Don’t quit! Prevent onboarding missteps

The interview often doesn’t stop after the job offer’s accepted. What questions should candidates ask to ensure a good fit, and how can employers prevent new hires from running for the door?

Starting a new job is a lot like a first date.

You’ve heard great things about the company and it comes highly recommended by your acquaintances and professional peers. You’ve probably talked a few times in person or on the phone to get to know each other, maybe even met a few of your new colleagues and taken a tour of the office in advance. Liking what you both saw, you and your new employer decide to embark on the first date in what you both hope could turn out to be a lasting relationship.

However, unlike a real date, bailing if things turn sour is a lot more awkward when there’s a clear expectation that you’ll be back on the part of your employer, not to mention you really kind of need that paycheck.

Ensuring future dates falls largely in the hands of the employer, and where some companies falter is in a poor onboarding experience for new hires.

“We traditionally talk about new employees making a good first impression, but companies should be putting their best foot forward, too,” notes Kyle Kraus, director of permanent placement services for Robert Half Finance & Accounting in Madison. “Employers may have less time than they think to make a good first impression on a new employee, and they risk losing promising new hires if they don’t get the onboarding process right from the start.”

A new employee’s first week, for instance, is crucial for setting the tone for their role in the organization, explains Kraus. There’s data to back that up.

The U.S. Labor Department released figures on April 11 that show while the quit rate fell during February, overall it remains high with more than 3 million workers quitting their jobs that month. That should be a big heads up for employers that it’s imperative to make sure new hires get up to speed and are happy right away or they risk losing them very quickly.

A survey of U.S. workers from staffing firm Robert Half shows 28% of professionals said they’d consider quitting within the first 90 days if they were unhappy. The saying goes you never get a second chance to make a first impression and workers agree. Some of the expectations for a successful first day cited by survey respondents:

  • Nothing compares to face time: 89% say meeting with their manager to clarify expectations is important.
  • Wining and dining? Not necessarily: Only 44% said being taken to lunch was necessary for a positive first day.
  • Don’t let workers fend for themselves: 83% expect formal introductions to their colleagues.
  • Avoid technical difficulties: 81% say it’s important to have their workspaces ready to go with proper setups in place.

“Most professionals know that it’s a candidate’s job market and they may have other opportunities available — especially if they possess an in-demand skill set,” Kraus says. “Workers are choosy about the offers they accept and if an opportunity does not turn out to be what it seemed, many won’t hesitate to look elsewhere — especially if it becomes clear they are not appreciated or are not being properly brought up to speed.”

Common onboarding missteps

Preparing for a new hire can often be a hectic process for employers, Kraus notes. Managers are already busy and there are so many things to keep in mind when bringing someone new on board that it can be easy to forget a few steps.

As such, companies that lack a checklist or formal onboarding process may overlook details along the way.

“Employers may be so focused on getting someone up to speed on the business side of things that they fail at the basics, like setting up the person’s workspace or giving a tour of the office,” Kraus notes. “A shaky start can cause new employees to question if the company has its act together. Employees who lack the proper training and foundation from the get go can impact their work down the line.”

To present the best possible face on the first day, employers should:

  • Set up shop. Stock the desk with essential supplies and equipment, such as pens, notebooks, a computer, and phone. Confirm network, voicemail and email functionality. Coordinate building security access, if necessary.
  • Get acquainted. Send a welcome email to team members and alert the receptionist so everyone’s aware. On the first day, introduce the employee to coworkers around the office. Consider scheduling a lunch for the new hire to get to know colleagues. Assigning the worker a buddy or mentor can help ease his or her transition.
    • When new hires are quickly brought up to speed on the corporate culture and introduced to colleagues, they’ll feel comfortable and like they fit in from the start.
  • Review the essentials. Provide a tour of the building. Schedule an orientation to review the employee handbook, company history, and policies. Allow time to complete any required HR paperwork.
    • Onboarding should be an ongoing process. Often, the best approach is an informal orientation during an employee’s first days to discuss the job and explain logistical information such as security issues and reporting structures. This can then be followed by the more extensive, formal program.
  • Focus on the job at hand. Set expectations early on by discussing the position’s goals and responsibilities. Organize training sessions on office equipment, software, and procedures necessary for the role.
    • Getting the tools and information they need to do their jobs also means they can begin actively contributing.
  • Keep it going. It can take a few months to fully onboard a worker. During that time, regularly check in with the employee and encourage him or her to ask questions.
    • Spacing things out also prevents staff from becoming overwhelmed with so much information they can’t internalize it all. Managers should ensure the onboarding process doesn’t end when a person leaves the formal orientation session. Check in with new staff regularly to see how they are doing and answer any questions.

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Picture this

Anyone who’s tried online dating knows all too well the phenomenon of seeing one thing in a picture of a person before the date and something completely different when you meet in person.

While new hires might be tempted to cut their losses immediately if the first few days or weeks don’t go smoothly, Kraus cautions against a hastily conceived exit strategy.

“If an employee finds that their new job isn’t quite the best fit for them, it’s best for them to have another role lined up before jumping ship,” he explains. “Professionals should always have another job offer in writing and should have already accepted the job prior to giving notice. The job market is still extremely competitive, so even the most highly-skilled candidates can’t be assured that they’d land another job right away.”

When breaking up with an unexpectedly short-term employer, Kraus says the temptation might exist for workers to be brutally honest — “It’s not me, it’s you.”

“Although the temptation may be there for employees to vent about their frustrations, they should try to handle exit interviews with grace. Giving constructive criticism is allowed, but don’t make it a bashing session. The business world can be a very small place and professionals want to make sure they leave with their reputation intact as they never know when their path may cross with a former boss or co-worker again.”

It starts with the right questions

In order to give yourself a better chance of finding the right employer to grow old with, candidates can do a lot of legwork up front in those first getting-to-know-you conversations known as interviews.

Many interview tips offer advice on how to answer a hiring manager’s questions, says Kraus. While answering the hiring manager’s questions is important, candidates should be prepared with their own questions to ask, as well.

“When the hiring manager asks if the candidate has questions, this isn’t a cue to start asking about starting salary and vacation days. It’s a candidate’s opportunity to dig deeper into the company’s culture and show off their knowledge of the organization. Not only do the right questions help the candidate learn what they need to know about the role and the company, but ideally the questions a candidate asks can be impressive enough to tip the scale in their favor.”

The following, Kraus says, are 15 killer questions for candidates to ask during an interview:

  1. Is this a new position? If so, how long have you been trying to fill it?
  2. If it’s not a new position, why did the last person leave? What particular skills or characteristics are you looking for in the new hire?
  3. What are some of the reasons you’ve rejected candidates so far?
  4. How would you measure the success of a person in this position?
  5. What are the company’s short- and long-term goals? What role would I play in those goals?
  6. What are the relationships like between the creative department and other areas of the company?
  7. What kinds of career paths are available for a person in this position?
  8. How long have you been with the company? (A quick LinkedIn search can answer this question and give you more talking points for your interviewer, such as shared education or past companies.) What’s changed since you started? What would you like to change?
  9. What kinds of personalities mesh best within the company?
  10. Would you say the organization’s structure is hierarchical or flat?
  11. How would you describe the company’s culture?
  12. I hear the company’s biggest competitor is _________. (Your research should turn this up.) What are you doing better than them?
  13. Aside from my manager, whom would I be working closely with? Would it be possible to meet them if the hiring process moves forward?
  14. Is there anything else you’d like to know about me that we haven’t covered yet?
  15. I’m excited about the position. What are the next steps?

This final question is also a perfect way to wrap up the interview on a positive note and with a clear indication that your interest remains strong, notes Kraus. “It also will give you a good idea of how the rest of the process will move. Once your interview is over, don’t forget to follow up with a thank you email or call.”

It may not be quite as satisfying as the elusive end-of-date first kiss, but it could just be enough to get asked out again.

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