Why Onboarding Is Your Most Important Recruitment Tool

Onboarding is a critical weakness for many organizations, stalling new hire momentum and leading to disengaged employees.  

A study by Kronos and the Human Capital Institute found that 60 percent of employers said their primary goal for onboarding is to integrate employees into their company culture, but a focus on people and culture made up less than 30 percent of onboarding programs. Seventy-six percent of HR leaders in the study said onboarding practices are underutilized at their organization.

“When done well, onboarding can be a huge differentiator,” says Aram Lulla, general manager of the human resources recruiting practice at Lucas Group. “It can not only attract an employee but it also keeps them engaged and help retain employees throughout not just their first 30 days, but their entire their tenure at the organization.”

Here’s how companies can use onboarding to help recruit and retain top talent.

Connect It to Recruitment Efforts 

The tight job market means that companies need to make every effort to maximize recruitment efforts. And onboarding can be an essential tool for helping them attract and retain top talent.

Jenna Filipkowski, head of research at Human Capital Institute, says, strong onboarding processes can help companies compete for talent. “If you can talk to a candidate about what their first 90 days will look like and offer specific supports for them, that’s an enticing offer.” 

A structured onboarding signals to candidates that the company is willing to invest in them. And that can help them make their decision more quickly. “When you decide to move to a new job there's a lot of unknowns, so companies want to help that person eliminate the unknowns,” says  Filipkowski. “When you have a structured, formal onboarding process, you do that for them, and it helps them make a quicker and faster decision to join your company.”. 

Poor onboarding can have the opposite effect. “Poor onboarding experiences during even the pre-employment period can lead an employee to potentially decide to not come onboard,” Lulla says. Too much focus on paperwork or a lack of connection at key touch-points during the pre-employment period can cause new hires to rethink their decision, he says.  

“If the onboarding process isn't what an employee feels comfortable with, there is an opportunity for that employee to be wooed away by someone else or start to regret their decision,” he says.

Think Beyond Day 1

“People think of onboarding in terms of first-day orientation where you're watching a few videos or going out to lunch,” Filipkowski says. But a successful onboarding program that attracts talent and keeps new employees engaged must go well beyond the initial start date. Structured programs planned over a 90 day (or longer) period provide employees the support and resources they need to be successful in the long run, she says. 

Lulla advises that companies focus on setting expectations for the person’s performance that go beyond their initial start date. “Talk about what that person's aspirations are, what they're excited about in their new role, and then discuss  what training and development needs they have to make those goals happen,” he says. 

Helping the new hire understand the onboarding process and what it entails is also important. “Be explicit about the onboarding program,” Filipkowski says. “A good onboarding program is a learning experience. You're learning as a new hire what it takes to be successful in this role.” 

Companies can create milestones for their onboarding process that makes clear what the expectations are for the employee at 30 days, 90 days and even 6 months out, she says. 

Make It Personal

Onboarding employees successfully is about individualizing the experience and creating opportunities for the employee to develop connections within the organization. Lulla says, “The big mistake some organizations make when it comes to the onboarding experience is that they allow things like paperwork and policies to get emphasized over creating personal connections.”

Face-time with companies leaders, mentor programs and job shadowing can all provide new hires a chance to build relationships and develop an understanding of company culture. 

Companies should also make sure to check back in with new hires to evaluate their onboarding experience. “That person made a big decision to join your company,” Lulla says. “Don’t just forget about them.”

An HR person or hiring manager should take the opportunity to see how things are going for them, Lulla says. A formal survey can be particularly helpful by giving them the chance to rate their onboarding experience and indicate any problems or needs they have.