onboarding-starts-at-application-header

If you think onboarding starts when employees show up for their first day on the job, you’re wrong

Brad Chambers, Ph.D.
March, 2021

by Brad Chambers, Ph.D.

Onboarding new employees into the organization is a critical step in the employment lifecycle. Without proper onboarding, newcomers run the risk of failing to:

  • Learn how the organization operates
  • Identify how best to perform their job and help the organization achieve its objectives
  • Engage with their new team
man writing on white paper

So when does onboarding start?

It's not uncommon for organizations to think of onboarding as kicking off on the first day of employment. Afterall, that's when employees receive their computer, email account, access to company information, and perhaps even meet their team for the first time, among many other things.

In reality, onboarding new employees starts long before their first day on the job. It actually starts when they apply for the job, and sometimes even earlier depending on what is publicized about the organization and role.

Throughout the hiring process, candidates begin to form impressions of what life in the organization and job will be like. Does your hiring process and all its components teach candidates about the role and life in the organization?

If not, imagine the possibilities if you could jumpstart the onboarding process by harnessing this time that you have with future employees. Not only could time to proficiency decrease, but retention could also increase because candidates are better informed about life in the organization and role.

What does this actually look like? Here are four elements that should be factored into every hiring process at every organization:

1. An engaging experience that keeps candidates…well…engaged. The objective of the talent acquisition process is to identify, screen, assess, and select candidates, not to entertain them. But that doesn't mean that the process should be as exciting as a root canal, either.

With appropriately designed assessments and interviews (conducted by properly trained interviewers, of course) the talent acquisition process can and should be engaging. Just like eLearning, people should feel good about the time that they spend going through the process—they should feel like it was time well-spent.

And once you have candidates engaged, keep them engaged (often referred to as “warm”) through regular communication. There is little worse for a candidate than wondering where they are in the process, whether the organization has ruled them out, or when a decision will be made.

You want candidates to be excited about the prospect of working for your organization, as this excitement turns into increased job offer acceptance rates as well as increased engagement and performance once on the job.

2. An appropriately rigorous process. This is a balance, and a bit like the British fairy tale Goldilocks and the Three Bears. The process can't be so rigorous that it dies under its own weight, nor can it be so light that it lacks utility.

What do these two scenarios tell the candidate? The former scenario tells the candidate that the organization overengineers things and makes them more complicated than they need to be—that doesn't sound very fun (unless you also like to overengineer things).

The latter scenario tells the candidate that the organization spends time on things with very little impact—also not good. Instead, Goldilocks likes a process that is just right.

This, of course, depends on the role itself. Candidates for an entry-level role will likely be put off by a lengthy process with numerous steps, whereas candidates for a senior-level role will likely feel unheard by an extremely brief process that consists of a single interview. Instead, align the level of rigor to the role, and make certain that the process conveys the right message to candidates.

3. Assessments modeled after the job and organization. This is perhaps the hardest element to incorporate, but it's also one of the most critical. If you want to know whether a candidate will be able to learn a procedure to produce widgets, the best way to assess this is to put them in a situation where they have to learn a procedure to produce widgets.

Of course, asking them about times when they had to learn something new or administering an assessment of learning ability would both be informative, but nothing will be as informative as having them demonstrate their ability to perform the job.

And guess what else this does—it teaches the candidate about the job. The candidate walks away from the hiring process knowing exactly what the job will entail and how closely the job aligns with what the candidate wants.

Granted, most employees will not be hired to produce widgets and instead hired to make decisions, lead others, develop new products, advise customers, etc. These kinds of roles are a bit harder to emulate in the hiring process, but it can still be done.

And the benefits to predicting future job success, reducing time to proficiency, and reducing turnover are well-worth the time and energy to get it right.

4. On-brand messaging. Finally, the hiring process and all of its steps should convey the message about the organization that the organization wants to convey.

A tech company, for example, should not have a paper-based application process—what would that say to candidates? An organization that prides itself on having a warm and inviting culture should not have a cold and sterile process—recruiters and interviewers should be warm, assessments should be welcoming rather than intimidating.

The point is that throughout the entire hiring process, candidates piece together what they think is true about the organization and job. When this picture is accurate, the organization and candidate both win. When the picture is inaccurate, no one wins.

It’s no secret that talent acquisition is a mission-critical piece of the employment lifecycle, but it can be used as more than just as a selection tool. By reviewing the process, engagement, messaging, and implementing the proper assessments, your organization can gain more than just a great hire—you’ll get one who is excited, eager and enthusiastic to advance both the culture and the business.

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