A Step-by-Step Checklist for Effective Employee Onboarding

Startup Stock Photos

Free Download: Get the employee onboarding checklist! Click here to download for free.

Imagine this, you just got hired at a new company that you were really excite to work for. They put you through a rigorous hiring process, you faced every challenge on and, of hundreds of applicants, you got hired.

It’s your first day. A Monday. You walk through the front door of the office, ready to meet the team and get started doing work for this amazing company. You take a few steps in and you’re immediately disappointed.


No one greets you. You don’t see the hiring manager anywhere. It takes you 17 minutes to find the right person to speak to. No one even seems to know that a new person–you–just got hired.

You finally found someone who could point you in the right direction and you’re directed to the hiring manager’s office, who’s in the middle of a phone call. It takes 13 more minutes for him to get off the phone. Then he points you in the direction of your direct supervisor, who you soon realize doesn’t have a day planned out for you. So what do you do?

You sit at your new desk and you try to figure out what you can do. You ask the people around you what they’re working on, because maybe you can help–except you have no idea what the company culture is like or what you’re actually supposed to be doing.

You think it would get better throughout the week. Unfortunately it doesn’t. It doesn’t get better the next week either because everyone’s too busy to train you. So, on the second Friday, you quit.

That’s the experience you absolutely must avoid giving a new hire at all costs.

As a business owner, consider the costs of a new hire:

  • Placing ads
  • HR and recruiting costs
  • The time you dedicated to hiring and interviewing the employee
  • The costs to replace the employee if she leaves

The minimum cost of a new hire is $50,000.

It should be safe to assume that, if you’ve just hired someone, you believe in him and you’d want to keep him for the long term.

According to a study of over 1,000 people done by Bamboo HR, “31% of respondents had quit a job within six months of starting it.” Adding to that, “a steady stream of employees left from the first week all the way up to the third month.”

what do they really want

In a Quora discussion, ex-Quora engineer, Edmond Lau explains that a bad onboarding process could result in:

  • Losing a potentially great employee because they did not receive the guidance necessary to understand their role
  • Not identifying bad hires soon enough because you didn’t have enough opportunities to evaluate their work
  • Losing productive output from the new hire because ramping up took longer than it should have
  • Increased stress or reduced happiness of new hires–not a good place to start

To keep your new hires, you need a solid onboarding process that will get them acquainted with your company, their responsibilities, expectations, company culture and, most importantly, their projects.

A few hires without a solid onboarding process may not seem like a big deal upfront. Creating an onboarding process may even seem like a waste of time. We’ll just teach them as we go. We don’t have the time or resources to spend developing a training program right now.

Business owners may not feel like they have the time or resources to spend, but that means they also don’t have the time or resources to lose.

When respondents of the Bamboo HR survey were asked what would would have helped them stay at a job:

  • 23 percent of respondents said, “receiving clear guidelines to what my responsibilities were.”
  • 21 percent said they wanted “more effective training.”

31 percent have left

Say you have an informal onboarding process. The new employee comes in, you introduce him to the team, give him a tour and give assign a few small projects to do. Then you get back to your work. He ends up completing the tasks quickly and shows you his work. He did a great job. Now he’s asking what else he should do. You have to stop what you’re doing and assign him another project.

You realize it’s a better idea to hand him off to his direct supervisor, but you and the supervisor haven’t discussed what to have him do for the first month, or even the first week.

So now both you and the manager have to do one of the following:

  1. Stop what you both are doing and come up with a few projects or tasks on the spot to fill up his day, then discuss projects after hours OR
  2. Stop what you both are doing, sit down with him and discuss his role and responsibilities and what to do to get started (which might be difficult if you don’t already have a plan) OR
  3. Have him wander around aimlessly, spending his first day not entirely sure what he’s suppose to do.

In every scenario, someone is wasting their time.

I’m not to saying that sitting down with your new hire is a waste of time, but if you had a proper onboarding plan, you could spend that time working on your business instead.

Imagine you hired five new employees at the same time. That time you spend informally onboarding these new employees will add up quickly. That’s time and money wasted because you didn’t properly set up an onboarding process to get your new hires down to work as soon as possible.

To avoid these scenarios, it’s important to take your onboarding process personally. Bamboo HR does this by following what they call the three A’s.

  • Accommodation. Bamboo’s HR staff makes sure “everything is ready for their new employees when they arrive.”
  • Assimilation. Managers take onboarding personally. It is their responsibility to take their new employees to lunch on day one and to make a “personal connection outside of work.”
  • Acceleration. Bamboo invests in on-the-job training on an ongoing basis. They strive to help their new employees absorb a lot of information – at their own speed.

As you’ll see, these three concepts will be integrated into the rest of this article.

Let’s get into how to properly onboard a new employee.

We’ve already made this article into a checklist for you so you can easily follow along while you create your own onboarding process.

Free Download: Get the employee onboarding checklist! Click here to download for free.

Before the First Day

1. Have all paperwork ready.

There’s tons of paperwork for new hires: W-4, I-9, non-disclosure agreement, non-compete agreement, etc.

At Single Grain, we use a free online HR software, Zenefits. They simplify the paperwork and provide you with thorough contract templates. All you need to do is fill in a few blanks and send a link over to your new hire to fill out the forms.

2. Meet with their direct supervisor about their role, goals and projects.

Create a 30-60-90 day plan for your new hire. What projects should she be expected to complete at each checkpoint? What knowledge should she have?

By creating this 90 day plan with her direct supervisor, you’ll all be on the same page and it’ll be much easier to communicate your expectations.

3. Create a new hire checklist.

This checklist may differ for each position you’re hiring for, but it should at least include the basics:

  • What tools will be used on the job? What communication platform will the team use? If it’s for an engineering position, what software will be used? If it’s for a marketing position, what analytics tools will be used?
  • What accounts should be set up? Gmail? Slack? Hackpad? Github? Either have these accounts ready-made for the new hire or have a list of accounts they should create on the first day. This gives them something to do and allows them to become familiar with any new tools.
  • Which team members should he speak to on the first day (direct supervisor, team members, managers, etc.)?
  • Any required readings to catch him up to speed with current projects in the company
  • What small projects or tasks should the new hire begin working on?

Make the process easy to follow for your new hire. You can use Trello to organize your onboarding process.

Startup Stock Photo

4. Have the employee’s workstation ready and waiting.

Please don’t make your new hire set up her own workstation. That’s unwelcoming. Have her workstation stocked up with pens, paper, a computer (if she isn’t required to bring her own), a list of employee contact information and anything else she may need to hit the ground running.

Their First Day

1. Get your new employee ramped up.

According to IDC, U.S. and U.K. employees cost businesses an estimated $37 billion every year because they do not fully understand their jobs.

By having an onboarding process that ramps up your new hire up with current ongoings at your company, they can get to work right away. This way, you not only have them producing work for you immediately, but they’ll also start the job feeling like they’re already contributing to the company and feeling accomplished.

Sit down with your new employee and discuss current projects and goals that the company is working on. This way he has an idea of how to contribute of where he fits into the master plan. This will get them excited to be a part of the team

You may need to spend a significant amount of time with them in the beginning, but by doing this, you’ll save time and money down the line because it will be clear what they need to do.

2. Lay out your expectations.

You should have come up with a list of goals and expectations for your new hire before the first day. If not, it’s important to have be able to answer these questions for your new hire:

  • What will your new hire be doing? How will she be contributing to the company?
  • What are her specific responsibilities?
  • What are your goals for her? what are her goals?
  • What’s expected in 30 days? 60 days? 90 days?

While it’s important to push them to reach their goals, also remember to reward them and not burn them out.

A great way to get your employee excited to take goals head on is to explain why you hired them.

3. Impart your company culture.

We’ve previously discussed the importance of creating core values for your company. While your new hire may have an idea of those values and your company culture through your website and marketing materials, it’s important to still discuss these values.

This can be done by having your new hire read internal documentation, having them speak to other team members or even sending them articles.

When I got hired at Single Grain, Eric directed me to the Single Grain core values and sent me the follow articles to read:

This was part of his onboarding process. As CEO of Single Grain, he always has a lot to do, but because he had a list of articles for me to read, I was able to get acquainted with company culture knew what was expected of me without his direct involvement.

4. Have projects ready for them to take on.

This is important because they will free like they are already contributing to the company, even if it’s a small project.

To push new engineers to learn Quora’s company work pace, “we try to have each new engineer push a commit to add herself to the team page on the first day and to deploy a bug fix, a small new feature, or a new experiment by the end of the first week.”

If your new hire doesn’t have anything to do, he’ll end up sitting around feeling unimportant to the company. He’ll dislike the job right away if they feel that his time or work is unimportant to the company.

Give him projects that will keep him busy for the first day and longer-term projects for the week. After you get an understanding of how he works, you can give him larger projects. Remember to have someone he can go to with questions.

Startup Stock Photos

Throughout the First Month

1. Help build their knowledge foundation.

There’s always a lot to learn when starting at a new company, so make it easy for them. Give them a list of learning material about the company like a training manual. But also provide material that will set the foundation for their personal development while at the company.

For example, at Single Grain, I was given documents about ideal client profiles, reporting processes and other explanations for projects I’d be handling.

I was also sent articles about what it means to be a T-shaped marketer and professional development for digital marketers. These articles didn’t directly pertain to my job at Single Grain, but would contribute to my growth as a marketer, which would affect my work at Single Grain and my future career development.

Then, I was assigned books to read. I started with “Influence” by Robert Cialdini which further set my foundation for influence techniques that could be used in marketing. Then I read breakthrough advertising which further solidified my foundation for copywriting.

It sounds like an impersonal way to teach, but after reading the book or article, I would the main takeaways with Eric.

All this learning may all sound trivial. That’s a lot of articles and reading? Doesn’t that waste the new hire’s time? Shouldn’t the new hire spend time producing work and results?

56% of the respondents from Bamboo HR’s study, said that an employee buddy or mentor was one of the most important things a new employee needs to get up to speed and begin contributing quickly.

So, yes, while a new hire should get straight to doing work, a method that involves teaching and mentoring takes the employee’s development and looks at it in the long term. By mentoring your new hire and showing that you care about their growth and development, you keep them happy and they won’t want to leave.

By sending me these articles, Eric saves a lot of time from explaining every concept to me by himself. This way, as CEO of Single Grain, he can continue working on the company.

2. Socially integrate the new employee into the team.

It may be difficult for new hires to integrate themselves into the culture. They may feel the need to stand in the shadows and understand how everyone interacts before joining in on conversations.

At Quora, “we relied mainly on mentors to help introduce the new hires around. Later on, some members of the team started organizing small group lunches to help give more structured opportunities to meet other folks on the team.  Batching new hires to start on the same day also helps to create more of a sense of camaraderie.”

By integrating your new hire into the team and making it personal, she will get comfortable more quickly and feel more comfortable stepping up.

Additional Tips for Creating a Successful Onboarding Process

1. Ask your team about their onboarding experiences.

They may have horror stories from previous work, or even about how they were onboarded at your company. Use their experiences to create and improve your onboarding process.

2. Think about your previous onboarding experiences.

Likewise, think about your previous experience with starting at a new company. What did they do that you liked? What could they have done better?

What about now? What do you think is necessary to know for a new employee to succeed at your company?

onboarding extends

3. Don’t rush the onboarding.

As mentioned earlier, new hires may leave anytime between their first week up to their third month. Onboarding shouldn’t be treated as strictly a first-day task. It’s an ongoing process that makes sure the employee figures out their role and can work to their full potential. You should continue to “onboard” the employee as they’re with you until you can see that they’ve gotten a feel for the company and their role and they step up.

4. Your onboarding process should not be permanent.

As your company grows and changes, your onboarding process should change along with it. It may no longer make sense to have an employee reading the same articles a year or two later.


Like hiring, onboarding is a crucial aspect to your company. You will have difficulties developing your business if your employee turnover rate is too high. By having a solid employee onboarding plan, you can reduce employee churn and focus on growing your business.

How can you improve your onboarding process?

Free Download: Get the employee onboarding checklist! Click here to download for free.

More resources on building an onboarding process:

Image sources: Liz Hall, Bamboo HR

More From This Category

Join 14,000+ Marketers and Founders

Enter your email to get free instant access