The Onboarding Process – Steps and Checklist

May 22, 2023
Blog, Employee Onboarding, Featured Article

Updated May 22, 2023

The importance of the onboarding process cannot be overstated. The steps your company takes will set the tone for the overall employment experience for each new hire. A positive onboarding experience can also lead to improved job performance, increased efficiency, and better satisfaction, which all play a role in engagement and retention. If you’ve been using an unstructured approach and want to improve it, this post is for you.

What is Employee Onboarding?

Employee onboarding is the process of assimilating the new hire into your organization. It includes transactional operations and person-to-person engagement. When building onboarding process steps, include the following:

  • Paperwork – gather tax forms, contact details, direct deposit, benefits, eligibility online, certifications and licensing such as CDL
  • Planning – create a plan that’s organized and deliberate with frequent check-ins
  • Introductions – connect new hire with team and broader workforce
  • Questions – make it easy to ask questions via virtual channels
  • Shadowing – video conferencing or other means for live but not necessarily in-person, on-the-job training
  • Team building – offer formal and informal ways to build rapport and common cause
  • Office equipment and software – procure and set up equipment
  • Meeting participation – set up Slack, Teams, calendars, video conferencing, etc.
  • Face-to-face – meet regularly but not necessarily in person

How Onboarding Can Make or Break the Employee Experience

The quality of onboarding influences everything that comes next! If your hiring process was effective, your new hire starts with high expectations. They are eager to dive in. Effective onboarding meets the expectations of an employee who had a great recruiting process. It continues to shape the employee experience.

Best practices for onboarding include creating a process that:

  • Is structured
  • Is personal and tailored to the new employee
  • Establishes brand loyalty
  • Helps the new hire be successful
  • Improves collective team morale

Unstructured employee onboarding can dampen employee engagement quickly. A too-short onboarding process can leave the new hire unprepared to perform their job.

The purpose of onboarding should be setting new hires up for success and decreasing the time it takes for them to become comfortable in their new roles. This only works if onboarding processes are designed strategically with the end goal in mind. But onboarding has become even more challenging with the rise of remote and hybrid work. 

Sinazo Sibisi, Gys Kappers, “Onboarding Can Make or Break a New Hire’s Experience,” Harvard Business Review, April 5, 2022

U.S. Employers Don’t Take Onboarding Seriously

The Aberdeen Group (a market research firm) reports sobering statistics about the state of onboarding:

  • 31 percent of new employees have quit a job after less than six months
  • 53 percent of employees said they could do their job better with improved training
  • Only 32 percent of employers have a formal onboarding program
  • 6 percent of self-labeled “disengaged” employees said they got poor training or no training at all
  • 5 percent of new employees said they didn’t understand what was expected of them until they had worked 90 days or more

In 2019, Gallup reported that only 12 percent of employees strongly agreed that their employer does a great job of onboarding. In the study, researchers identified five common onboarding problems:

  • No one takes ownership of the process
  • Onboarding is too short
  • Onboarding doesn’t reflect the company culture
  • New hires don’t see a future at the organization
  • The onboarding process is unremarkable

Employee Onboarding Begins Before the Hire

Well before you can onboard a new employee, you need to create a position listing that generates interest and encourages top talent to apply. Think about what a potential new hire would want when creating job descriptions and establishing parameters.

Consider Benefits and Pay Scale

Compensation and benefits are two of the top priorities among jobseekers. If your organization’s benefits are lackluster, you could lose out on talented individuals who seek employment elsewhere. Low pay is also a reason to walk away from a potential position or offer. Make sure your positions are competitive in terms of what employees receive and how those benefits compare to what they could get working elsewhere.

Review Interviewing and Hiring Practices

Consider how your company will conduct interviews with top candidates and handle other steps in the hiring process.

In-office vs. Virtual Interviews

Interviewing is a key step in the hiring process, as it allows those involved to get to know the potential employee and what they would bring to the role. Similarly, an interview offers the candidate the opportunity to understand the expectations, culture and work atmosphere. You may choose to conduct interviews in person, especially if you’re hiring for an in-person role. But if you’re seeking candidates from various locations or hiring for a remote position, a video interview can certainly suffice.

Offer and Acceptance Letters

When you find your ideal candidate, the final step is making an offer. It’s best to provide an offer letter that outlines pertinent details in writing, such as the position title, expected work schedule, compensation, and benefits. Your offer letter template should include next steps and a place for the individual to indicate their acceptance of the offer and include their signature.

Your Employee Onboarding Checklist

Proper onboarding doesn’t happen by accident. Like any HR workflow, you need a list of tasks and a way to make sure everything gets done. With the right steps in your process, you can ensure the onboarding process checks all the boxes.

Preparing for a New Employee’s First Day

After the offer is accepted, you can start the onboarding process to help your new hire feel prepared for their first day. A digital new hire portal is key for this step. A two-way system allows the manager and HR team to share documents, which the new hire can review, sign and return.

Carefully Plan the Schedule

Your next step in the onboarding process is creating a schedule for the new hire. This plan should outline who the new employee will meet with and how they will spend their time over the first few days on the job. Provide the schedule digitally and, if the new hire will work in person, print a copy and place it at their workspace.

What Equipment and Supplies will be Needed?

It’s also essential to plan ahead to ensure your new hire has what they need to succeed from day one. This step demonstrates the importance of every employee and their needs while allowing them to get up and running upon arrival.

Prepare the computer, mouse, monitor, workspace, and any other equipment and supplies they might need in advance of the first day. You should also prep any tech-related must haves, such as a mobile or desk phone, tablet, and access to shared devices and drives.

How Can You Go Above and Beyond on the First Day?

If you want to really make your new hire feel excited about their new role, go above and beyond to make the first day more meaningful. Produce a company-branded welcome kit that outlines key information about the organization and their team, along with details about benefits, protocols, and expectations. In-person employees may also feel extra special if you host a team lunch, where members of the department can get to know each other in a more laid-back setting.

What Communications Should Occur Between Acceptance and Start Date?

As soon as a new hire accepts an offer, communication can begin. Create a letter that welcomes them to the organization and directs them to a point of contact for questions or concerns. If your new hire does have questions, follow up with a phone call to make sure they got answers. You could even put together a video that welcomes the new hire to the team or collect encouraging, positive messages from their co-workers to share prior to their start date.

New Hire Orientation

The next phase of onboarding involves orienting the employee in their role and with the organization overall. Explore the steps involved in new hire orientation.

Welcoming a New Employee

Help your new hire feel welcome by having their workspace ready for their arrival. If you’re welcoming a remote hire, greet them with a video or phone call. Make sure their team knows when they’ll be arriving so they can say hello and help them feel excited about the new role. It may be worth assigning an onboarding buddy to serve as a companion, guide and go-to for questions during their first week.

It’s also helpful to keep your new hire informed about any in-person needs, such as where to park, any dress code requirements, and how to access the building. Establish their logins and credentials so they can get up and running right away.

Essential Paperwork and Documents

Of course, part of the onboarding process is taking care of business in the form of new-hire paperwork and documents. If possible, send these to the new hire in advance of the first day so they can complete them on their own time. Filling out a huge stack of hand-cramping forms can put a crimp in the flow of onboarding.

Some of the key documents to complete often include:

  • Tax forms
  • WOTC forms
  • ACA forms
  • Benefits enrollment
  • Direct deposit and payroll details
  • Emergency contact information
  • Safety instructions
  • Timekeeping instructions

Employee Handbook: Policies and Procedure Orientation

An employee handbook is a key element of any onboarding process, as it outlines the information covered and allows employees to reference it when needed. Take a few minutes to orient the employee to the handbook, focusing on where to find specific topics and details. You may choose to go through the entire document together, depending on time and how you want the meeting to flow.

Your company’s employee handbook should outline business objectives, expectations, and policies and procedures that apply to all team members. It can also include logistics of employment, such as pay periods and paydays, work hours and scheduling details, and any timekeeping requirements.

Team Orientation

Orienting a new hire to their team is just as important as orienting them to the organization, if not more so. After all, their team members will be the people they interact and collaborate with on a daily basis. Think about how you could help the new hire feel welcome in a positive and exciting way. You might schedule a team lunch or outing to help everyone feel comfortable and relaxed outside the office.

Orientation Checklist

Here’s a quick wrap-up of what to include in your orientation process:

  • Greet the employee (in person: in the office lobby or at the front door, remote: video or phone call)
  • Provide an office tour, pointing out key spaces: workspace, break room, restrooms
  • Review key documents (if you provided new hire paperwork in advance, you can collect the completed documents)
  • Review policies and procedures (employee handbook, benefits and enrollment options, safety regulations, rules around technology and equipment usage)
  • Answer questions (establish a key point of contact for questions)
  • Schedule a team get-together (lunch in or out of the office, outing outside of work)

Things to Consider

Starting a new job is overwhelming. Think about how you can make it less so for your new hire. For example, you might include 15-minute breaks throughout the day to allow them to decompress and go through what was covered during the previous training session.

Don’t forget to assign an onboarding buddy to your new employee. Having someone the new hire is familiar with and feels comfortable asking questions can make a big difference in the overall experience.

Ongoing Training and Checkpoints

After the first few weeks, your employee should start to feel more settled and established in their role. But the process doesn’t end after that happens. Explore some of the key tasks to tackle as the employee settles into their duties.

Have a Clear Plan for the First Few Months

One mistake that many hiring managers make is failing to create a plan or schedule beyond the first couple of days. It’s unlikely your new hire will know exactly what to do after meeting with team members and training for a week. Make sure to outline a clear plan for the employee’s first few months in their role. Taking this step will keep everyone on the team aligned while helping the new hire understand what they’ll be responsible for in the coming weeks.

Regular Training for New Role

Ongoing training and development are among the most-requested benefits, as many employees want to improve their skills and continue to move upward in their careers. Offering regular training can help satisfy this need in a way that also benefits the organization. A more skilled employee can take on new responsibilities and oversee other team members while remaining loyal to the organization. It’s a win-win, so think about how your company can offer additional training opportunities.

Team Integration and Collaboration

Depending on the culture of your organization, you may choose to spend extra time integrating the new hire into the team and encouraging collaboration. Businesses with more collaborative cultures tend to benefit from additional ways to integrate, such as spending time together outside of work and getting to know team members on a more personal level. Other factors to consider when deciding how to handle this are the personalities of members of the team, personal responsibilities that may take up their free time, and how different roles will work together.

Collect Feedback to Improve Processes

As you move through the steps in the onboarding process, make sure to request feedback all along. It’s impossible to improve a process if you’re not aware of what people like and dislike about it. If you feel you aren’t getting honest responses, consider creating a survey that allows people to respond anonymously.

Outline Potential Career Path for the Future

Another aspect of bringing a new hire onboard is looking at how they can move up in the future. For most members of the workforce, the option to progress is important. Outlining progression paths and opportunities can also boost employee retention, loyalty, and productivity.

Ongoing Onboarding Checklist

Stick to this checklist with each employee, even after the initial onboarding process is complete.

  • Schedule regular check-ins (set aside chunks of time regularly throughout the first 90 days to see how things are going and find out if they need anything)
  • Assign training for their job tasks (provide them what they need to succeed)
  • Identify paths for progression (employees who want to move up tend to be motivated by clear paths)
  • Request feedback (you can’t make improvements if you don’t know what works and what doesn’t)

Best Practices for Perfecting Your Onboarding Process

As you continue to refine your company’s onboarding process, you can incorporate these best practices.

Onboarding Process Should be Consistent and Documented

Regardless of role or department, every new hire at your organization should have a consistent experience when coming onboard. Make sure your managers and leaders have access to a checklist used across the company, and a clear understanding of the expectations when bringing on a new hire. Document each step in the process and maintain that documentation in the employee’s personnel file.

Regularly Collect Feedback for Improvements

As mentioned, you need feedback to understand where you can improve the process. Throughout every step of the onboarding process, make sure to ask new hires what they liked and disliked about the experience. You may find that certain steps aren’t as necessary, while others would benefit from expansion.

Utilize Onboarding Software for a More Efficient Experience

An all-in-one software solution can make a big difference in the overall onboarding process. Using this type of solution keeps everyone involved and provides a digital space to keep records. It’s even more efficient if your hiring software includes onboarding features, as the data will flow from the initial application to the onboarding process without the need for manual entry.

Good onboarding tech is invaluable. With onboarding software like ApplicantStack Onboard, you can import new hires from your ATS into your HR system once. The data flows from the initial application to the onboarding process without the need for manual entry. Within the Onboard module, you can build customized onboarding checklists for each job position or work location.

Elevate Your Employee Onboarding Process

Exceptional onboarding can be an important competitive advantage and the benefits will compound over time. If your company doesn’t have an applicant-tracking system in place, ApplicantStack can help your team streamline the onboarding process and provide a better experience for new hires.

Basic Onboarding Checklist

  • Before First Day
    • Send welcome email and new hire paperwork
      • Ask new employee if they have any questions and answer them with a phone call
    • Share company information
      • Company directory
      • New hire’s email address and login information instructions and login credentials for company software
      • Notice of upcoming company events
      • Employee handbook
    • Provide new hire paperwork–specify which documents need to be signed and returned along with the due dates for completion
      • Tax forms
      • WOTC forms
      • ACA forms
      • Benefits enrollment
      • Direct deposit and payroll details
      • Emergency contact information
      • Employee handbook review
      • Policies and procedures
      • Safety instructions
      • Timekeeping instructions
    • Set up all necessary equipment
      • Get the employee’s computer, mouse, monitor, etc., ready
      • Prep any tech-related must-haves (mobile or desk phone, tablet, access to shared devices and drives, etc.)
    • Job training
      • Send email with links to training documents or videos
      • Share schedule for the first week (or longer)
      • Outline projects and goals for first month (or longer)
    • Assign an onboarding buddy to be a companion and guide during the first week
    • Send email with parking and building access info, reminder of dress code (if applicable), and work schedule
    • Notify all staff of the new employee and the day they will start
    • Establish any necessary logins and credentials
    • Assign onboarding tasks to appropriate people and monitor progress with your onboarding checklist
    • Create schedule so each team member can meet with the new hire during the first week
    • Plan get-to-know-you activity with new hire and their team
  • On the First Day
    • Greet the employee
    • Provide an office tour
      • Point out key spaces: workspace, break room, restrooms, gym (if applicable)
    • Review key documents (if you provided new hire paperwork in advance, you can collect the completed documents)
      • Employee handbook
      • Benefits and enrollment options
      • Safety regulations
      • Rules around technology and equipment usage
    • Provide a welcome gift: company-branded water bottle, apparel, office supplies, etc.
    • Answer questions
  • After the First Day
    • Assign small projects to new hire to help build confidence
    • Schedule regular check-ins
      • Set aside chunks of time regularly throughout the first 90 days to see how things are going and find out if they need anything
    • Assign training for their job tasks
    • Request feedback
    • Maintain communication between HR, hiring manager and mentor to discuss new employee’s progress

Check out other posts in our How to Hire Employees series:

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