From ‘yes to desk’: how people leaders ace the transition from candidate to employee

We asked HR experts how they manage the transition from offer to onboarding in our webinar From ‘yes to desk’: how people leaders ace the transition from candidate to employee. Watch the full recording above, or check out highlights from our discussion below.

Q: How do you manage candidate expectations during the hiring process?

Kathy: The biggest part of managing expectations is being really transparent with candidates. A lot of the process is invisible to them. They go from hearing back from recruiters all the time, and then once they sign sometimes they’re not sure what’s next. It’s just as important to stay engaged and keep the communication lines open after the offer is signed. You need to let them know what to expect, what timelines to look at through the recruiting process and beyond. Be proactive and answer questions even before they ask - that’s something that can help with engagement and help provide a great experience.

Elisabeth: The communication has to be open - transparency from beginning to end of the hiring process is absolutely key. We try to make sure we’re transparent with all of our candidates, because nobody likes surprises when it comes to getting a new job. The job hunting process is such a vulnerable process. As Kathy said, really try to be proactive in answering questions. If you know what candidates usually ask, just be proactive in answering them before they ask. That way they are comfortable and know that we have their best interests in mind.

Q: How often should I communicate with a candidate during the recruiting process and into onboarding?

Elisabeth: I definitely think it depends on the position. Certain levels are going to take more time for you to go through the interview process, and others will be a two to four day turnaround. If a candidate is going to have to do a lot of interviews and it’s going to be a couple weeks, make sure you touch base with them before and after each interview. Ask them how it went and if they have any questions that didn’t get answered. Another thing is you don’t want them going into the weekend wondering where they stand or if they even want the job. So I like to touch base with them on that Friday before they leave for the weekend. Just to say, hey let me know if you have any questions, this is when you can expect to hear back from us, have a great weekend, etc. And then follow through.

Once someone has accepted an offer, my recruiters are really great at touching base on a weekly basis (hey did you sign up for your benefits, do you have any questions about your first day, etc.) Sapling has been useful in being able to generate those emails that have proactive questions, but as a recruiter you should be picking up the phone and calling them to really get that human connection.

Kathy: It’s really about being open being transparent. A lot of times, especially after you sign that offer, a candidate doesn’t know what to expect. They don’t know when or if they need to do a background check, what the timeline is for what’s next, etc. Having transparency into all of those things and keeping that dialogue open is so important. You want to make sure they’re engaged and they know what to expect. Candidates should know that we’re taking that extra step to make sure that they’re comfortable and they have a view into the process.

Q: How do you keep candidates engaged when you have a long hiring process?

Niki: One of the strategies we use to make sure we are keeping the candidate engaged is to make sure they don’t feel alone. Simply by making sure the candidates have someone to talk to and reach out to throughout the whole process makes such a difference. Also with longer hiring processes, you can invite the candidate during the final rounds to come onsite to meet and engage with the team. Give them a taste of what their day to day would be like in the office to help them really understand the culture and make sure they’re a good fit.

Something really important to remember is that this isn’t just a one person effort, or even just the HR team’s job. We need to make sure that we have the commitment from the managers. They should be reaching out and really setting expectations and making sure that we’re showing the employees that we’re excited for them to join.

Q: Which key elements belong in pre-boarding vs on-boarding?

Kathy: We want to make sure that we are sending out those important documents ahead of time and making sure that they are getting the information that they need in advance to help make the onboarding process even better. Once they come on board, make sure the new hires have a point of contact beyond their manager as well. Have somebody they can go to, somebody on their team that can help point them in the right direction or give some ideas on where to go for information.

Niki: Finding the right timing to onboard people is also critical. I’m a big fan of onboarding employees on Tuesday morning. That way you make the first week less stressful and overwhelming. It also gives your team Monday to make sure everything is set correctly for pre-onboarding / onboarding. It’s a win-win situation.

Rasika: Preboarding is a way to set expectations and to prime new hires and remove some of the anxiety in that process because they are all going through a big change. How can we ease them into it? I see this entire thing as a journey from preboarding, to onboarding, and then into getting comfortable doing their jobs. I look at that entire journey, then chop up the touchpoints, and structure it so it’s easy on everyone.

Q: What do you see as the most influential part of the onboarding process?

Rasika: It is the ability to connect and give employees a reason to believe in the company. They should be able to connect their personal values and aspirations to the mission of the organization. One way we do that at Google is within the first few hours of joining, we ask new hires to reflect on why they joined Google. Most of the answers aren’t about the amazing benefits (the nap pods, micro-kitchens, or free lunch). It’s a lot deeper than that. They talk about their sense of purpose. And that stays with them throughout the journey and helps with retention. It drives an intrinsic motivation, giving that sense of purpose.

We also share our values and ask them what resonates and what doesn’t. That leads to a deep discussion around why we do things the way we do. That really helps them understand and helps with the decision making process. Understanding the why behind things helps them make decisions on a day to day basis. That stays with new hires longer, so I think that's the most influential part.

Q: How do you not bore your new employees on the first day during orientation?

Rasika: There is a lot going on during onboarding. We have multiple parties that create complexity, different objectives in play, and many, many stakeholders. They are all in different mindsets and therefore there is a range of needs. Often that creates information overload. So how do we balance all of these things and still keep that engagement going? I think we have to really address the fact that onboarding is what it is. There will be paperwork and logistics as they’re getting started. You need to know that there will be pieces that are tactical and aren’t as inspirational, so the challenge is, how can you make the tactical magical? This doesn’t mean you should try to make paperwork not sound boring, or giving it some sort of poetic twist. It’s more about how do we make the process seamless for them? There will be tons of information, so how can we make it not feel like they’re drinking through a firehose? How do we give them one resource rather than 300 resources? And then give them the assurance that information will come to them at different points in time. As we take the anxiety off the process, new hires are in a better mindset to then engage and dive in as we switch gears to some of the inspirational content. We really need to prime them to do that.

Niki: For small to medium sized companies I think about how can we preset and pre-onboard properly with all the paperwork and necessary things they need to do before people come onboard. Within their first day or first week we need to make sure people know who they can reach out to to ask for help and the resources that are available. I think it’s really important that new hires hear from the executive staff on their first day or the first week because it sends a message that our executive team also cares about the new hires. The other thing we should think about is to make sure we loop them into any of the company-wide strategy meetings, projects, or events so they immediately feel like they’re a part of the team.

Q: What is the best way to get hiring managers to engage in the onboarding and orientation process?

Kathy: Hiring is a team sport so to speak - it’s something where you have to have everyone engaged. It’s not just about recruiting or the recruiting team. When you're onboarding it’s not just about passing that baton to HR - it's about everybody working together. Hiring is one of the most important things a company can do, so managers that have teams that are the most engaged are the ones that stay connected. They make sure that they have the resources that they need, so that when candidates come on board they’re ready. They help make sure new hires are ready to start being productive and are able to start work on really awesome projects as soon as they can.

Q: How do you provide the best onboarding experience for employees who are remote or don't come into an office daily?

Niki: Currently our company is building out a number of remote offices. So for me, the pre-onboarding experience is really important. That’s making sure we’re engaging all departments and all parties to set up everything. This means provisioning everything, making sure everyone has the right equipment, having onboarding materials ready for the new hires on day one. Another thing is leveraging augmented reality for onboarding experiences. So a VR or AR experience for onboarding employees. This way you can leverage the technology to have virtual coffee buddies, or for trainings or onboarding through VR. The employee can see what the headquarters looks like or could even go into meeting rooms.

Lizzie: Consistency is a huge thing that larger companies, especially with a large remote workforce or a large field workforce, need to focus on. Creating a consistent onboarding and pre-boarding process from the time that they sign the offer to the time that they start their first day is huge. If you're making it a consistent process and making sure all employees are getting the info they need, it really does enhance the experience a bit more. Also making sure that they are being educated on the company. They need to know their job impacts the rest of the company no matter where they are.

Q: Which performance metrics do you follow through onboarding?

Rasika: There are variations depending on the objective. For pre-onboarding the objectives are different, and how and what we track may be different. It’s the same for the onboarding process. What we do, primarily because it is a cross-functional effort, is we do surveys right after the program and towards the end of their first quarter. We track the same objectives through the two phases. We also ask managers if they received the right resources to be able to support the onboarding and if they were able to onboard their new hires effectively. There are other aspects and tools that we rely on as well. And as we get into more and more technical onboarding, there is more robust tracking around behavior change, outcome, and impact.

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