran our first 8-week mentorship program in early December 2019.
This is a short post as the first batch comes to a close, highlighting the key learnings we obtained and also seek advice on how we move forward.
The first Gradguide cohort began with 41 college students signed up to the platform. Along with them, we had 12 mentors on board, working in roles varying across sales, engineering & support in tech companies such as Intercom, Docusign, and Square to name but a few.
After a successful LinkedIn post in late November and running a few (very bootstrapped) marketing campaigns we managed to capture the interest of approximately 40 college students to partake in the maiden Gradguide program come the first week of December.
After personally reaching out to each of these students individually ahead of kick-off, it became apparent that December is a very busy time in the college calendar — primarily down to Christmas exams fast approaching. As a result, we saw a large percentage of dropouts early on, with only 25 students wanting to undertake the 8-week program in the end. As well as this we had further problems with no shows for (previously booked in) calls with mentors.
It may seem obvious in hindsight, but December was definitely not a great time to go live for numerous reasons, be that exam season but also the fact that nothing really gets done over the winter holidays and people just want to unwind and take some personal time off.
We marketed Gradguide as an 8-week program to provide college students with career guidance and to link them with a likeminded mentor who works in a field they are interested in to take them through the program. The program itself consisted of helpful modules such as; improving your CV & online presence, applying for the right roles (entry-level positions) and mock interview scenarios. The main aim of this is to help them land their dream job, be that an internship during college or full-time role post-graduation.
Initial feedback from students is that 8 weeks can appear as a big commitment and too long. Perhaps they would value something less structured and more informal. Lots of the students were happy with one or two calls and to stay in contact over chat when they wanted further advice.
Students varied in age groups from 1st to 4th year and some even partaking in Masters or MBA programs. There was no real rush or urgency for those in the early years of study to get a job and for them, it was more of an information-gathering exercise than a career accelerator program per se.
What we learned from this is that rather than having a formal program, it may be more beneficial to build out a more lightweight ongoing community where students can seek advice whenever it suits them best. I do still believe timelines & commitment aside, that chat and video calls are the best forms of communication for both parties involved as they are the quickest and most personal mediums respectively for a remote program like Gradguide.
Double Jobbing 🙈
When somebody signs up to the Gradguide platform they have access to our ‘messaging portal’ where they can communicate with their mentor over chat and video call. If the mentor is offline they receive the conversations by email via Sendgrid and are prompted to sign back into the app. Along with this, we have a Slack group running alongside, where we communicate with our mentors and add students to post-signup so they can airdrop questions or seek advice in public channels from mentors or their peers.
On top of this, it is apparent that each mentor uses different messaging and video tools that they are accustomed to and like working with. We have seen some mentors run everything through Hangouts. They keep a Google Hangout live where they run video calls and all their conversations with their mentees. Then others have chosen to use Gmail, WhatsApp, and even Zoom.
Baring in mind the biggest overhead we have is monthly hosting for the web app and it is doing something similar to what we use Slack for, it may be worth centralizing everything on Slack. As Slack is free (for our small enough usage) it then doesn’t matter what tools the mentors may choose to use alongside it. I also briefly messed around with a Facebook Community group but even though it is probably more familiar for students than Slack, I am not a fan.
There are definitely some iterations needed before we run the second cohort in late January 2020. We have both students and mentors in the pipeline looking to signup which is promising but I feel we need to lock in where we focus our attention;
- Decide on whether we simply look to provide free career guidance to the masses in a group forum
- If we want to become a marketplace that connects students with career guidance counselors
- Run a structured 8-week mentorship program six times a year with limited spaces available as we have done so far.
It may be a case we pursue all of these things as separate options or none of these approaches at all.
We plan on running a survey to get some structured feedback from both students and mentors this coming week but in the meantime, if you (reading this now) have any suggestions they would be greatly appreciated. Feel free to drop a comment or email us at email@example.com
Mark from Gradguide