Creating Purpose Before the First Day on the Job

Organizations that can’t help their new recruits find meaning risk losing talent fast, says best-selling author Daniel Goleman.

Daniel Goleman, author of the best seller Emotional Intelligence, and host of the podcast First Person Plural: Emotional Intelligence and Beyond, is a regular contributor to Korn Ferry. His latest book, Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body, is available now. 

You’ve probably heard the term “ghosting” before. From the dating sphere to the corporate office, ghosting is when someone cuts off communication without any kind of warning.

In recruitment and hiring, ghosting often looks like this: either a candidate suddenly stops responding to messages or a new hire—someone you thought was a sure thing—doesn’t show up for their first day.

Turns out, in the current job market, ghosting is a growing problem.

In a new Korn Ferry survey roughly a third of participating US retailers said that at least 25% of the candidates they hire into their distribution centers don’t show up to the first day of work.

“Usually it’s a handful of workers who don’t show,” says Craig Rowley, a Korn Ferry senior client partner who specializes in retail, “It’s not twenty percent of who you hire.”

Korn Ferry also says that hourly workers aren’t the only ones disappearing— salaried roles are being ghosted on too. “Candidate ghosting is happening globally,” says Jacob Zabkowicz, vice president and general manager of Korn Ferry’s Recruitment Process Outsourcing business. One job-search survey revealed that 28% of employees admit to disappearing on potential employers in 2020, up from 19% from the year before. Of this 28%, nearly half didn’t show up for the interview or just stopped communicating about the position.

One reason ghosting is on the rise is that the hiring market has become more competitive. At the end of May, there were 9.2 million open positions in the US alone, according to the US government, with an increase in areas such as education and “other services” (i.e., equipment and machinery repairing, religious activities, grantmaking, advocacy, personal and pet care services, and the like). For sectors with a large number of job openings, the competition for employees has become especially stiff. In between getting hired and starting a job, many qualified candidates are being lured away by other offers— approached by recruiters who steer them towards more enticing opportunities.

This makes the days and weeks between “Yes,” and “Welcome Aboard,” a critical juncture in the hiring process.

How do organizations meaningfully engage employees before their first day on the job?

How do they begin retaining someone the minute they deem them viable?

The answer may be in how well an organization can connect a potential employee to purpose.

According to a recent study, nearly two-thirds of US-based employees say COVID-19 has prompted them to reflect on their purpose in life and nearly half say the pandemic has prompted them to reconsider the kind of work they do.

For millennials, a connection to purpose is even more critical: according to the research, this demographic is three times more likely to say that the past year has caused them to reevaluate what they do for a living. While we know that the world's newest recruits want to work for companies whose purpose is to benefit society, the rise in ghosting puts an even greater pressure on organizations to show potential employees why their roles and responsibilities matter.

As Korn Ferry notes, organizations need to do a better job at getting candidates invested well before their first day of work. This could mean articulating, early in the hiring process, how a person’s work contributes to something larger than the bottom line. It could also mean asking candidates to share what’s meaningful to them, so recruiters and managers can draw a line of sight between their values and those of the organization.

We know the benefits of purpose include greater engagement, more loyalty, and a heightened desire to refer others to the company. But what we now see is that purpose can’t wait until an employee is in the door. These days employees expect their jobs to bring a sense of purpose to their lives. If employers don’t meet that need then they’ll see their workers leave for other organizations that will.  

Click here to learn more about Daniel Goleman's Building Blocks of Emotional Intelligence.