How often has it happened that you go through the pains of selecting the best fitting candidate for the role you have in your Company, offering them the best salary you can afford, and yet they do not turn up on the joining date? How often has it happened that you have gone through the painstakingly long and challenging interview process, got the offer that met your expectation, but still continued to interview with other companies, mainly because you were not convinced you had found the best job yet!
It would not be a wrong guess that many have been on both sides of this issue and can understand the situation from both perspectives. Yet there are discussions on this point where people recommend legal recourse, financial fines, and blocklisting, and few even drop to the depth of threatening the candidates. (I’m not going to link any instances. Just search on LinkedIn, and you’ll find what I am referring to.)
I have been using an alternative approach with outstanding success; in fact, so much success that it feels like a fluke! When the same approach was applied company-wide to all departments, we saw the success vary. When we investigated further, we found that the commitment to the approach had also varied. Still, there was a definite correlation between the high joining rate and commitment to the approach we called Candidate Engagement Plan. We saw nearly 100% success; essentially, in my team, everyone we offered a job to and accepted the offer joined, even during the Great Resignation period in India! I would attribute this to a combination of the interview experience and the engagement plan, not the engagement plan alone. You can find my approach to interviews in a previous blog post.
The Engagement Plan
The simple observation is that our feelings dull over time, our memories fade, and candidates have a long notice period! If we find a way to ensure that the beautiful experience the candidate had in the interview is always on their minds, if we show them that we are invested in their success with our Company, if we tell them that we are excited for them to join, the candidates, as evidenced, do join! This needs to be a genuine effort; people see through many companies’ mechanical, emotionless welcome emails.
The hiring manager’s job does not end with the candidate accepting the offer. After playing the role of an evangelizer in the interview process, the hiring manager needs to continue being invested in the role, the person taking up the role, and the problem you would solve together. Please don’t take me wrong; most good managers are, but we also need to show it to the candidate!
I believe this is probably the most crucial piece of the Engagement Plan. This email must go out the day or the day after the candidate accepts the offer. The objective is simple, open a direct, informal, personal communication channel with someone the candidate has met during the interview, usually the hiring manager. If not the hiring manager, this person should be someone on the team rather than an HR.
The text of the email can be something like:
Hi <Candidate>, I am glad you decided to join us! While our people team handles the joining formalities, consider this as an open channel for you to connect with me and ask questions. Here is my contact number, feel free to reach out to me: <mobile number>. I have some time in the morning on <a couple of days from today>. Let me know if we can chat then. Based on our discussions during the interview process, we have charted a study plan for you. We will be sending it across and also helping you navigate it. By the time you join, we will: 1. have shipped you a gift from us. 2. have shipped you your work machine. 3. created an onboarding plan for you for when you join. Hope to see you soon. Welcome aboard!
The gift does not have to be a big deal, just a token, something that can be easily shipped; not very costly but shows that you care. I always shipped a copy of “Clean Code by Bob Martin .”I would ship a different book for those who I suspected already owned a copy.
As for the onboarding plan, all teams need one anyway. You need an onboarding plan, a training plan, and a 30-60-90-day plan template for your team.
Most candidates ask for interview feedback. We analyze the perceived strengths and weaknesses of the candidates after the interview anyway. We have some understanding of which areas the candidate needs to grow in. Create a list of easily available good-quality materials to help strengthen the common areas you need at work. Creating such a list should take less than a day, and it is a one-time activity.
This one email, in my view, has the biggest impact. I almost always got calls back. But most importantly, this conveyed to all candidates that this Company, this team is invested in their success! They are not only sending a warm welcome and creating a personal connection but are also investing in their progress, even before joining! In case when I did not get a call, I called the candidate at the suggested time and opened the channel. Also, it does not matter if you don’t send a gift or don’t have an onboarding plan ready. You can replace these points with something you already do. The point is to show the candidate a future and give them something to look forward to!
On the call, we ended up discussing a whole lot of things; it almost always started with some question about the Company, the culture, how long I have been here and some stories, how we coped with covid and evolved into discussions about our personal interests, hobbies, movies and what not. By the end of the call, which usually lasted 45 minutes, we both felt we were buddies! This call happens in a completely informal setting, on a personal number, and helps build the best personal connection.
Follow-up Mail (Week 2)
After about a week from the call, this second mail should go out. Prepare a document with frequently asked questions about the Company, something about your practices and team and whatnot, something you would discuss on every candidate call anyway. Send that file with this email. Let the candidate know that you have captured all the points discussed and more in that document and are sending it for their reference.
Make it personal! You have had a chat with the candidate, maybe they were in the middle of shifting their house, or they told you about their dance class and asked you to call back. It’s important to maintain that personal human connection; ask them about it!
It can look something like:
Hi <Candidate>, This is a follow-up to the discussion we had the other day. Here are all the things we talked about as a single document so you can refer to it, PFA. And you are yet to send me the email Id you would use for Kindle. Once you send it, I'll send you your gift! Feel free to reach out to me in case you have any other questions.
This mail needs to go out even if you cannot get on a call with the candidate; you can always say so in the mail!
Hi <Candidate>, How are you doing? We didn't get a chance to discuss what it is like to work with <Company>, the setup you may need, and any other concerns/questions you might have. Nevertheless, I thought I should write a brief about the questions I think you might have and send them across. PFA. Meanwhile, could you please tell me the email Id you use for Kindle? If you can send me the email ID you prefer, I can send you your welcome gift. This gift I referred to in a previous email is an e-book I believe everyone should read; a book called "Clean Code." :) Feel free to reach out to me in case you have any other questions.
This keeps the conversation going. I usually got a response thanking me for the notes and occasionally a follow-up question.
The Gift (Week 3)
Ship the gift, and don’t forget to add a nice personal message on behalf of the Company. For the clean code e-book, I always used something like:
Here is a welcome gift from <Company>. Clean Code is a set of simple principles bordering on common sense that help us write scalable and maintainable code. We hope you enjoy it! From: <Company>
Occasionally, I also got a thank you note in return.
Interview Feedback (Week 4)
Everyone wants to know how they did in their interview, with no exceptions. Even when it is implied by the offer in their hands that they did not do badly in the interview, they want to know that. By now, you have established enough rapport to share the feedback with the candidate. So send it across. Be mindful that this is your perception in the 2-3 hours you have spent with the candidate and may not be the absolute truth. Convey to the candidate what areas you think they are weak in and why these matter on the job.
Many candidates ask about the interview feedback during the interview process. I prefer to tell them that we will not only share the feedback but also help share study material and help them work on the weaker areas.
The mail can look like this:
I hope you have received an email from Kindle/Amazon. You can use the code/link to add the book to your e-book library. Happy reading! As for the recommendations, PFB the list of books/videos we think you should go through; this list is based on our interview discussions and what we are planning for you when you join. We would suggest you get acquainted with: <list goes here> <Optionally: These here are listed in the order we think is suitable for you. The first 3 books give you an overview, and then the next 3 books will give you depth. I have a larger list if you are so inclined!>
Follow-up Mails (Week 5-7)
Depending on the response to the last mail, follow up a week later, enquiring about their progress. Ask what they started with if they have any doubts about the content. Help clarify those doubts.
Getting Set Up (Week 8)
As they near the joining date, you will send them a machine. This can go many ways; if it’s a new machine you would be procuring, ask for their preference. If you have set a standard laptop for all, just send it.
If the joining is planned physically at an office, skip the rest of this section. If the joining is remote, try to get the laptop delivered about 2-5 days in advance. Once you have confirmation that the machine was delivered, this next mail should go out detailing how to get their machine set up. In advance, create a document with common tools, libraries, and software you need to be installed on their machine. May it be IDEs, DB access tools, API testing tools, Operating Systems (Oh yeah, some of my nerdy folks preferred a blank laptop and installed their own Linux flavor of choice.), docker, language toolkits, and whatnot. Let the candidate know what they need on their machine.
The intention is not to get the candidate to work before joining, but like most other things on the plan, the intention is to keep the excitement high. Clarify that in the email:
Hey <Candidate>, Now that you have received the laptop, PFA a doc describing what you'll need to set up on it. You are not required to have it installed before you join; we'll help you set up the machine once you join.
Despite this, I found many people with a ready-to-use machine on the date of joining.
We cannot force people into alignment, and that is definitely not the idea behind this plan anyway. Candidates motivated purely by compensation or, say, a brand name can and will always leave for a better brand name or comp. This plan cannot stop them from doing so. But with this approach, you can sense that inclination sooner. You’ll sense the flags raised in the various conversations you are having with the candidate. That should help you make a decision. In one case, during the early days after adopting this place, a candidate assured that they would join, did join, but still continued to interview for one of their dream companies. Two weeks after joining, they brought up this offer from their dream company, and I decided to let them go.
I have had great success with this approach, as I mentioned at the beginning of the article. But it all comes down to how the plan is executed. One can automate these emails, bulk send them, and format them to look like a fancy newsletter, but know that you will be stepping away from the personal connection that this is based on. There is no alternative to genuine human connection and care.
Note: The dates described in the article assume the candidate has a 2-month notice period. You can adjust the timeline depending on the notice period of the candidate.