Onboarding – A Critical Aspect of the Recruitment Process – A Discussion with Micheál Coughlan, Managing Partner of InterSearch Ireland
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Onboarding is a process that ensures the smooth transition and integration of an employee into a new role, organisation, and culture. Efficient onboarding does this quickly and painlessly for all stakeholders. This process does not commence at the offer stage, onboarding must start at the onset of the recruitment process. Where there has been an identification of a gap in manpower, the onboarding process should begin.
As an Executive Search firm, what role does Onboarding play in the recruitment of senior executives?
Micheál: “Onboarding is a vital aspect of the recruitment process not only for senior executives but really across all levels of recruitment. The purpose is primarily to develop and implement employee engagement even before they commence their employment with the new organisation. When a company seeks to bring in a new person for a leadership role, this process becomes much more important, you want an executive who believes in your organisation, is confident that s/he is making the right decision to move from current company to yours and that you welcome the opportunity to explore the vast experience that they bring with them in furtherance of your organisational goals.
At InterSearch Ireland, Onboarding is a vital part of the candidate experience. Our processes are geared towards ensuring that the candidate understands the role that is under consideration, the responsibilities, and requirements but most significantly, the organisation that we are presenting. As an executive search firm, we are not only looking to place leaders with our clients, but we understand the unique positions of our clients in their respective industries. Companies are competing for leaders and professionals in the same talent pool and it is important that we know what makes our clients the preferred choice for a prospective employee. Therefore, for us, onboarding begins before winning an assignment; we research the client organisation and industry to get an insight into what makes them different and how this will translate into a compelling factor for candidates to explore and indicate interest in opportunities within the company.”
Would you then say that the Executive Search firm, although has no input in client strategic plans, product or services, but in searching for the right leader, has to present the client attributes to prospective candidates?
Micheál: “I would not go as far as saying that we are advertisers on behalf of our clients, however, in collaboration with clients, we are able to understand their plans and where they expect prospective leaders to fit in and possibly how they are able to work towards the achievement of existing objectives or develop and implement new strategies. So, we do need a clear understanding of what the client is looking to achieve; short, medium- and long-term plans and what they aim to achieve within the industry.
This is key in our research and targeting of prospective candidates. Remember that these candidates are experienced leaders and they understand the industry, the gaps in processes, product and services in the market. They can identify aspects of a company’s strategy that meets their own personal and professional aspirations. This is really what we aim for at the initial stage of an assignment; to understand our client’s position, their goals and the roadmap that they have set to achieve set goals.”
How will you describe the relationship between the Client and InterSearch Ireland with regards to the onboarding process?
Micheál: “Based on our values and processes, our approach is one of collaboration. To do this, we maintain a proactive communication loop with the client. This ensures that all stakeholders are aware of the process, actions, and feedback. With clarity, open and frequency of feedback, the client is involved in the onboarding process because they do have the opportunity to direct the narrative especially in giving the candidate a first-hand impression of their organisation.
Another area of collaboration is in our analytical reporting. We assess and evaluate role requirements based on market trends. Factors such as salary and benefits, location/relocation, candidate’s unique circumstances- relocating family, schools, job opportunity for a spouse among others will determine a candidate’s willingness to move. Our relationship with the client organisation through HR or the hiring manager ensures that they have a clear understanding of the talent pool available to them. The client is also able to objectively asses the challenges that they face in attracting the desirable leader and sometimes, they work out arrangements to accommodate candidates’ concerns.
It is important to note that candidates are assessing the client based on their experience during the recruitment process. A long and extended process may be translated as an organisation that has a long and cumbersome decision-making culture. In my experience, responsiveness builds confidence and trust. At InterSearch Ireland, we have a good understanding of the client’s organisation and their expectations. This relationship ensures a great level of responsiveness from the hiring manager which in turn translates into candidate experience.”
How do you ensure that we get the Hiring Manager engaged in this process from our end? Since we have been retained, we are responsible for identifying and presenting candidates to our client. What is the role of the hiring manager at this stage?
Micheál: “As a retained search firm, we consider ourselves as partners with our clients. We are actively involved in the journey of finding the right leadership fit. We cannot do this by excluding the clients’ representatives. Communication and our interaction with the hiring manager help in creating clarity on both ends and feedback ensures that all stakeholders are in the loop at all times. Clients have been known to change certain requirements in the process of ongoing searches, identified new areas of opportunities and even expanded the scope of roles by either creating new ones or increasing teams based on feedback from ourselves. We can get factual data from candidates and this, in turn, helps clients to benchmark their activities against their competitors.
For instance, if a candidate is at the offer stage and is counter-offered by the current employer, it is my experience that the recruitment process plays a vital part in his/her decision to reject the new offer. Candidate experience is key in this instance. If a candidate has been involved in the process up to the offer stage, it is an indication that they are looking at career progression, personal/family time, new challenges and so on. If these are possible with our client and the process has been well managed by ourselves and an engaged and responsive client, it is more than likely that the candidate will move on.
The hiring manager is in most cases the candidate’s first experience with the client organisation. If there is rapport built up, transparency in the process and crucially updates provided on the process, the candidate has an opportunity to assess the people within the company that s/he is looking to move to.
The Client HR department will take responsibility once the candidate commences employment, this is an internal process that we have no control of, however through our collaboration and interaction with HR and hiring managers, we can help candidates take the first step into a new opportunity.”
You talked about counteroffers from current employers; how do you manage that?
Micheál: “In most cases, counteroffers are to be expected. If we value candidates enough that they are sought after by our clients, it goes without saying that current employers will endeavour to retain them.
Normally, once an offer has been made, I consider this a critical period in the recruitment process and onboarding has to be intensified at this stage, in collaboration with the client. It is important to prepare the candidate psychologically for the possibility of a counteroffer. Some candidates do not expect or consider counter-offers at this stage and when it is presented to them, it becomes a dilemma.
There are mostly two types of candidates that we deal with at this stage, the first has made a conscious and definite decision to leave a current organisation. The key here is to ensure that they are confident that they are moving into the right organisation. The second type of candidate is looking for new challenges and will leave for the right opportunity within or outside of the current employer. Here, a current employer might seek to present a counteroffer if they sense some ambivalence in the candidate.
Sometimes we use role-plays to prepare candidates on handing in their notice and how to be clear in communicating the decision to leave to current employer. The role of the consultant is critical at this stage. S/he has to support the candidate because this can be a very emotionally challenging time.
The notice period is a delicate time and must be effectively managed by the hiring manager. It is important to keep the incoming employee in the loop at all times, there MUST be an open line of communication between the new employer and the employee. Reaching out frequently with credible subjects and possibly by different people in the organisation is one way to keep the new employee engaged. Providing relevant information on the role in preparation for commencement, an invitation to company events, launches and dinner are some of the actions that can be used to ease the employee into his/her new role. Therefore, keeping the offeree engaged is vital at this stage.”
How will you know that a placement has been successfully on-boarded in your client company?
Micheál: “Onboarding is a fact for all organisations, but it is also unique to prevailing circumstances; culture, strategy, organisational structure, and environment. It can be assessed around the process and ease of carrying out one’s responsibilities in a new company.
It may be the case that a new employee can effectively carry out the technical requirements of the role, but does not have the personality fit for the organisation. Behavioural competencies are key at the leadership level and this is oftentimes the area of greatest challenge for the new leader and the team. Personality and culture fit are important.
The size of the organisation will also determine the onboarding process after the commencement of employment. The bigger the company the more likely that this might be a lengthy process.
After commencement, we continue to engage with the hiring manager and the new employee to assess how the relationship is progressing. This allows us to evaluate the fit and areas of concern if any. I believe that if the onboarding is not progressing as should, either side can determine this within the guarantee/probationary period. After this period, there is a good indication that onboarding is progressing well.”