Oxbow Bend, Snake River

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Seasonal Onboarding and Relationship Building

Matt Moore

When you’re in the thick of your hiring cycle, you’ve probably developed a decent gauge of how your staffing plan is shaping up, what areas are looking strong, and where you’ve still got some gaps. Keeping a close eye on your hiring progress is critical in helping you focus your efforts where they’re needed most. However, keeping in touch and engaging with your current hires – those folks who have already said “Yes!” to joining your team in the upcoming season – is equally important during the months leading up to opening day. 

In our one-on-one work with employers, we’ve heard many variations of the following refrain: “If I hire too early, they won’t show up in April/May.” While we understand the sentiment behind that, we think it’s a grave error to delay your recruiting cycle because you’re worried about back-outs and no-shows. Many of the most experienced and motivated candidates are firing off their resumes in December and January because they want to lock down their top choices. If you’re sitting on the sidelines during this time, you’re likely missing out on high-quality applicants.

Instead of fearing the worst (the dreaded ghosting or no-show), we encourage employers to be proactive and think about starting the relationship building process from the moment an applicant clicks “Submit” on your job application. Building a pre-arrival onboarding plan is an opportunity to invest in the new team members who you’ve worked so hard to attract and offer positions to, while demonstrating that you’re engaged and invested with their path to your front door and their experience throughout a season contributing to your team.

Follow up on every application

Can you remember a time in the recent past where you purchased something significant, like a large online purchase, an airline ticket, or hotel reservation, and you didn’t receive some sort of prompt confirmation? Hopefully not, but if that happened, some red flags would pop up pretty quickly. You’d wonder if your order went through, and shortly thereafter, you’d begin to doubt the credibility of a company that hadn’t set up a system to communicate that your order had been received, accepted, and was being processed.

Applying for jobs is no different. It’s a significant investment of time and energy, not to mention an early sign of an applicant being willing to consider a relationship with your organization. That’s meaningful, and as the nationwide pool of applicants continues to dwindle, now is a good time to evaluate if your application process allows you to quickly acknowledge and begin reviewing every application received.

One of the top complaints among job seekers is submitting an application and receiving little to no follow up, or slow and infrequent follow up from the employer. How are you communicating with applicants? At a minimum, you should have an online, mobile-friendly application that provides job seekers with immediate confirmation that you’ve received their application. Other tools, such as an Applicant Tracking System, can help you and your recruiting team quickly process and respond to applicants and their references, even those applicants who aren’t going to be offered a position. 

Prompt and regular engagement with applicants fosters trust and respect from their first interaction with you, which helps build the foundation for a positive, longer-term relationship.

Make a plan for regular check-ins

Accepting a position is an exciting event for a job seeker. Finding ways to keep that spark alive from the moment they accept to the moment they arrive at your property is crucial in maintaining engagement, building strong future relationships, and reducing your recruiting and turnover cost (and headaches). 

As anyone who’s recruited for a seasonal operation can tell you, a lot can happen between an applicant accepting a position and their arrival date. They could get back together with an old boyfriend/girlfriend, get a lucrative bonus/raise offer to stay or come back to their last job, read a bad review about your company online that knocks the wind out of their sails: there’s an unlimited number of scenarios that can lead to cold feet.

As an employer, you can’t prevent all of them. But you can do a lot to keep the engagement high and their interest up. Find a way to touch base with all of your hires a few times between when they accept a position and when they’re set to arrive. Send out a monthly newsletter that tells them more about the area where they’ll be living, activities they’ll be able to enjoy in the summer, what the year-round staff is up to, what they should pack, what paperwork they need to send in to ensure a smooth arrival day, etc. Set up a free online group/forum (check out the CoolWorks Community!) and invite your upcoming seasons’ staff to join, start getting to know each other, swap travel plans, and talk about what they’re looking forward to.

Another way to mitigate back-outs and no-shows is to simply ask new hires to keep an open and honest dialogue going with you, and let them know that you’re available and want to hear from them. In their employment offer letter, you could ask them to agree to notify you as soon as they can if their plans change and they won’t be able to make it.

Establish early on that you’re excited and grateful that they’ve chosen to be a part of your organization and that you care about their experience, and keep that enthusiasm going throughout the offseason so that candidates will continue to feel eager and excited to make the trip to your location and spend a season of their life as a part of your team. Setting a personalized tone with communication also increases the likelihood that they’ll stay engaged and you’ll stay informed.

Establish a system for ongoing communication

Being engaged with your staff shouldn’t stop once they arrive at your property and customers start showing up. Things can often go from calm to hectic practically overnight, but if your leadership team gets swept away in the mayhem and neglects regular check-ins and feedback with staff throughout the season, there’s a good chance that some team members will get burnt out or disillusioned, and head off to another opportunity before the season ends, leaving the remaining team short-handed and stressed. 

When people think of onboarding, they traditionally think of your first few days or weeks at a new job. While we’re suggesting that you stretch this process out and begin your onboarding long before staff arrive to report for work, it’s still essential to ensure that there’s a solid and significant onboarding plan for every new staff member’s arrival, be it in April when you’re expecting them or in July when you desperately need reinforcements and a dose of fresh sparkle.

Also, if your company isn’t already, start thinking about ways that you can implement more regular and deliberate communication in your next operating season. End of season staff satisfaction surveys and performance evaluations are a great step, but the insights they provide can often be too little, too late in terms of actionable follow-up. If a staff member shares in their end-of-season survey that they had a miserable season and provides insightful feedback on how it could have been better, you don’t have an opportunity at that point to address the issue and repair their experience.

Instead, try to develop systems for more regular feedback: bi-weekly team/department meetings (15-30 minutes), a staff feedback & suggestion platform (secure, anonymous, even incentivized) for staff to give timely and helpful feedback on everything regarding their employee experience to customer service or operational improvements which could benefit the business on a larger scale, or monthly one-on-ones between team members and their department managers. They don’t have to be time-intensive initiatives but making it a priority to invite regular discourse can help build even stronger relationships and a happier, cohesive team.

Moving across the country for a new job in a great place is undoubtedly exciting, but it’s also daunting and intimidating. For seasonal workers, taking this step is a huge life decision and can sometimes pose a significant expense with little to no safety net, two good reasons that one might second-guess a decision several times before they actually pack their bags. If you create an open and welcoming environment for your future employees from the moment they make contact and aim to keep building that relationship until they successfully finish their season, you’ll earn trust and a reputation for being an employer that’s invested in the experience of their staff. You can’t buy that kind of credibility.