Pandora’s Box: The Post-Hire Follow-up Call

The message of the tale of Pandora and her fateful curiosity is to be sure you really want to know what you seek to learn ó before you act. Or more to the point, be sure to know in advance what you plan to do with the knowledge before you commit to getting it. Because as Pandora found out too late, once you open the box, you are no longer in total control. Today’s topic? Post-hire follow-up calls: the Pandora’s box of HR/staffing. It is almost taught as a religion in the third-party recruiting world that you must make sure you follow up after a hire with both the “new employee” and the “satisfied customer,” preferably within the first two to three weeks of the new hire’s first day on the job. The more astute corporate recruiters are learning this lesson as well. As the ever eloquent Yogi Bera once said, “It ain’t ovah ’til its ovah.” In case nobody every told you, in the HR/staffing world, whether you are a third party or internal recruiter, “IT AIN’T NEVER OVAH!” (Yogi was not from Boston, but he tended to use the Boston trait of pronouncing “er” as “ah” as if we were educated to speak the King’s English properly all along.) The reasons to make these calls are obvious, but worth noting one more time. In terms of the new employee, post-hire follow-up calls are important:

  • To make sure you are not surprised by a sudden change of heart or desertion
  • To cement your relationship as a resource for information and candidates from the company the new employee has left
  • To develop further intelligence about the company the employee now works at (your client) for future business
  • To create the right atmosphere to ask information regarding future needs on your part
  • To plant the ever-popular “call me first if you have any issues” suggestion to preclude unfortunate misspoken words
  • To remind the new employee that the first few weeks can be both exciting and frustrating, and to remind them why this looked like such a great opportunity and to keep their eye on the prize.

In terms of the satisfied client, post-hire follow-up calls are important because:

  • There’s no better time to remind your client who got the job done for them.
  • They’re a good opportunity to assure them it was their decision to hire this person and remind them of the positive comments they made about the candidate during the closing phase.
  • They’re a good opportunity to remind the hiring manager of any “understood” promises made (not in the offer letter) to insure they have not been forgotten.
  • There’s no better time to look for additional business.
  • There’s no better time to ask for that face-to-face appointment if you have never done so.
  • There’s no better time to get industry information and other market intelligence from a self-congratulatory conversation.
  • They’re a good time to discreetly and carefully discuss issues or procedural problems to make future transactions move more smoothly. (Be real careful on this point. If you are unsure of the thickness of the ice beneath your feet, go back to shore and try another time.)

If you are a third party who worked directly with the hiring manager and “skipped” the HR/staffing department, post-hire follow-up calls are important because:

  • They’re a good time to mend any broken fences caused by your working directly with the hiring manager.
  • Your success, like it or not, was supported by the internal efforts (offer authorization, post offer, pre-start follow-up) of HR/staffing. Thank them and offer a lunch meeting.
  • They’re a good time to try and build a better working relationship for more direct contact with HR/staffing regarding hiring plans. You may have an “in” with one hiring manager, but HR/staffing works with the other 25.
  • They’re a good time to review hire conditions to ensure they are followed up on in a timely manner, especially since hiring managers are not always good on follow up.
  • As a rule of thumb, third-party recruiters with good working relations with internal HR/Staffing folks rarely have issues with “delayed checks.”
  • A good recruiter never avoids a chance to talk to a person of influence and make them a friend. You may notice that in today’s economy, a lot of arrogant “you need me” third-party recruiters from the mid to late 1990s are selling hamburgers and fries.

All the above make good sense. So let’s peek into a few different “open boxes” for some examples of a good idea gone awry: Ring… Ring… New employee: New guy. Can I help you? Ricky Recruiter: Yeah, new guy, it’s Ricky Recruiter here, the guy who got you your new job. How is it going buddy? New employee: Thank God you called. Get me out of here! Ricky Recruiter: Ah, ah, now wait a minute. You’ve only been there two weeks. It can’t be… New employee: You told me that if I didn’t like it here, you would personally make it a priority to find me a new job! Remember? Ricky Recruiter: Well, yeah, yeah, of course. But, you see…what exactly is going on? New employee: The boss is a jerk, a real jerk. In fact, I told him so this morning. Ricky Recruiter: Whatttt!!! Or: Ring… Ring… Hiring Manger: Hiring manager speaking. Can I help you? Ricky Recruiter: Hey, Ricky Recruiter here. Just calling to see… Hiring Manger: I was just thinking of you pal. Remember how I said I was concerned about the new hire’s sort of “wise guy” manners on the interview and you said it was just nervousness? That he was a real class act with you? Ricky Recruiter: Well yeah, I remember… Hiring Manger: Well, the team hates him, he’s a total jerk, and when I tried to tell him to work harder to fit in he told me to look up the freedom of speech clause in the Bill of Rights! Ricky Recruiter: You know, maybe he just thought ó Hiring Manger: I am reading the guarantee clause of our agreement as we speak. He’s only been here three weeks… Like the eternal concept of the layers of an onion, the follow-up call is a good idea if:

  • You put preliminary effort into the process weeks before you made the call.
  • You know in advance what you will or will not do with the knowledge gained.
  • You already have your answers prepared for the range of potential “damage control” situations that may arise.
  • Preliminary contingency plans have been developed and discussed in advance to ensure they are more readily accepted in the heat of the moment.

This concern for preparation is not because all follow-up calls go bad, but because when they do, they tend to go very bad. With fees, reputations, future business, and a person’s future career on the line, to be unprepared is to be unprofessional. In case you have never read one of my tirades before, let me explain that if you are a recruiter, you are first and foremost a sales professional, and sales professionals never improvise. Sales professionals need to control situations to be effective and useful, and control never comes from a sentence that begins, “Er, ah… I mean…” The follow-up call to new hires is not a separate event, but is in effect part of a long-term sales or retention plan that begins when the candidate accepts an offer and transitions from the “candidate” into the “new employee” phase of your recruiter/sales relationship. Your goal for retention may be to protect a fee or to protect a company’s human capital investment, but either way the steps are the same. When a candidate accepts an offer, he or she usually has the closest bonding with both the new hiring manager and the recruiter, regardless of their title or position within or without the company. If your process does not in effect bond the candidate to at least these two individuals, then you have bigger issues to concern yourself with before you worry about the post-hire follow-up call. You have a fatally flawed hiring process. So, for the purpose of today, let us assume that is not the case. Shortly after the offer has been accepted and before the new candidate actually starts, he or she should be contacted by the recruiter involved and the following points should be covered:

  • Remind the candidate of the position, its duties, and the reporting chain of command. Do not allow his or her euphoria to create a “fantasy” that will not be satisfied.
  • Remind the candidate of the elements of the position that match their original, new opportunity, reality-based wish list. If you do not have a reality-based wish list you have another issue to deal with in your process (and I have another article).
  • Remind the candidate that the first 90 days can be both fun and frustrating. The candidate should make no statements nor act in a manner that cannot be unsaid or undone upon reflection.
  • Remind the candidate that you are both in this together, and that you should be contacted to discuss any qualms or concerns BEFORE they are acted on or acted out.
  • Remind the candidate you cannot fix all problems or cure all ills, but that you are the voice of experience, and if nothing else an impartial sounding board.
  • Remind the candidate you have a pre-existing relationship with the hiring manager and can therefore at least offer alternative insight, if not actual solutions.
  • Remind the candidate that you are an ambassador, not a member of congress. Therefore you need their advance input and advance notice of issues to be effective in assisting them to seek solutions to problems.

All too often, a well-meaning internal or external recruiter sells him or herself to the candidate as an “all knowing and all powerful” Wizard of Oz ó only to be revealed in a crisis as a well-meaning but relatively powerless carnival act behind the curtain. Set the correct expectation. A similar call needs to be made to the hiring manager. After all, the hiring manager needs to know that even though they see themselves as the new hire’s boss, there still will be a recruiter’s nose under the tent:

  • Your advance call ensures no hurt feelings if you need to call them about a new hire issue you uncover due to territorialism on their part. There’s nothing worse than helping someone who does not wants your help.
  • Your call ensures that your role is not misconstrued as “spy.” Even if you are spying, being uncovered as such sort of defeats the whole purpose.
  • Your call allows the manager to know they can use you as a discreet “sounding board” for any potential issues where they do not want to be the initiator.
  • Your call advertises yet another service your “client” can expect from you, and therefore an added value to your fee or line-item budget cost. An unadvertised service is a wasted effort.
  • Your call creates yet another bond between you and your “partner in crime.”
  • Do not assume that you do not need to remind the hiring manager of why they hired this person and what they hired this person to do. Managers are just as likely to suffer from euphoria or absentmindedness as a candidate.
  • Do not assume that you do not need to remind the hiring manager of the potential frustrations that can occur with a new hire, especially during the first 90 days. They too should not say something that cannot be unsaid or do something that cannot be undone. Again, offer yourself as an “insightful” partner with alternative knowledge and history with the new hire.

I have always hated the expression “disinterested party,” since it appears to indicate a person who could care less about an outcome. But hopefully the disinterested party is one who is considered a valued ally with a knowledge of the situation and its interacting components, one who also appears to have no bias and can therefore be useful as an intermediary in a problem resolution process. If in your first post-offer-acceptance phone call to the new hire and the hiring manager you succeed in establishing yourself as such, your new-hire follow-up call has hope. Have a great day recruiting!

Ken Gaffey (kengaffey@comcast.net) is currently an employee of CPS Personal Services (www.cps.ca.gov) and has been involved in the Department of Homeland Security, Transportation Security Administration project since its inception. Prior to this National Security project Ken was an independent human resources and staffing consultant with an extensive career of diversified human resources and staffing experience in the high-tech, financial services, manufacturing, and pharmaceutical industries. His past clients include Hewlett Packard, First Data Corporation, Fidelity Investments, Fleet Bank, Rational Software, Ericsson, Astra Pharmaceutical, G&D Engineering, and other national and international industry leaders. In addition to contributing articles and book reviews to publications like ERE, Monster.com, AIRS, HR Today, and the International Recruiters Newsletter, Ken is a speaker at national and international conferences, training seminars, and other staffing industry events. Ken is a Boston native and has lived in the greater Boston area most of his life. Ken attended the University of South Carolina and was an officer in the United States Marine Corps.

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