Starting off New Hires to Maximize Success

In my past two columns, I wrote about how to attract and interview top performers. In this column, we’ll look at welcoming the new employee to your team.

You’ve concluded the interviews and now it’s time to check out the promising prospects. While lies and exaggerations on resumes are increasingly common, it has become easier than ever for an employer to discover the truth, either by hiring a specific outside firm to check the candidate’s background and confirm information, or by doing some legwork. A visit to Google or other Internet search sites can yield a wealth of facts on an individual in minutes. Plus, you can use various specialized tests to generate still other information.

Check References

It’s critical to check on an applicant’s references before offering a job. This can be a bit tricky because of the laws that only allow minimal information to be conveyed about a former employee.

Start by getting the candidate’s permission to contact his previous employer. You can fax, call or send a letter requesting information. I like the telephone call best. First, you want to verify the basic information – employment dates, job title, compensation and work performed. Next, ask specific questions about his/her attitude and level of performance. Finally, ask if they would rehire this employee, listen to the answer and ask for an explanation.

If you can get names of former supervisors or co-workers, check references with these folks as well. It has become fairly common to do criminal checks on potential employees – especially since technology has made this easier and less expensive to do. You might also do credit checks and personality checks. I know several companies that utilize personality testing on all sales and management candidates. One test you might check out is at It’s done online and you get results in minutes.

As a final check, you might develop job simulations where you ask the candidate to perform tasks in actual work situations, i.e. a candidate for a design/sales position might do a design on your CAD system, or do some actual selling role playing, qualifying a prospect, for instance, or selling features and benefits of products.

The Final Decision

The candidate’s experience, qualifications, how the references check out, the salary requirements, the results of the personality testing and notes from those who interviewed the candidate will all weigh into the final decision. You should have a strong sense that this is the person for you. Making the right decision the first time will save you both time and money.
Once you’ve narrowed down your decision to one person, it’s time to make the offer and welcome the new person to your team.

Put your offer in writing. This shouldn’t be a contract, but simply a letter of understanding. In this, you will spell out issues of salary, commissions, bonuses, benefits, review time frames and all other perks and commitments. By having all of the pertinent information in writing, you will eliminate any misunderstandings. Both you and the candidate should sign off on this.
In “Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive,” Harvey B. MacKay states, “As an acid test of hiring, ask yourself how you would feel having this candidate working for your competition instead of you.”

As small business owners, you may feel you can’t compete with the large companies when trying to hire new people. I personally believe small companies offer a number of attractive benefits. These include:

  • The opportunity to be more “hands on.”
  • The need to wear multiple hats, which results in wider experiences and enhanced skills.
  • The chance to be part of a “family” culture/environment.
  • More chances for recognition.
  • The opportunity to be a “big fish in a small pond” – leading to quicker promotions and more money.
  • A stronger sense of ownership.
  • Positions that better utilize an employee’s aptitude/interests.
  • More flexibility in schedules.
  • A stronger sense of ownership.

Once you’ve reached a hiring decision, make the offer as quickly as possible so that the candidate doesn’t slip away. Ideally, you should do this face to face. This allows you to review all aspects of the job expectations, the compensation agreement, perks, etc. Plus, it allows the candidate to ask questions, if needed. While making the offer, you should express your excitement that they will be joining the company.

If you have built in a probationary period for new employees, this should be spelled out in the letter of understanding.

If the candidate is reluctant to accept your offer, find out why and try to reach some accord. But, don’t put yourself in the position of doing a lot of renegotiating. Candidates should be excited about coming to work for you. If they aren’t, you should probably look elsewhere.

A Good Start

Getting an employee established in a new job may take some time and effort on your part, but it’s time well spent. A new worker who feels comfortable and welcome will be motivated and productive.

You should have a written, formal orientation and training program. This would cover day one and probably the first six months on a new job. When new employees start, you should have their work station all set up for them. You should take them around and introduce them to the entire team, and explain the work schedule (start, lunch, end of day, etc.).

During this initial orientation, make sure employees are introduced to all company policies and procedures. Give them written copies, and have them sign off on them. This should eliminate future misunderstandings, and provide some legal protection, too.

Be sure to go over the company’s safety programs – including regulations pertaining to OSHA, fire escape routes and what to expect during bad weather. You might assign another employee to help the new hire learn the ropes.

The Performance Evaluation process starts almost immediately. You should have explained your first week, first month and first 180 day expectations to the new employee. You will have gone over the job description, explaining exactly what will be expected, and should follow up with regular performance evaluations.

With skilled workers in such short supply, and given the high cost of hiring and training new employees, you have an obligation to spend all the time, energy and money possible to get new employees off to a good start. By providing frequent on-the-job feedback, you not only build a stronger relationship with employees, you also help them grow in their job.

When It Doesn't Work

Sometimes you can do everything right in the hiring process and still end up with someone who isn’t a good fit for the job. When this happens, it’s best to end the relationship as quickly as possible. Remember, your organization will only be as strong as your weakest employee. You, the boss, have a never-ending obligation to continually mentor, coach and train each and every employee.