Opportunities for PR in new staff recruitment
I once started a new contract position with an engineering company employing 2,000 people, and as a new arrival I looked with great interest at the recruitment process. It was terrible – communication with me as a new recruit should have been much better – before and after joining them. This experience reinforced to me the importance of internal communication.
My experience over the years is that around 60% of public relations work is internal. Communication during recruitment should be an important part of this process, especially now there is a looming shortage of qualified staff. The ‘baby boomers’ are starting to move into retirement and it can be difficult to meet the growing need for good staff.
Create a strong employer brand
Therefore it is vital to create an authentic ‘employer brand’ to recruit the best people. And it is vital to impress these people in the period between their acceptance of the employment offer and actually starting. This interim period is a time when the recruit may get cold feet; they may be persuaded by their current employer not to leave or they may receive a competing offer from another employer.
Wouldn’t it be logical to communicate with your new recruits even before they start, to demonstrate by your actions that you value them? Yet most employers do nothing. My new employer did nothing to make me feel special. They should have a skilful process leading to the new job.
Isn’t this an HR role? Well, yes, it is…but there is a powerful communication component. If the HR people are asleep, you can take the initiative and earn the respect of senior management by driving a project to increase the chances of recruits starting their new job. (But first you should seek to make it a joint initiative with the HR manager, or you may make a needless enemy there.)
Early notification pays off
Astute employers realize that notifying the successful candidate of their appointment is far from the end of the recruitment process. In the post-acceptance, pre-start period, a good candidate may get ‘cold feet’, particularly if they receive a counter-offer from their current employer or even from another organization. A thoughtful program of activity will generate goodwill from potential starters and will minimize the possibility of their changing their minds about taking on the new position. This program can be conducted at virtually no cost.
Firstly, the new employer normally telephones the successful job candidate with the good news. An important action is to follow up the verbal notification promptly with the official letter of appointment. It is surprising how long it takes some organizations, especially in government, to send the official notification. This is a small act, but important psychologically because a long delay implies the organization doesn’t seem care enough about the successful candidate to attend to the follow-up. The candidate may well be prudently waiting for the official notification before they resign from their current job, so a delayed notification is a significant nuisance. Accordingly, to make a person feel important it is a small, but vital step to deal promptly with the paperwork, even sending the official letter by registered post or by courier to make it seem more important. It is, of course, hugely important to the recipient, a move that changes the course of their life. This action has a major communication component. You can involved by asking to review the text of the letter.
Other information should also be sent with the letter, such as an annual report, corporate brochures, perhaps some explanatory reports about the recruit’s forthcoming area of responsibility, copies of recent articles about the organization and a corporate videotape, DVD or CD-ROM presentation if there is a current version. Perhaps they should be given entrée to the firm’s intranet or employee portal as well. In this way the appointee can show the information to their family and friends and start to get used to the idea of working at the new organization.
Involve other internal stakeholders in the welcome process
An internal email should be circulated to those people who were involved in the recruitment and interviewing process, to those who will be involved in the induction, orientation and training of the new appointee; and, of course, the new appointee’s boss. The email should confirm the appointment and provide some background information on the appointee to enable them to make small talk with the appointee before and after arrival. Also, a notification of the appointment should be promptly emailed to all staff when the newcomer takes up their position. Depending on the environment in your organization, this can be handled by HR, or by HR and PR jointly. Certainly you can write the text.
Thoughtfulness is a real plus
During the interval before the appointee arrives, send a low-cost welcome package to the appointee’s home, containing a tasteful assortment of giveaways such as a company t-shirt, ballpoint pen, notebook, more publicity material etc. The total cost of all the items would be minor, but would create a lasting impression of thoughtfulness and respect, something very important to employees. In addition, the employer can arrange for a couple of team members of the new starter to telephone to chat about a few workplace things in advance so the recruit starts to feel like one of the team.
This is further reinforced for senior appointments when a suitable manager arranges lunch with the appointee before their start date and takes along some notes and perhaps a broad schedule of the newcomer’s program for the first few weeks. They would also ask the newcomer for any questions to encourage the build-up of warm feelings about their job and their new colleagues.
And what would be the reaction of a new employee when they arrive on the first day of their job to find their name already printed on a nameplate in their office or work area? This can be rounded off with a welcoming morning tea for them with their staff and new colleagues. You can easily organize this.
Finally, someone can be appointed to help the new recruit to settle in to their job, a process of ‘onboarding’. It is commonly thought that around 60% of new executives fail in their first 18 months, so it is worthwhile to help a new person overcome any perceived obstacles at the start of their job. A mentor can advise them on many aspects of the organizational culture, internal politics and executive personalities, and perhaps they may say a word in the right place to ease the way.
PR can play an integral role in recruitment
Public relations staff should play a significant role in the various parts of the process and should monitor the actions of the other staff involved in the process because the staff actions are a powerful influence on perceptions and therefore upon the employer brand.
This active process depends on good HR and PR staff – no stuff ups! Although this type of program involves extra work, employers who have gone the ‘extra mile’ have found minimal numbers of appointees accepting counter-offers from elsewhere, and they also believe lower staff turnover has resulted, with significant cost savings. In effect, this becomes an employee retention strategy.
More orientation ideas with a communication component:
- Give the recruit access to relevant aspects of your organization’s orientation process before their first day to they can learn about the organization and its benefits at their own pace.
- Arrange a telephone call or email from the CEO, chief operating officer or general manager to welcome the new arrival on their first day.
- Take a team photograph with a digital camera on the person’s first day and have it signed by all the team members.
- Provide them with a glossary of their employer’s frequently used acronyms, which will help them acclimatize faster.
- Give them a Frequently Asked Questions sheet for newcomers.
- Give them ‘Silly Questions’ currency. They can give it to people any time they have a question they feel is silly or dumb. This helps ease the fear of asking questions. The person who receives the currency provides it to HR or PR to be in the draw for a reward. This encourages existing employees to take time to answer the questions, and it rewards them for their efforts.
Results are easily measurable. Assuming there are no other major changes in the industry environment or with external perceptions of the employer, you can simply measure the proportion of recruits who actually start work compared with those who drop out of the process before start day – and compare with past proportions.
By taking this kind of initiative, which is slightly outside the traditional PR role, you will impress senior management. They will see you adding value to the organization. This makes you stand out as a valuable contributor. (But keep HR onside with you along the way.)