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Onboarding is the hottest topic in talent acquisition as we move into 2020. In fact, I’ve spoken with 10 different HR leaders representing multiple industries within the last three months, and all 10 told me onboarding is their highest priority in the coming year.

But why? Onboarding has traditionally been understood as an operational task. Many CHROs view it as nothing more than mundanely pushing buttons on a computer.

And yet, talent leaders are realizing this is not an accurate view of things. In reality, onboarding is one of the most important pieces of the human resources equation — and it all starts before a hire is even made.

Onboarding Begins With Recruitment

Whether passive or active, every job seeker typically begins their journey with an encounter with a recruitment professional (internal or external) representing a given company and its position. Today, it is more important than ever that the recruitment professional gets this initial interaction right.

The recruiter is the first face of the company and its culture. It is by talking with the recruiter that a candidate decides whether or not this might be a place worth working for.

Companies, then, need to pay attention to how their cultures are being represented by their recruitment vendors and internal recruiters alike. After all, you want to build a solid buzz in your target talent communities and geographies. If your organization gets a bad rap thanks to negative interactions with recruiters, you won’t be able to tap key talent sources for the candidates you need. Organizations must train their talent acquisition teams — internal or external — on sharing a consistent company story that illustrates who you are and what you do.

Keep the Interviews Moving

Once a candidate is engaged, the next steps are just as paramount. The onboarding experience continues through the interview process, so plan well. How many interviews, how long, and the quality of the interviews are all crucial factors in a potential employee’s opinion of your company.

In a candidate’s market, job seekers are not going to wait around through endless rounds of interviews. Candidates enjoy meeting people and learning about a company, but there is a point of diminishing returns. If your interview process takes a month or more, it is time to consider refining that process.

What do candidates really need to know? What do you really need to know about your candidates? Your interview process should be formed around the answers to these questions.

It’s also important that you make the most of the interview questions you ask. They need to be relevant, engaging, and informative. You also need to account for the fact that there are literally hundreds of books that teach candidates how to “correctly” answer interview questions, making it that much harder for you to accurately evaluate interview performance. Your conversations need to be more targeted. “Tell me about a time …” is no longer good enough.

Don’t Leave Candidates in the Dark

This is where most organizations fail. Think about it like this: You go to a restaurant. You are greeted with a smile. You are engaged and excited about the experience you are about to have. You are seated. Then 10 minutes go by. Another 10 minutes. No one approaches to take your drink order. Another 10 minutes goes by.

How do you feel? What do you think? How quick are you to get on Yelp and say something? That is the same feeling a prospective employee has when they are waiting for next steps.

If a candidate is no longer being considered, tell them right away. If you are waiting on feedback from the hiring manger, explain the delay. The key is to engage, engage, engage. This is one of the easiest — and most impactful — ways to improve your recruiting and onboarding experience today.

For more expert recruiting insights, check out the latest issue of Recruiter.com Magazine:

Extending an Offer

Who is delivering it? Who should be delivering it? This depends.

It is normal for the recruiter to deliver the verbal offer. Typically, this is done to take the burden of negotiation off the hiring manager. But does the recruiter really need to act as a go-between? Having the hiring manager deliver the offer can make a powerful impression on a prospective employee. And there’s nothing wrong with a hiring manager communicating that they’ll need to go to HR (or another company leader) to get a candidate’s requests assessed.

So, how should you carry out the offer process? Again, it depends. Survey your recent hires to find out what they thought of how they received their offers. What went well? What would they change?

Preboarding Is Still Onboarding

Once the offer has been accepted, the candidate enters a state commonly called “preboarding.” It’s the period between the official hire and the official start date.

What does your company do during this time? Do you send a welcome letter? Do hiring managers get involved? Is there a standard process for everyone to follow?

Every organization is different, but what is constant is the need to keep new hires adequately engaged with your organization. This person is starting a new position; they feel both fear and excitement. Are you leaving them in the dark, or are your proactively guiding them toward their first day?

Onboarding Beyond Day One

A new hire’s first day is usually where talent acquisition moves the hire over to talent management, but this transition only works when talent acquisition and talent management are completely aligned. How well do these centers of excellence collaborate?

Consistency drives efficiency. There should be a formal onboarding plan in place for all new hires — but it should also allow some flexibility based on the different needs of different business groups.

How can your organization create a first-day experience that gives every new hire the feeling of active participation and confirms they made the right choice? Some organizations have a mandatory onboarding program that everyone participates in, regardless of position, which is sometimes followed by a department- or team-specific program. This approach is preferred, as it provides a chance for the company to introduce all new employees to the organization in the same way.

Textbook HR would say onboarding ends at 90 days. It does not. Leadership should be checking in at the six-month and one-year mark. Along the way, HR should be actively engaging every member of the workforce by offering a personal touch to every employee at every level.

Great onboarding is holistic. It starts at a candidate’s first encounter with a recruiter and continues throughout their entire career journey with the organization. HR teams need to remember this — and they need to approach recruiting and employee engagement with this frame of mind.

Laureen Kautt, BCC (with additional Career Coach designation), is a global talent acquisition executive and the founder and principal coach of Volitionary Movement, LLC. “Confessions of a Corporate Talent Acquisition Leader” is her recurring column on Recruiter Today.

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