Wanted: A Positive Onboarding Experience

Lone Ranger Earlier this week, Michael VanDervort shared a post on his blog The Human RaceHorses about his first day on the job in HR. It’s a great read and made me think about my own “first day” experiences. Unfortunately, I’m long overdue for a good one.

Job 1

My first job post graduation was at Margaret’s Employment Service. I responded to a “Help Wanted” sign in Margaret’s front yard and when I met her – a recruiter for 30+ years – she put down her phone only long enough to say “You’re hired”. I was provided a desk, chair, phone and the Yellow Pages and my training consisted of “Make calls”. So I smiled and dialed. Within a couple of weeks, someone actually talked to me at a bank that was hiring and I scheduled an interview. For me. I don’t think Margaret noticed when I left.

Job 2

My new job was an Internal Auditor position – a job typically filled by Finance grads and MBA’s. Clearly, someone wasn’t paying attention in the interview process. (Me.) My first day involved showing up in the wee hours of the morning to drive to a branch office where, like Ninja, our secret arrival was timed with the opening of the doors. Once inside, the auditors scurried off immediately to capitalize on the element of surprise. I was instructed to count and balance the cash drawers of the Tellers. And I had no idea how to do that. Left alone to count more money than I’d ever seen in my life, it wasn’t pretty. One. Two. Three…

Job 3

After 18 months of terrorizing bank employees, I networked my way into an HR Manager position in a small company. On my first day, I entered the Plant Manager’s office full of youthful hope and exuberance. He looked at me and said: “I don’t know anything about HR. Don’t expect me to help you. There’s some books in your office.” And he went back to smoking his cigarette. So I found my office and started looking at books. I was a little less hopeful, but thrilled to finally be working in HR. Even if no one else cared.

Job 4

A few years and a relocation later, I took an HR role with a new start up that was part of a bigger company. On my first day, I showed up at the main office as instructed, but since I’d been hired for the new company (still being built) and I wouldn’t be located there, there was no place for me. My boss suggested I find an empty desk and make plans for recruiting and training the new employees that would be needed. I worked on that project (making plans) for the next 5 months at random locations before the new building was finished. During that time, I worked in a crowded office, but wasn’t really part of a team – because there wasn’t one for me yet. As a result, I attended lots of meetings with myself. They were very efficient.

Job 5

Eventually, I was recruited to a position at a company with a new CEO who’d been brought in for a turnaround and wasn’t seeing eye to eye with the VP of HR. It was a confidential search, so once the current VP was notified of his unplanned departure, the CEO and I were supposed to meet with him the following weekend while the offices were closed so he could pass the torch and provide me with the keys to the kingdom. Except the CEO forgot to show up that Sunday so it was just the two of us. Awkward. The next day I met with the HR team that had just been informed of my arrival the Friday before. They told me that because of the changes that had taken place and the way things were handled, they felt like outcasts. And I knew how they felt because I’d been there before. Thankfully, we were able to fix that.

So Why The Big FAIL When It Comes to Onboarding?

All of the companies that I worked for were great places to work (except maybe Margaret’s) and they were filled with smart and capable people. A couple of my bosses were even amazing and inspiring Leaders to work for who really challenged me and helped me to grow. But all of the companies I’ve worked for – both the small ones and those in the Fortune 500 – failed me as a new hire on my first day because they didn’t plan effectively for my arrival or take the time to make me feel welcomed.

Research shows that 90% of companies believe that employees make their decision to stay at a company within the first six months, but many of us have experienced an onboarding process that started our career with the company off on the wrong foot. Things that make you go hmmm…

Do you have an awful new hire experience similar to or worse than mine? What was your worst (or best) first day/week on the job like?

I showed you mine. Now you show me yours. Tell me about it.

President & Chief Talent Strategist

Jennifer McClure is a Keynote Speaker, Talent Strategies Expert and Executive Coach who works with clients and companies in the areas of leadership development, communication and talent strategy. Jennifer McClure offers keynotes, workshops and training that inspire and empower business leaders to be more effective in their careers and as leaders of their organization’s most valuable resource – people.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

13 thoughts on “Wanted: A Positive Onboarding Experience

  1. Good post – few companies do a great job at onboarding, which is surprising given that employee engagement is such a buzzword. A great way to engage an employee is to make sure their first impression is a positive one.
    My stories are similar to yours. I showed up at a small company on Day 1 and they didn’t have a desk for me. I basically sat to the left of someone, using their desk space – for a month. I stuck around for a couple years, but I never saw that company as a long-term workplace because of that initial experience.
    Shameless self-promotion: The company I work for, Verifications, Inc., is offering a free webinar on Jan. 26 addressing this topic. Titled Onboard for Competence and Engagement: Nine Best-Practice Tactics for Success, the hour-long webinar will cover how to create a great onboarding/new hire experience and 9 tactics employers can use to improve their onboarding program. You can learn more on our webinars page or click here to register.

  2. All stories that I hear far too often! Thanks for sharing Cincy. I recently gave a presentation called Onboarding: Through the Eyes of the New Hire because all too often companies don’t think about the experience that employees are eager to have during their Onboarding…they only think about the information they want to provide to the employee.
    As I Tweeted to you…I’ll be sure to post your article in our Onboarding Best Practices LinkedIn Group http://tinyurl.6tq52s
    I welcome any recruiters who are passionate about helping to support a positive preboarding and onboarding experience for their candidates to join the discussions.
    You might also be interested in a webinar called “You’re Client Got the Job, Now What??” if you are interested in how to help your candidates after the placement.

  3. My first day at a Fortune 100 company, and my first job as an HR newbie was “eventful.” I intentionally tried the waters because it was important to live in a certain area of town if you worked for this Corporate giant.
    I was asked by everyone I met where I lived as their introductory question, and I answered “correctly” because I lived on the East Side of town. (Which was true).
    One the 5th person I met, I was fed up and so I said I lived on the West Side of town to this person. It was my boss’s boss. Oops !!
    I could tell then that my “onboarding” wasn’t going to lead to a long career !!

  4. @Chad & @Sue – Thanks for stopping by and sharing some resources. Obviously, if you guys are focused on Onboarding for your business (as are others), then it’s a bigger problem for more than me.
    @Steve – Only you could tweak the nose of the powers that be in the hallowed halls of that F100. I think we both know you’re much better off being able to make real changes that affect the people in your organization that being a cog in that machine. Maybe in your case, onboarding did work. 🙂

  5. My 2nd job was at a small manufacturing plant (part of a larger organization). On my first day, my boss took me to lunch (good start), then proceeded to tell me about his first marriage and both of their mental instabilities… I had just left a job (making very little pay) with a local county government and I immediately wondered what I had gotten myself into.
    He left after a year or two and it got better. …but, I did learn he told the purchasing assistant after my interview that he thought I ‘liked’ him. Ewww.
    And, that was before ‘onboarding’ was a common phrase.

  6. I showed up to my second job at the day and time stated in the offer letter. The company’s response…”You’re here today? We weren’t expecting you unitl NEXT week.” Then somebody cleared off a table in the corner of the room. Instant desk.

  7. Many companies fail to realize that a bad onboarding or orientation program contributes significantly to turnover.
    We have found that the first week on the job defines when a new-hire becomes “engaged” with the company or merely bides time until they can find something better.
    The problem here is that managers are not instructed on how to train and develop new people. To do this a “Communication Link” must be in place during the first week of employment. Turnover can easily be reduced by 20% or more if the new hire is properly facilitated. This is especially critical in commission sales to ensure the new-hire that they are valued and are worthy of concern and development.
    Hiring the right people is useless if they are not properly conditioned, developed, and engaged.

  8. I had been courted for a position. I wanted to give one month notice to my current employer and was pressured by the recruiter to give two weeks due to the pressing need for my services.
    Ok. So I mortgaged my soul and gave two weeks notice, believing the hype.
    Than I walked into my new employer, and there was nothing to do for the first week. NI had a computer, a phone, and no work. No interaction. No guidance. No assignments. Agonizing. I took a lot of slooooowwwww trips to the restroom and the canteen.
    Sometime in the first three days, someone thrust a pile of invoices at me. “Here, work on these.” No guidance as to the desired outcome. What do I do with them?
    I created a spreadsheet and analyzed them from every angle, all the while wondering: why did I short-change my former employer? Why did I burn those bridges?!
    There was no need!

  9. @Melissa – I’m with you! Ewwww. 🙂
    @Tony – Sounds like somebody dropped the ball didn’t they. At least they found you a place and you didn’t have to come back next week!
    @hrdt – Amen. You’re preaching to the choir. But go on, preach it!
    @Kris – Wow. You win. Hopefully, you contacted the recruiter who pressured you to leave. That’s not cool. I always want to respect that someone wants to leave a job the right way. I hope that everything worked out for you in the long run!

  10. Jennifer, sounds like an interesting ride. Worst onboarding experience wasn’t me but someone I recruited, for my very own HR dept. at a Fortune 100 company. I’d recruited her from the grad school I’d graduated from and my instructors recommended her as the pick of the class. Between accepting the offer and her start date my company merged with a major competitor. Rumors flying all over the place. On her third day I finally got a few minutes with our SVP who promptly asked the new hire, “So what rumors have you heard? Who’s gonna lose their job?” By day 5 she was gone. Went to lunch and never came back.
    Is there a good way to onboard new hires? See my opinion in an article I wrote for Workforce titled, “Stop Wasting Money on Employee Orientations!” Here’s the link: http://www.workforce.com/archive/article/24/04/23.php?ht=

  11. My current position started as a emergency temporary assignment, where I was needed to replace the previous employee ASAP. My first day consisted of the office manager and her assistant regaling me with stories of the replaced person’s incompetence (“He took a day off to audition for American Idol!”) and inane questions (“Is that your real hair?”). I had a desk but no phone, and a computer but no log-in.
    I once had an internship where I spent the first three (THREE!) days watching corporate training videos. Alone. For 8 hours. Zzzzzz…
    And I agree that one-person meetings are darn effective. I always get so much work done!

  12. Thanks for playing off my own story to go into a better topic. Great things to think about in this post!
    It was great to see you in Washington DC!

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