“You’re hired!” Now what?

by Brian Sodoma
Onboarding new hires for success and retention

It’s no secret that the trades are facing a troubling labor shortage. Many contractors are offering bonuses, incentives and other perks to land the right people. But once hired, that first week or month on the job can be a trouble zone for a lot of owners. Appearing disorganized, giving too much or too little feedback or, even worse, acting like you don’t care, can lead a new hire to believe your company isn’t the right fit. Then, turnover is costly and can add to growing frustration for business owners.

“Most companies spend a lot of time trying to attract [talent] but they don’t spend a lot of time thinking about what will happen once the employee shows up ready to work,” said Amy Hirsch Robinson, principal of Interchange Consulting Group, which works with contractors on hiring and retention issues in the new economy. “It’s very counterintuitive.”

Hirsch Robinson and other experts give insights into how to make a new hire’s first days on the job a win-win for both the business owner and employee.


Company owners must plan a new hire’s experience, experts emphasize. It does not need to be an overly formalized approach, but at least knowing which jobs or situations he or she should see and experience in the first couple weeks is a step in the right direction. Bess Cadwell, VP of construction and Arizona markets for Govig & Associates, an Arizona-based executive recruiting company that works with contractors and other businesses, likes to break it down even further—into daily details.

“Who is their go-to person if they have questions? Who will take them to lunch? These are important things to know. Their first week should be scripted out,” she adds.

Cadwell also says owners should view potential employees as customers.

“It’s not a matter of just interviewing people to get what you want, it’s to determine if they’re good for you. And if you’re not setting yourself apart with customer service and with helping someone feel connected to the organization, then if someone else comes along with a 50 cents an hour raise, that employee is gone,” Cadwell explained.

Particularly in those early days, Hirsch Robinson says it’s important to pay attention to what that employee may be thinking and feeling. Ask yourself how you may be perceived, she adds. Some business owners may not even realize they look disorganized or that their comments make them appear as if they don’t care. That can lead to what

Hirsch Robinson calls ‘premature cognitive commitment,’ where an employee may come to a conclusion before all the data is gathered about a situation. “All new employees are in this really impressionable state, and what you do and don’t do can get magnified and calcified,” she adds.


Art Snarzyk, owner of St. Louis-based InnerView Advisors, Inc., consults both worldwide and nationwide with contractors on hiring and retention issues. A former painting-business owner himself, he often helps an owner clarify their mission and philosophy in order to better communicate methods and strategies to employees and new hires.

“Even when hiring an experienced person, everyone needs training. If you don’t train people, then their last boss is your new trainer,” he said.

A new employee with experience may know how to do good work, but he or she will likely still be performing to the standards and practices taught in the past.

“Be clear about what you mean when you talk about things like customer service. What does that mean at your company? It’s your responsibility to introduce them to that, and what you do and mean by that,” Snarzyk added.

It’s also important to pair the new employee with a foreman or trainer who truly understands your company culture, Snarzyk noted. And owners should not hire someone with the hopes that he or she will do the job exactly the way the owner would do it.

“Some think they want a ‘mini me,’ but most business owners don’t need that at all,” he said.


Rick Holtz is the owner and president of H.J. Holtz & Son, Inc., a Virginia-based painting company that employs roughly 50 people. His team includes paint crews, designers, wallpaper installers, cabinet refinishers and administrative employees. In addition to good benefits and health insurance, the many types of positions and the upward movement potential in his company has helped him minimize turnover.

Recently, Holtz worked with an employee whose priorities changed while with the company. He started as a painter and moved up to a foreman position, but then decided he preferred to learn how to hang wallpaper. So Holtz created a plan to transition the employee from one part of the company to another.

“You really need to know where their interest lies and help them grow in that,” he said. “Certain people are wrapped up in how much money they make in an hour. But for a lot, it’s not about more money, it’s about what they want; their likes and dislikes.”

With new hires, Holtz makes sure the new team member is placed with a skilled foreman who can explain the company’s take on customer service and quality work.

“Many of our people came here with no experience. We like a good mix. We hire somebody with a great attitude and drive, who really just wants to improve their situation and learn a skill,” he adds.

Holtz likes to communicate daily with his foremen about a new hire. He also does a 90-day evaluation and insists he, himself, must come to the meeting with an open mind.

“It takes longer than 30 days to get to know a person,” he said. “I really stress [that the 90-day evaluation] is not just a review of the employee. It’s a review for all of us.”


Holtz provides his team members with uniforms and equipment, along with birthdays off with pay. Beyond the perks, he strives to be clear in communication with employees, especially new ones, letting them know that if certain goals are met, they can move up in pay or position.

Cadwell also says it’s important for employers to remember all employee names, and heads of the company should greet new hires as much as possible. It even pays to know a little about them and their families.

“It’s those little things that don’t cost you any money, but you have to think about it and care enough about it to engage in it,” she said. “Instead of ‘connection,’ the right word is ‘attachment.’ You’re building attachment. It doesn’t cost a lot of money, but it takes time.”


Hirsch Robinson sees how contractors can sometimes have challenges when hiring millennials. But they are the workforce of the future, she says, and studying what motivates them could be important for retention and onboarding.

“Millennials have very different expectations and practices when it comes to work,” she notes.

“Most people want the same things; they want purpose, connection, to be respected, empowered—but millennials, in addition, want opportunity, and they want to find a culture that fits … a sense of community. They’re really interested in having their workplace as their family/friends; many will quit a job because they don’t feel connected to the organization.”

Hirsch Robinson suggests onboarding millennials quickly and offering a variety of experiences. Explain why what they are doing is important, too. Help them understand that they are not just paying dues; they are doing important work, and the job will become increasingly more challenging and rewarding as they learn more.

Failing to do so is risky, she notes, “This is a buyer’s market and people can go elsewhere.”

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