Congratulations: your new hire has signed the offer letter! Now the real work begins.
Employee onboarding is the final step in the hiring process and one of the biggest keys to retaining this new hire. But it’s where many companies fall short—Gallup research shows that only 12% of employees strongly agree that their employers did a good job of onboarding them.
In this guide, I’ll show you what a good onboarding process looks like. Whether you’re building your onboarding program from scratch or want to formalize a so far ad hoc process, you’ll learn what you need to know to get started.
Let’s start with the basics.
What is Employee Onboarding?
If joining a new company is like tying the knot, then employee onboarding is the honeymoon period.
There’s the practical side of it: getting paperwork in order, necessary equipment ready to go, login credentials, and the new employee up to speed with everything they need to be successful in their role. But just as important is the less tangible stuff: engaging the new hire, setting clear expectations, and getting them acquainted with the business, culture, values, and workforce they just joined.
The goal is to get your new hire operational and comfortable as quickly as possible if you want to lay the foundation for a positive—and lasting—two-way relationship.
The Basics of Employee Onboarding
The core elements of onboarding differ for every company, depending on your policies and operations, but the basic outcomes are the same—to provide your new hire with a platform to:
- Meet their colleagues
- Understand the business
- Understand their role, responsibilities, and how their success will be measured
- Get access to all the resources they need for their work
Here’s what should be included in your onboarding process at a minimum:
As soon as your new hire signs their offer letter, you enter what’s known as the preboarding stage. This is the time between the employee accepting their offer and starting their first day of work. And it’s the best time to get formalities out of the way because the last thing you want to do is bury your employee in paperwork in the first few days on the job.
Many companies use recruiting and onboarding tools to send new hires all the necessary paperwork—including direct deposit enrollment, benefits enrollment, and emergency contact information—before their first day. We’ll get into those tools later.
When it comes to your employee’s first day, it’s important to prepare a friendly and memorable welcome. The first day is more about the experience than sharing information. There will be so much information to process that your new hire will likely forget most of it, but they’ll remember how they felt about their first day for the rest of their career.
With the paperwork out of the way, you can use your new hire’s first day as a chance to shape those critical first impressions of your organization. There is no need to plan grand gestures—just nice touches, like a personalized welcome kit at their work station, a team lunch, and an office tour.
There may be more formalities to cover off, too, like presenting essential company info or getting started with other core onboarding elements below. But don’t expect too much from your new hire on day one, as learning a new work environment can be overwhelming.
Some of this can be done in preboarding, like setting up login credentials, business tools and systems access, and installing all the hardware and software your new hire will need. It’s best to have this arranged and tested well before your employee begins. They shouldn’t have to spend their first day going back and forth with IT.
What would be helpful during this time, though, is tech training. Plan to get them up to speed with your collaboration software, any role-specific software, and basic email and calendar training (if necessary) on their first day.
One-on-one meetings are critical for officially welcoming your new hire to the company. At a minimum, you’ll want to have a new hire set up to meet with their manager and/or department leaders in their first few days, to provide a company and department overview, team responsibilities, and a chance for the new hire to ask questions and learn what’s expected of them.
From there, the new hire should start meeting one on one with everyone they’ll be working closely with. It’s good practice for the manager to provide a list of people the new hire should book meetings with and share calendar invites to any monthly meetings, weekly lunches, or daily standups they will be involved in.
These are things like wage tax dedication forms, a scan of the employee’s ID (and work permit if necessary), and anything else you weren’t able to do off-site in preboarding. It goes without saying that the legalities are essential, but what I will say is, it’s best to take care of them early on—day one if possible.
Team Social Event
Again, if not on day one, this should happen no later than your employee’s first week. It’s important to balance administrative and social tasks—nobody wants their first few days at work to be all about, well, work.
A team lunch (or another fun social event) is a crucial opportunity to show your company’s human side and for your new hire to get a taste of the company culture. It gives everyone on the team a chance to officially welcome your new hire and get to know each other in a relaxed setting.
Lastly, you’ll want to close the onboarding process by giving the new hire a chance to discuss how they’re doing, how well they know their role, whether they feel at home, and their future at the company. It’s also an excellent chance to ask (if you haven’t already) what they thought of their onboarding experience and if they have any suggestions for improvement. Their feedback is critical to continued improvement.
Feedback can happen at any time between the end of your employee’s first month to the end of their first year—you could combine onboarding wrap-up with their first annual performance review, for example. But generally, the sooner, the better.
3 Tools to Improve Employee Onboarding
Automating parts of the process will go a long way in streamlining your new employee’s first few days and weeks. The best onboarding tools not only save time but also create consistent engagement with your new hires from the minute preboarding begins.
It’s the HR department that owns onboarding as a whole, so that’s why you’ll find onboarding tools within general recruiting software, but some provide better onboarding features than others.
Here are three of our favorite recruiting platforms with the best onboarding tools:
Workable is one of the best recruiting software solutions on the market today, trusted by more than 20,000 organizations. It manages the complete lifecycle of recruitment, including onboarding, with pricing starting at $99 per month for infrequent hiring. You can try it free for 15 days. Even if you don’t buy it, check out Workable’s resources for handy hiring tips, checklists, and templates.
The onboarding features include an applicant tracking system (ATS) to smooth the offer-to-onboarding transition and extensive integrations with other Human Resource Information Systems (HRIS) so you can manage hiring end-to-end in one platform.
Bullhorn specializes in (and is our top pick for) recruiting and onboarding for staffing agencies. It includes applicant tracking and a CRM for managing clients. It also streamlines your clients’ preboarding process with Bullhorn Onboarding, an electronic document management and tracking platform designed to get new hires started quickly.
Bullhorn Onboarding provides a centralized view of your client’s onboarding activities, an online portal and electronic signature capabilities for all their employees’ documents, and secure data storage. This is all built into Bullhorn’s CRM. Pricing isn’t available online, but you can request a free demo.
A recruiting and onboarding solution for larger organizations (in-house or agency), Greenhouse manages the complete hiring process at scale. In addition to a fully integrated CRM for recruiting, Greenhouse offers onboarding capabilities for a personalized welcome experience, a company resource hub, new hire feedback, onboarding performance evaluations, and more thoughtful features on top of the mandatory administrative tasks.
Again, like many recruiting solutions, pricing isn’t available online. Call Greenhouse for a quote or request a demo.
3 Tricks for Employee Onboarding
In recruiting, it’s all in the planning, and a few small prep items can significantly impact your employees’ onboarding experience. Here are some practical tips you can implement in your company today.
Evaluate Your Current Process
The first step to improving an onboarding program—or lack thereof—is gathering feedback from existing employees on the current process. After all, they know first hand how well it’s working—or not working.
Even if you don’t yet have a formalized process, simply ask what went well during their first few days, weeks, and months and what could have gone better. If you do have a formalized process, ask what can be improved.
Either way, you can start the conversation by sending out a survey or having one-on-one conversations or group brainstorms. As well as asking for general suggestions for improvement, ask specific questions, such as:
- Were you provided accurate information about [company] when you joined?
- Did you feel welcomed on your first day? What could have made you feel more welcome?
- By the end of your first week, did you feel you understood your job overall and what was expected of you?
- What did you enjoy most about your first week here?
- What was the biggest challenge you faced during your first week/month here?
These might be uncomfortable questions to answer openly, so make the survey optionally anonymous and make it clear to employees that you want constructive criticism and that no one will face repercussions for being honest. Follow through on this and ensure no one faces criticism or retaliation if they gave negative feedback.
Map Out Your Onboarding Workflow
Onboarding starts well before your new hire’s first day. There’s a lot to get done, so for efficiency, it helps to plan ahead and map out the workflow from start to finish. This workflow can then be repeated for every new employee like a well-oiled machine.
Start by stepping back and identifying everything that should be included in your onboarding process. Use the employee feedback you collected to help. Think about:
- What (as much as possible) can be done ahead of day one (paperwork, informing team members, prep for day one activities, etc.)
- Everything your new hire should do to start their work (who to meet with, feedback surveys, training, first few projects, etc.)
- What you expect from them in terms of performance with specific, measurable milestones (e.g., completed [insert job function] strategy by [date]
Write a list, then figure out the order of things. Pay attention to any tasks that have dependencies, and get input from stakeholders.
This is a valuable exercise even if you already have an onboarding process because it helps you spot opportunities to save time. What tasks can be done concurrently? For example, on day one, maybe you can process the legalities while your new hire is on their office tour.
So far, we’ve focused on creating a great onboarding experience for your new hire, but a good operational experience for stakeholders is just as imperative. Checklists are great because they add structure and consistency to every onboarding experience and ensure every necessary step gets done.
Because onboarding doesn’t stop at your employee’s first week. A common trap I see companies fall into is putting a lot of effort into that first week and then letting the demands of day-to-day work take over—forgetting to engage the new hire. In reality, onboarding takes a while and, in my experience, always requires more support than you think. Most employees are considered “new” for at least their first 90 days or more until they feel autonomous.
That’s why every company should have what’s known as a 30-60-90 day plan for their new hires: a checklist of everything for their first 30 days, 60 days, and 90 days of employment.
To make one, use your onboarding workflow as a basis. Take tasks from day one onward and arrange them into a manageable number of action items for your employee per week, up until day 90. You can find sample checklists online if you need help. Just make sure the result accurately reflects the job posting your employee applied to, otherwise, the likely result is an unhappy hire.
Yes, the onboarding experience differs for every company, but every good onboarding process is well-structured, so take your time on this. Setting clear expectations can massively improve any onboarding experience for everyone.
What to Do Next
You’ve made it through the hiring process and learned what it takes to start your new hire off on the right foot. Now it’s time to roll up your sleeves and plan an efficient onboarding process.
Start with the tips we outlined above, consider using an onboarding tool to standardize and automate your new process, then evaluate the tools we recommended here (or others in our list of top recruiting software if you want to improve your recruiting as a whole).
When you’re ready to learn how to improve your new onboarding process, another low-hanging fruit is your performance management. This is an important extension of onboarding that, beyond setting employee expectations, evaluates whether they’re meeting them. Check out our rundown of the best performance management tools to digitize that process, too.