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Recruitment and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Handshake


This week’s blog article comes to us courtesy of coLab member Ingrid Takai, who explains the importance of having solid HR practices for your startup.

A lot rides on a handshake: Establishing trust, making deals, and mending fences. And yet, in the words of Jerry Seinfeld, “there’s absolutely no guidelines for handshakes – too strong, too weak – sometimes they give you the three-quarter shake, just the fingers.”

Terrible. Horrible. No good. Imagine a well-dressed person (sporting trendy socks, of course) approaches; they look you in the eye, smile, and extend their hand. You grasp firmly, expecting a confident shake perfectly paired with their pressed shirt and office-appropriate jeans. Alas! They deliver with a limp wrist and extend only their fingers, leaving you holding a collapsed heap of digits inside your palm. You cringe, wondering whether your opinion of this person will ever recover, even after giving them extra points for their trendy socks.

A handshake is an experience of a person; it’s the first introduction to their brand. That simple contact makes an impression and shapes beliefs about who they are and how they conduct themselves. When that experience is different from the initial sizing up and assumptions, it shakes one’s beliefs, and it can take a while for a positive impression to return, if it does at all. This is not unlike the relationship between a company’s recruitment practices and their brand. Recruitment is the introductory handshake to an employer’s brand, and a lot rides on that first experience.


Employer Brand: So Much More Than Colourful Socks

Employer brand goes much deeper than a casual dress code, office décor, and pour-overs at coffee time; it’s the emotional attachment a person feels for the company they work for (or want to work for).

For employees, it’s a sum of feelings associated with fair compensation, healthy work environment, work-life balance, promises kept by management, and personalized recognition for their contributions to a team and company.

For job applicants, employer brand is a sum of feelings associated with job postings, application requirements, skills testing, interviews, follow-up communication, and offer letters. In their book The Employer Brand: Bringing the Best of Brand Management to People at Work, Simon Barrow and Richard Mosley make the business case for a strong employer brand. Barrow and Mosley say that a strong employer brand improves recruitment and boosts retention and employee commitment. The result is lower recruitment costs, higher customer satisfaction, and healthy financial growth.


So, What’s a Company To Do?

Create some guidelines for a good handshake, that’s what. Extend your entire hand in a firm, people-first approach. Communicate the stages of the shake – “We’ll move our hands up and down in unison, three times.” Agree on a mutually timed release, avoiding the awkward hanging on by one person and not the other.


Hello, How Do You Do? We’re Hiring

HR and marketing departments must work together to create job ads that are clear, that demonstrate value to prospective applicants, and that establish an emotional connection through language.

HR should weigh in on:

· Compensation (wage and benefits need to align with industry standards, not just regional standards)
· Skills relevant to the position advertised (applicants can sense the risk of becoming a Jack- or Jill-of-all-trades within a small company or startup)
· Application requirements (a request for cover letter, resume, video introduction, and portfolio of work is too much)

Marketing can:

· Demonstrate value provided by the position and company
· Write job ads using language that highlights company and employer brand
· Create direct correlations between positions available and a candidate’s purpose within the company

Both departments need to carve out a fair chunk of time to create, edit, and polish job ads before executives review them and they get posted. Job ads are forms of advertising: Give their creation the time they deserve.


Standard Shake or A Wide Five? The Importance of Communication

Consistent communication instils purpose. Employees who are left in the dark about the goings-on around them tend to feel overlooked and undervalued; job candidates feel similarly when they’re unsure of what stages they’ll go through in the recruitment process. Demonstrate civility and respect by informing candidates about:

· Skill testing (If it’s part of the application process, how long will it take? Can they perform tests remotely or should time away from an existing job be arranged?)
· When they can expect word of advancement to the next stage
· The decision to go with another candidate (A simple, pre-written thank you email demonstrates respect for their time and effort)


Interviews: A Place for Grace

Nausea is normal for most interviewees, but for some, an interview can bring on excessive perspiration, stuttering, and brain glitches so significant that the applicant can’t recall the last place they worked or what they did there. Don’t make an interview worse than it already is. Create an interview atmosphere that is friendly and relaxed. Bring out the best in your applicants, and provide them with a comfortable space to provide thoughtful, honest answers to your questions. The interview is an excellent place to establish civility and kindness as components of your brand.

Don’t let a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad handshake pollute your employer brand. Design a recruitment strategy that puts your best foot forward and is genuinely people-oriented. Poor recruitment practices will have people talking about your ‘dead fish’ for a long time to come; but a recruitment process oriented around applicant experience will make your company the envy of top industry professionals everywhere.


Ingrid Takai has worked in the Okanagan tech sector since 2007, and has been an active champion for its  growth and health  ever since. She has a keen understanding of workplace culture and a progressive, people-first approach to HR and recruitment. Ingrid is the Founding Partner and Principal Recruiter for Ronin HR, a local firm specializing in recruitment and HR services for tech sector companies of all shapes and sizes.

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