Onboard or Onward: Ensuring the Success of Your New Executive Hire

“About 40% of executives who change jobs or get promoted fail in the first 18 months.”

Fortune Magazine

Where does it all go wrong? Too often, the onboarding process is where things fall apart. I am not talking about “orientation”, which often is done day one and generally involves the basics of assigning a building pass, conducting a benefits overviews, meeting the team and reading a few policies. Onboarding is a longer process, and if done well (typically in partnership with Human Resources and managed by the new executive’s manager, or the Board Chair if they report to the Board of Directors) can almost guarantee fit. It is holistic and gradual. It is also very deliberate, and will require constant check-ins and open communication.  Here are five key activities that will help to ensure that your new executive will be successful in their new role:

Start to Onboard Before They are Actually ON BOARD!

The time between an offer being accepted and the executive starting is sensitive. They may be dealing with a counteroffer, having to say goodbye to much-loved colleagues, and are nervous about this new venture. Keep in touch. Reiterate your excitement to have them joining the team, and have a few people in the organization reach out. If there are organizational overviews, annual reports, strategic plans or other things that that they can read up on ahead of time, get those to them during this time so that they start to feel like part of the team.

Send an announcement out to the staff and the board a few days before their start date explaining their background and the job they are filling. This will help make them seem more familiar to the team when they come through the door, and as an added benefit they will not have to review their resume and background with absolutely everyone in their first week or so.

Relationship Before Task 

Ideally, new executives will meet with their team and people across the organization. One-on-one meetings are great, but remind those who will be meeting with the executive to get to know them before delving into the inner workings of their role or the issues they face. Building rapport with new colleagues and direct reports is critical in the early days.

Learn By Doing 

Too often, in an effort to get all the information to a new hire as soon as possible, they are introduced to processes way too soon. Guess what? They will not remember how to do an expense report or change their password or complete a sales report 30 to 60 days in when they actually need to do it if they are taught how to do it their first week. Have the right people meet with them at the start to review the process at a high level, and then have them set up a time to do it later when they can sit down with real data and learn from it real-time.

The Buddy System 

What we learned in grade school still applies: the buddy system works when the new kid starts. This should not be the executive’s manager, but a peer or high-performing direct report who has longevity and the personality to be an effective buddy. The buddy can manage the nicety of taking them to lunch on day one and being available to explain the intricacies of culture, relationship dynamics, and certain pitfalls to avoid, which are things that the executive may not be comfortable asking of higher-ups.

Check In Early & Often

I too often hear that executives join, get a ton of attention the first day or two, and then are largely left on their own. It does not feel welcoming, and it runs the risk of them going in a direction that is difficult to course-correct later on. Meet with them daily, even for 10-15 minutes, in the first few weeks. Move on to twice weekly, weekly….you get the point. Let them know where they are doing a great job. Let them know where they need to take a different approach. But LET THEM KNOW. Being clear on what is a success will lead to more success.

While by no means a complete onboarding process, following the steps above will help to ensure that your new executive hire is one of the 60% who will be a success in the first 18 months.

Cindy Joyce is an Executive Recruiter and the Founder of Pillar Search, an Executive Search and HR Consulting firm located in Boston that works with clients nationwide. She can be reached here.

Keep It Clean: Tips for Sprucing Up Your Personal Social Media in the Job Search

When you embark on a job search, you likely will immediately update your resume and spruce up your cover letter template. These are all incredibly important to do, but you may want to go further into your social media. Potential employers may Google you, so go ahead, do a search on yourself and see what comes up. They may do this search prior to interview selection, so you will want to ensure that you are making a good online impression and setting a positive tone.

Privacy, please: Set your Facebook and Instagram to private. Click here for instructions on changing your Facebook settings, and here for instructions on your Instagram settings.

Keep it clean: Make sure that any photos that you have posted or that are posted of you are not in questionable taste. You know which ones I mean. If you would not want your grandmother seeing it, you should not want it out there for potential employers to see. Going forward, when posting photos on Facebook, select the option of photos only being viewable by “Friends”.

Remove any rants: Twitter, by nature, is where you can spout off in 160 characters or less. If you tend to tweet, scroll through and remove anything that could be construed as a negative sound-off, especially if it has to do with your frustrations related to your job, organization, boss or colleagues.

Learn to leverage LinkedIn: LinkedIn is probably the first place that a potential employer will look. Make sure that your LinkedIn profile is impeccable. Here’s how:

  • Start with a polished photo. Ideally, use a professional headshot. If this is not feasible, we all have that friend who takes amazing photos. Ask them to take one.
  • Look professional.  Avoid photos that obviously have cropped someone else out, or where you are wearing your favorite sports team gear. Ladies, I love a strapless dress or spaghetti strap as much as anyone, but in a headshot it will make you look underdressed or, even worse, not dressed at all, and that is not the impression you want to make as a professional.
  • You know where you have worked. Others may not. Take the time to write up a blurb about what each company you have worked at does. It helps the profile to flow better, and tells a more complete story.
  • Similarly, do not just list your job titles. Explain, even briefly, what you did in each job. This is your chance to shine and give a narrative of your work history.
  • List accomplishments, awards, volunteer efforts and anything that will demonstrate how talented and passionate you are. Do not be shy. This is the time to showcase what sets you apart.
  • Ask people for recommendations. It helps build confidence in both your work abilities and your relationship building skills.
  • Network, network, network. Some people are better at networking than others. If you are not one of them, take a deep breath, click on the “People You May Know”, and proactively reach out. Not only do higher numbers look better (as stated earlier, it shows that you are adept at building relationships) but some hiring managers that I have worked with will not even look at candidates with less than 500 contacts.
  • Ask people whose professional opinion you trust to give you feedback on your LinkedIn profile. This could include trusted colleagues, former managers, mentors, or a recruiter that you may be working with. They may see things that need improvement or accomplishments that you would be well-served by highlighting.

Your resume is just one piece of the puzzle. Make sure that your social media fits the brand that you are building or have built professionally to ensure that prospective employers view you in the best light.

Interview Tips: Are We Dressing for Interviews Like it is still the 1980s?

I entered the job market in the early 1990s, when hair was high, shoulders were padded, and hemlines were not to be more than an inch above the knee. There was someone at my first “real” job who actually went around with a ruler to enforce that last rule. At first, dressing up for work was fun. Given that one of my favorite movies from the 1980s had been Baby Boom, starring Diane Keaton as the high-powered New York executive who takes on the city in her skirted suits and sensible heels, I felt like I was channeling her and I was, as a result, all grown up.

Despite our job being in a call center at an investment firm where we never saw a client in person, my colleagues and I were expected to be in professional attire every day. Back then, that meant a suit and tie for the gents and a skirted suit or dress with stockings for the ladies. But good news – the dress code stated that women were permitted to wear a suit with pants one day per week. Such progress!

Times, thankfully, have changed. A mere seven years later, the even stodgier investment firm at which I was working had adopted a business casual dress policy. Today, nearly all firms have a relaxed or downright super casual dress code and will ask that people use their judgment and wear suits when visiting with clients.

As an Executive Recruiter, part of my job is to help candidates prep for the interview. Know the ins and outs of the job requirements? Check. Understand the company’s culture? Check. Get a read on the styles of those with whom you will be interviewing? Check. Dressing for the interview? Yes, that too.

Many search firms will tell candidates to wear a full suit for interviews, specifying a skirted suit for the ladies. At previous firms, we were instructed to tell every candidate to “channel their inner Brooks Brothers” when dressing for interviews. Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge fan of the Brooks Brothers vibe, but it did make me think: Is interviewing in a suit still required?

If I look at my current clients, it would be about 50/50. One client is a retailer of accessories that promotes the preppy lifestyle. They have told me that if someone comes in looking “too corporate”, they will not be a fit. One client is a bit more traditional, and while the dress code is business casual, the President and CAO wear suits every day, so any candidate would want to be dressed for that. Another client would say that for sales interviews they would definitely expect someone to “suit up”, but otherwise would not balk if someone came in looking less formal so long as they looked really professional.

While there is no hard and fast rule, my advice is this: Figure out what the interviewer(s) will want.

  • Don’t be shy about asking! It shows an interest in making a good impression and respect for the company culture.
  • Who to ask? If you are dealing directly with the firm, ask HR. If you know someone who works there (this is where LinkedIn can come in really handy), reach out to him or her.
  • If you are working with an Executive Recruiter, he or she should be able to give you the lay of the land.

Be sure to be on the dressier end of whatever you ascertain. If it is a truly casual atmosphere and you are told that jeans are fine, make them dark jeans as they come across as far more polished. Pair them with a jacket and a crisp white button down. Business casual? For men, this could mean a sports jacket with no tie, and for women this could mean pants or a skirt with a cardigan. Need to channel your inner Brooks Brothers still? Maybe channel all of their sections, not just the suits.   When in doubt, wear a black suit. For women, this can be a pantsuit. Men, wear a subtle tie. This is not the time to use the tie to show your individuality.   Regardless of dress code expectations, and this may be the daughter of a former Air Force pilot speaking, shine your shoes before heading out the door for the interview. Literally, it puts your best foot forward. People may not notice a shined shoe, but they will definitely notice an unkempt one.

While dressing for interviews can be a daunting task, doing it right can show that you have an innate understanding of the organization’s culture. Just be thankful that the 1980s are behind us. Those shoulder pads were a lot to pull off.

For more tips on how to make an impact, be sure to check out my earlier article, Interview Impact: The Art of the Thank You Letter.