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10 onboarding best practices for SME recruiters

Tags: Employer Brand, Onboarding

For SME recruiters, onboarding is often yet another thing you know you “should” do but never have time or capacity for. But onboarding isn’t a luxury reserved only for big companies with lots of resources.

We spoke to Recruiting Brainfood’s Hung Lee and three fabulous panellists to learn how small business recruiters can make real in-roads into onboarding, even if you’re only a team of one. 

Watch the webinar on-demand here or keep reading for a summary of best practices from the panel:

  • Hung Lee, Recruiting Brainfood
  • Arielle Kilroy, CEO, DadoHR
  • Sofia Broberger, Recruiter (ex- Toca Boca)
  • Geraldine Butler-Wright, Chief People Officer, RorCas

44% of new hires have regrets about their new job within the first week and 23% have been reduced to tears during that time. Let’s talk about how to make sure that’s not 44% of your new hires. 


Onboarding for SMEs: 10 easy actions for tiny recruitment teams


1. Confirm their chosen name and pronouns

When you hire someone, you’ll have their legal name — but perhaps that’s not the name they prefer to use. 

Arielle points out that if you don’t explicitly confirm this info, someone might start on day one with the wrong name slapped all over their hardware, log-ins, Slack, email, and so on. Maybe they’re going through a divorce, or you’ve outed a trans person, for instance.

Whatever the situation, it’s a minor thing that sends a major message about your culture. Take a moment to confirm your new hires’ preferred name and pronouns. 

(With Tribepad Gro you can ask for this info during the application process, so you always address candidates as they prefer. It’s the little things that matter for inclusion.)


2. Order equipment (and swag) and get log-ins sorted

This simple stuff often falls through the cracks, especially when you’re a small or one-person team juggling everything. But it really matters. 

For example, 2023 research finds that 58% of new hires are frustrated by a lack of access to essential tools, and 51% face technology issues like malfunctioning computers. 

Making sure your new hires have everything they need when they start helps people feel valued, and also matters for productivity. It’s hard for someone to hit the ground running if they don’t have a computer, or their log-in takes 24-hours to activate, or whatever.

Hung recommends creating a simple form you send to new hires to collect relevant info, like sizing for uniform or swag, favourite biscuits, tech preferences, and so on, to make sure the ball is rolling on day one.


3. Map out their whole first day

You might’ve heard that almost 30% of jobseekers have left a job within the first 90-days. But it’s even more urgent than that, because 70% of new hires decide if a job’s right for them within a month — and 29% know within the first week.

The upshot is, creating a brilliant first day experience is one of the most impactful things you can do for your people and organisation. 

Hung points out: “if there is one day you have entirely mapped out, moment by moment, it’s the first day”. Make sure to communicate this to the candidate before they start, so they know what to expect. 

Some things to consider:

  • What time should the new hire arrive? Often it’s better if they arrive a little later than colleagues, so you know the office is ready to greet them.
  • What are they doing for lunch? Should they bring lunch, or have you organised a team lunch? Who will they eat with?
  • What time do they finish? Are you planning after-work drinks or similar? 
  • What training will you deliver? 62% of new hires say they were frustrated in a new role because they didn’t receive enough training on company products and services.
  • What introductions need to happen? Are the relevant people available and prepared or is there a rogue meeting that’s taking everyone off-radar? 

Some of the biggest new hire frustrations relate to introductions:

  • 65% of new hires feel they lack a clear point of contact for questions
  • 50% of new hires feel they lack an onboarding guide
  • 44% of new hires feel they lack a clear manager

Taking control over this stuff isn’t rocket science and can have an astronomical impact on your new hire’s experience. 


4. Don’t go silent during pre-boarding

Planning for a great first day is important, but Sofia points out how organisations often forget the time between signing the contract and that start date: 

“If you go completely silent during new hires’ notice period, it’s like – ‘do I even have a job to go to?’.”

It’s critical to reach out during this time, so your new starters know you’re waiting for them and excited for them to start. Especially given that 11% of new hires have changed their minds about an offer before starting. 

Arielle suggests drip-feeding content during this time, like a short video from your CEO. This could be a quick personalised clip or something standardised, depending on their bandwidth. Either way, it’s an engaging way to remind new hires’ you’re thinking of them.

(If drip-feeding content sounds too time-consuming but you want to make this happen, it might be a good sign you need to consider SME recruitment software). 


5. Create opportunities for connection before day one

“Some of the most successful onboarding I’ve seen has been where that first day doesn’t feel like the first day”, Geraldine comments. 

She suggests exploring opportunities to help new hires start integrating into the team and company before their official start date, like social drinks or sitting in on your next all-hands. 

And Arielle points out how this is especially critical for hiring Gen Z workers:

“Gen Z has never gone anywhere where they don’t know exactly what they’re walking into. They’ve connected with everyone online; they’ve done their research. If you don’t create those opportunities, you risk alienating these employees completely”.

For example, maybe you provide new hires with their team’s LinkedIn profiles during pre-boarding and invite them to connect. 


6. Break the ice with their new team

There can be muddy lines of accountability on onboarding, especially when it comes to handing over to managers. But Hung points out that the early ‘ice-breaking’ is 100% recruiters’ responsibility, because those new hires already know and trust you.

Even a simple introduction email to the team on new hires’ first day can help with smoothing their entry. 


7. Help managers understand what to do

In SME recruitment, you’re juggling lots of plates — you have to rely on manager support or you simply won’t get onboarding done. But this can be a cause of contention. 

Hiring managers often don’t understand why onboarding matters, or what ‘good’ onboarding looks like. This can result in hostility, or managers going off-piste with behaviours you don’t want. Like dragging new hires to the pub for 17 ‘get to know you’ pints, for example.

(This is another area that recruitment software can make life easier for SMEs, automating workflows and keeping managers effortlessly on track.)

There’s an important education and empowerment piece here. Use data (ideally your own, or industry data if not) to show why better onboarding benefits them, reducing ramp-up, improving performance outcomes, and decreasing attrition. And create resources that show managers what they should be doing.

Make sure you allow managers space and freedom too, though. HR might drive company onboarding but team onboarding is likely to be more personalised, depending on the team culture and managers’ preferences. (Personalisation is one of the major superpowers of being an SME: lean into it!)

Align on the goals for onboarding but be flexible about the routes to get there. There are many paths up the mountain. 


8. Join the dots to performance management

Remember that onboarding isn’t just about ‘does this new hire feel welcome’ but also about ensuring you’ve hired the right person for the business and helping them ramp-up to deliver value. 

There’s this “quid pro quo”, as Arielle puts it, where you need to balance the needs of the business with the needs of your new starter.

It’s critical then to join the dots through to performance management, to ensure your new hires are delivering the value you hired them for. And if they’re not, how you support them to improve, or how you sensitively terminate them. 

Geraldine makes the great point that this focus starts much earlier, because it’s about ensuring you’ve clarified performance requirements and hired the right person to meet those needs:

“What is the core essence of the job? What are the attributes you need to cope in our environment? It’s critical to be very clear on what you expect from someone when you’re hiring them, and to ensure there’s been a thorough recruitment process against those criteria. Onboarding isn’t an island”.  


9. Measure and evolve

Onboarding isn’t a fluffy nice-to-have that makes new hires feel good. SME recruiters have way too much on your plate to waste time on stuff like that. If it’s taking a chunk of your time, it needs to deliver concrete value.

So measure, measure, measure. Bring that forensic scrutiny, because the ability to collect feedback and make agile tweaks and changes is something SMEs can do that enterprises can’t. 


Some feedback-gathering tactics to consider:

  • Retention numbers
  • Sentiment analysis
  • Performance targets
  • Hiring manager feedback
  • Employee feedback
  • Team feedback
  • Engagement levels (on Slack or similar)

Arielle suggests you collect feedback on week 1 (Thursday not Friday!), 30 days, 60 days, and 90 days. That can be a simple form, or more in-depth interviews if you’ve got bandwidth. 

You’ll probably find you get better input if you frame this as ‘helping us make onboarding better for the next person’ rather than ‘critique your experience’. In particular, Geraldine highlights the impact of one simple, open question: “have you got any advice for us?”


10. Put the right systems in place

When you recruit for an SME, you’ve got an endless to-do competing for your time and attention. Efficiency is everything.  

If you’re not currently using talent tech, an ATS with onboarding support is almost always an easy win. It’ll automate so much, taking practically everything off your plate and making life heaps easier. 


Read more: What is an ATS and do you need one?

Look for an ATS designed especially for SMEs though, so you’re not paying for features or overwhelmed with complexity you don’t need. 


Levelling-up SME onboarding is easier than you think

Improving onboarding is one of the highest-impact things SME recruiters can do for the business. If the organisation is investing into recruitment, it should be investing into onboarding, to ensure what you’re spending on recruitment is actually paying off.

Taking control over onboarding can feel impossible when you’re a small team, or team of one. But it needn’t be difficult or complicated. Getting some basic stuff right can make an enormous difference for new hires. 

That said, investing in talent tech that’s purpose-built for SMEs can make a world of difference to what you can achieve with the time and resources you have. 


Tribepad Gro is ready-built, ready-to-go recruitment software for SMEs — to attract, hire, and onboard the people you need to smash your goals. Get your free recruitment diagnostic session with Tribepad consultants Dan and Hayley to learn how recruitment software could support your growth. 

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