Why Retention Starts Before You Even Hire

Every recruiter will tell you that attracting talent and retaining talent are two sides of the same recruiting coin. But only the best know that retention starts well before a hire is even made. Your retention strategy should be at work even as you are trying to attract the right talent.

Why? Put simply, failed retention is costly. One study put out by SHRM estimated that the replacement costs for a salaried employee amounted to roughly six to nine months of that person’s salary, on average. So replacing an engineer or coder who makes $70,000 a year could cost anywhere from $35,000 to $52,500, once you calculate the cost of the search, interviews and onboarding, not to mention lost productivity in the meantime.

Companies’ policies, however, gloss over the fact that retention starts in the recruiting process itself, notes Kathy Harris, managing director of recruiting firm Harris Allied. “They have to create a plan if they want to attract the right talent…Most companies don’t think about retention,” she says. “They go on autopilot with some sort of process they have, and they don’t deviate from it. Yet they are surprised when they lose someone they really wanted.”

That “plan” needs to go beyond salary and benefits, and even beyond a plan for development and promotion. One must look at less-tangible aspects, such as company culture, employee trust and “care signals”—small signs that the company cares for their employees and is willing to invest in them.

Therein lies the rub. With salary, benefits and promotions, it's easy to put a number to an offer. An atmosphere of trust and care is much harder to establish and communicate. So how do successful recruiters do this during the attraction phase, with people who are not even employees yet?

Transactional Relationships Versus Deep, Personal Relationships

The key is understanding the difference between transactional relationships and relationships that are deeper and more personal.

Part of the process of recruiting talent is enticing them with promises of high pay, good benefits and a great place to work. But that is how a recruiter closes the deal; actually attracting talent requires reaching out to potential candidates and convincing them that you have not only your company’s (or clients’) interests in mind, but theirs. At this stage, your engagement is less about the position or the offer (transactional) and more about the person.

Deep, personal relationships with a candidate usually start out with one or more of the following:

1) Good questions. The best recruiters get to know their candidates—not only their skills and job history, but their likes and dislikes, their hobbies and passions, and even their sense of humor.

2) Regular contact. A great candidate might not be moveable when you first contact him or her. Timing is everything, and you want to make sure you are top-of-mind if and when the candidate is considering a move.

3) Meaningful gestures. Sending a candidate a “check-in” email won’t usually impress. But a link to an interesting article or review of a book the candidate might like will. Even gifts can fail to impress if they are generic (a pen set or a gift card). Personally meaningful gifts have more impact and usually cost less.

4) Involvement. A CEO I spoke with once shared advice: “You can do everything right for a client and they will still shop around. But go out of your way to do something nice for their kids, and you’ll have a client for life.” The same is true of candidates. Do something nice for their family. Support causes they support. Do something that helps those they are involved with.

In each of these cases, a recruiter is not just making contact. A personal relationship is being built.

Now imagine what happens once this candidate is hired. He or she will already have a “full stock” of goodwill toward you, the recruiter and the company you represent. This will make the onboarding process more tolerable. It will also set the stage for developing those attributes needed for retention: the right company culture, trust and “care signals.”

Now think about that return on investment. Questions, regular content, meaningful gestures and involvement need not cost much. But they can save the company quite a bit over the long term.

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