First Impressions Set the Stage

When Susan shows up for her first day on a new job, no one waits to greet her. When her HR representative (who is running late) finally arrives, Susan is asked to fill out some forms for taxes and benefits but receives no guidance on her 401k distributions until she specifically asks for it. Next, she watches a two-minute “welcome” video that gives a basic overview of the company, then is whisked away to meet her team only to find out that half of them are at lunch and she has no assigned workspace yet and can’t access any of the tools she needs to do her job. It’s only half past noon, and Susan’s new company has already let her down.

The first impression a company makes with its new employees sets the tone of their relationship. It can determine whether new hires develop a long-term commitment to the organization—and or are willing to leave for the next best offer. For many companies, this first impression takes place during the onboarding process.


Historically known as “orientation” (which highlights the concept of pointing a new employee in the right direction), at its core onboarding involves giving new hires basic company information and having them complete forms. But this level of engagement often ends up being more about covering the requirements for a new hire than about welcoming a new member of the team. Consequently, it can easily leave employees feeling lost amid the whirl of their first day on the job.


The ramifications of a poor first day can resonate for years. Left unaddressed, employees’ feelings that “from day one” they weren’t taken seriously or that the company wasn’t concerned about their well-being can lead to poor performance, negative attitude (expressed both inside and outside of the workplace), and disloyalty. By following basic onboarding guidelines and tailoring the process to fit their needs and cultures, companies can create great first impressions with their new hires.



The Basics

Onboarding should always be a structured collaboration between HR and management. In most companies, the HR professional will use the first portion of the day to discuss corporate policies and benefits and provide an overview of the company and its culture. Then the hiring manager will take over to go over the specifics of the role and introduce the new hire to his or her team.


By incorporating the following elements into onboarding, HR can help a new hire’s first day go smoothly:


  • Welcome e-mail or phone call. This takes place before the employee’s first day and includes information about the workplace location, where to park, which entrance to use, the company dress code, and where and when the new hire will meet with HR.


  • This lists the names and titles of the people who will be meeting with the new hire throughout the day, as well as the times and locations of those meetings.


  • Forms and benefits. Review tax information, 401k distribution and matching, benefits and bonuses (and the new hire’s eligibility for such), beneficiary forms, and healthcare policies. Call out places for signatures to make it easier for the employee to find them, and highlight each section’s key points up front.


  • Handbook, HR documentation, and corporate Information. The level of detail needed varies for each company. But if the amount of information is extensive, divide the presentation into easily understandable segments, with built-in breaks to give employees time to digest the material. Also, explain to employees how they can access this information in the future at their own leisure.


  • Technology and access. Work with IT to ensure that hardware (computer, mobile phone, tablet, etc.) is available from the moment the employee arrives and to schedule a first-time walkthrough and login session. Having access to e-mail, team folders, and intranet sites on a new hire’s first day also expands his or her options for employee training. Building and parking access, ID photos, and employee profiles should also be covered.


  • Workspace arrangements. Make sure that the employee’s workspace is identified and available. Acclimating a new hire to that location helps smooth the transition and helps him or her feel like a part of the company.


  • Manager and team introductions. This is a soft handoff, with HR (as the familiar face with whom the new hire has spent the day so far) remaining for a little while through introductions and making sure that the employee is comfortable. Consider planning an activity (such as lunch) that can include HR while the employee gets to know his or her team members.


The Personal Touches

Companies can add or tweak elements of onboarding to make better connections with their new hires and to add even more value to the experience.


  • Include a picture of a new hire’s HR contact in the “welcome e-mail” (to help the employee recognize him or her on the first day)
  • Provide refreshments (such as coffee, tea, light pastries, and fruit) during the morning session
  • Include a full tour of the location, including how to get in and out of buildings and other work sites
  • Recommend nearby lunch places (especially if an employee is new to the area or has a long commute)
  • Bookend the onboarding experience by circling back at the end of the day to check in with the employee and maybe even walk out with him or her



Just the Beginning

It can seem time consuming to tailor onboarding to match each new employee’s needs and interests, but as something that can make a world of difference to someone who is joining a company, it is definitely a worthwhile investment. Use company surveys to solicit feedback about what employees liked (or didn’t like) about their onboarding experiences, and use that valuable information to make improvements. And remember, onboarding is just the beginning of a long process of employee engagement that starts with a great first impression.


Eric Magnussen serves as the senior vice president of talent for Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA), a 5,500-employee organization. He is responsible for all aspects of the CTCA talent function, including talent strategy, attraction and selection, employee development, succession planning, wellness and well-being, and compensation and benefits.