Onboarding best practices: How to leverage this talent acquisition strategy and welcome new recruits

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Your new employees want to feel welcome and supported from day one of their new jobs. However, your reputation is on the line if you give them a poor introduction.

Even with the best recruitment marketing strategy, negative news about how you treat new workers spreads fast.

What’s more, poor onboarding leads to high employee turnover, with up to 31% of employees leaving roles within six months of joining.[1]

It’s simple: An effective onboarding process leads to higher employee satisfaction, which, in turn, leads to higher employee retention.

So, let’s follow through on your initial talent acquisition efforts and give your new hires a five-star welcome. 

In this guide, we explore:

  • How onboarding best practices attract top talent

  • Why new hires want a first week that wows them

  • How you can improve your candidate experience

  • Three companies that pull in and retain talent with successful onboarding

If you already know the onboarding basics, jump ahead to our tips to make the most of this talent acquisition strategy.

What is onboarding?

Employee onboarding is the process by which you welcome new people into your company.

The employee onboarding process is a chance for you to help newbies settle in, learn more about your culture, ask questions, and understand their responsibilities. It’s part of a broader talent acquisition trend of companies putting people first.

Positive onboarding experiences help people feel more comfortable and confident. After all, employees' first impression of your company determines their long-term future with you.

What does onboarding look like in practice?

Onboarding takes place at the start of the employee life cycle and lasts for as long as it takes to help your new hires get accustomed to their roles and responsibilities, which is different from job to job. 

Low-skill jobs have short onboarding periods of a few days or weeks, but onboarding for certain high-skill jobs can take up to a year or more. The employee needs time and support to operate expertly and independently.

Onboarding typically covers:

  1. Preboarding paperwork

  2. Orientation and introductions

  3. Training and education

  4. Feedback, mentoring, and ongoing support

However, like other recruitment best practices, your onboarding process could vary in its necessary approach.

Why are onboarding best practices important?

Employee onboarding best practices are important because they show candidates you care about their experience, morale, and performance. 

You're doing more than merely showing someone to a desk and tossing them an employee handbook.

A positive onboarding experience ensures your new hires have everything they need to join the team and any extra support they need afterward.

Disorganized onboarding processes are frustrating. A clear, concise onboarding experience is not just good PR for recruiters – it helps inspire workers to feel happier and be more productive.

A clear onboarding checklist or roadmap reassures new hires, giving them the confidence to get started in their new roles. Even if questions remain after onboarding, they should feel empowered to reach out and ask for support.

The difference between a positive and a negative onboarding process is that a negative experience results in frustrated hires that need lots of hand-holding after onboarding, resulting in quiet quitting and negative reviews.

If you’re disorganized and there's no clear sign of ownership or improvement, employees may feel neglected and look for work elsewhere.

A good onboarding process should provide recruits with what they want and need as soon as possible.

The benefits of using the best onboarding practices

Let’s consider a few of the long-term benefits of upgrading how you welcome employees to your firm. 

Using the best practices for onboarding new employees, you:

  1. Improve your firm’s reputation and attract high-quality talent

  2. Keep employees engaged

  3. Reduce turnover

The benefits of using the best onboarding practices graphic

Let's explore why and how.

Improve your firm’s reputation and attract high-quality talent

Around four in five employees recommend the companies they work for after they complete onboarding.[4] 

It’s an introduction to your company that drives talent into your pool through positive word of mouth.

Employees who are impressed by their onboarding could share what they’ve been through on social media and their professional networks, enhancing your employer branding.

Your employer brand is the reflection of your company values and how you support your team. Unlike your corporate identity, which presents a complete company image to the public, an employer brand sells your workplace, your culture, and your management to potential candidates.

Up to 58% of people prioritize looking for jobs where they can express their skills and do what they're good at – and you can demonstrate how that's possible through a detailed, supportive new hire orientation.

Word of this supportive experience travels far – especially to talented people looking for a firm to foster skills rather than take them for granted.

Keep employees engaged

Worker productivity increases when they know what to do. Companies using a standard onboarding framework that outlines company policies are likely to boost productivity in their new hires by more than 70%.[2]

Moreover, 51% of employees claim they'd go "above and beyond" to support a company with a good induction and onboarding process.[3]

Onboarding programs introduce different elements of a firm to a new hire a little at a time. This way, an employee’s first day is more like filling a bathtub than being dumped in the ocean. 

Learning the ropes at a reasonable rate is the best way to maximize employee engagement without making them feel overwhelmed.

They get to enjoy the culture, meet the team, have one-on-one meetings with managers, and train on systems at a healthy pace.

Reduce turnover

Positive onboarding practices don't just attract talented employees, they keep them from leaving. Your onboarding sets the tone and expectations for your employer style early on.

Research shows strong onboarding experiences boost retention rates by up to 82%.[2] 

People are likely to judge how you run your business and the work environment you foster based on the first month of employment.

New recruits care deeply about how you treat them, regardless of salary. Data shows up to 82% of people think it's important companies value their human needs rather than just see them as means to an end. 

Drawing on this data, Gartner produced a “Human Deal Framework” that breaks down core values people want from the companies they stay with:

The human deal framework graphic

Positive onboarding experiences that prioritize these human needs – such as sharing details on flexibility in the workplace and letting people meet their co-workers – keep the aforementioned 82% of people invested.

7 onboarding best practices to leverage for acquiring top talent 

Here are a few tried-and-tested ways to attract highly talented prospects and create a positive employer reputation with an effective onboarding program.

Top tips to add to your onboarding best practices checklist

Best practice

Brief summary

1. Always preboard your hires

Cover important details and answer questions when you start onboarding new hires to help them feel more confident and secure

2. Assess new recruits with skills tests

Test new team members to help plan for development and lateral opportunities across your company

3. Introduce a mentoring program

Match up employees with co-workers they can shadow to help them gain confidence and learn more about your culture

4. Create an onboarding checklist

Lay out what new workers can expect from onboarding to reduce stress and get them up to speed efficiently

5. Show off your culture

Immerse new hires in your positive culture and help them integrate with your team, enhancing your employer branding through word of mouth

6. Make the first day exciting

Make things fun and easy for recruits with varied scheduling and perks so you can keep energy levels and investment in your business high

7. Match your onboarding with an offboarding plan

Show exiting employees you still care about them and their careers – keep the same energy as your onboarding process to create positive buzz for your brand

1. Always preboard your hires

Preboarding typically means ensuring all new hire paperwork is complete. It often takes place before a new hire’s first day. 

At this early stage, think about showing recruits what to expect when they start with you and draw up a guide on frequently asked questions. It’s wise to ensure all legal checks are complete.

Although preboarding isn’t always the most exciting element of joining a company, it’s necessary – and it helps new hires feel more secure and more trusting of you.

By covering important concerns before onboarding begins, employees can relax and enjoy learning about your business and how they add to it.

Prioritize the most important administration first when creating an onboarding plan.

Schedule check-ins with direct managers and other team members and consider providing online resources, such as PDF guides in a welcome email, which is particularly helpful for remote employees.

Other remote onboarding best practices you could introduce during preboarding include helping recruits log into your company communication channels and hosting virtual round tables where people can introduce themselves in groups.

2. Assess new recruits with skills tests

Testing your prospects before you hire is always worthwhile so you can be certain of their skill levels, behavioral competencies, and “culture add” values.

However, consider assessing employees early in the hiring process. You can learn more about an employee's personality, learning style, and co-working habits using talent assessment tests.

Using skills tests during onboarding helps you find areas of your talent mapping that your new hires might wish to explore should they score strongly in specific areas. 

It’s a good opportunity to explore leadership development potential with your hires further down the line by using appropriate tests to check their managerial skills.

Skills tests give you insight into a new hire's strengths, weaknesses, and training needs. Consider using information from personality tests like the Enneagram to build around their specific type and learning style.

Learning more about your new hires through skills testing gives you more useful insight and metrics than you'd gain through resume screening. 

Rather than make assumptions about how your new employee should develop as part of your team, use test scores to create a clearer picture and create a personal action plan.

Following this tip and being transparent about it with your employees assures them they've joined a supportive, people-focused company willing to develop skills for other internal roles.

3. Introduce a mentoring program

Mentorship helps build employee confidence and satisfaction. Research shows that 91% of people working with mentors are satisfied with their roles. 

Mentoring and shadowing enable people to learn from existing employees about your company and culture in addition to their own roles.

Consider assigning mentors to your new hires who align with their career prospects and the role they’re taking on. 

Think about matching existing personnel with new hires based on personality test scoring, such as the 16 Types test. This test explores how people process information, solve problems, and make decisions.

4. Create an onboarding checklist

As discussed, employees want structure and competent organization from their employers when they first join. 

Onboarding checklists lay out the initiation process, giving new hires clarity over who to meet, which paperwork to complete, and how to get started in their new roles.

Onboarding checklists help to bring people into your culture smoothly and help to foster open communication. A checklist could include opportunities for recruits to meet existing team members and ask questions.

Using an onboarding checklist helps reduce stress for the new hire and HR personnel. Everyone is working from the same page. You can expect higher productivity, fewer mistakes during a hire's first few weeks, and a more confident, more autonomous employee hitting the ground running.

5. Show off your culture

Onboarding helps you to bring your new employees into your culture one step at a time. 

Allow your new hires to meet their new team and acclimate to a typical working day. Your timetable could include an "open day" where your employee simply shadows other people for a shift without having any responsibilities, if appropriate.

A good company culture is something top talent prioritizes when hunting for new work.

Glassdoor research confirms that more than half of job seekers seek culture over salary.

By bringing your new hires deeply into your culture as part of onboarding, word soon spreads about your people-first, skills-based initiatives and opportunities for learning and development.

Give your new employees a chance to meet with executives to get a genuine feel for your brand. Share your values in all you do with your new hires. Have leaders and employees reflect on these values during the first day of onboarding.

Consider using this opportunity to let recruits explore extra benefits to expect once part of the team, such as employee wellness programs and team social events.

6. Make the first day exciting

The worst thing you can do with your onboarding process is make it bland, unmemorable, and confusing – even by accident. New hires want to get excited about working for you, and matching that energy helps to keep them engaged.

Consider setting up your new employee's workspace before they arrive so there's no confusion, and they don't feel overwhelmed.

Exciting doesn’t have to mean unproductive. Give new hires a tour of your building, have them meet people, and offer skills tests. It’s a good opportunity to bring new hires into a team-building event where appropriate.

Don’t just make things fun for permanent employees. Remember, your contract workers and contingent employees benefit from positive onboarding, too.

Ideally, create a first day that's structured and varied but manageable. Again, consider using personality scoring to judge energy levels and learning styles. Creating several first-day plans is a smart idea for offering an inclusive approach for different people and needs.

7. Match your onboarding with an offboarding plan

Always consider how you offboard people. When employees eventually come to leave, it’s important to part ways positively. You might meet them again in the future – rehiring former employees is an effective recruitment strategy in some scenarios.

Employee offboarding should be positive even if you have to let someone go. It's a good way to show workers their efforts are recognized and to say goodbye formally.

Positive offboarding further enhances your reputation as a highly supportive employer.

Your employer brand benefits because there's no chance of employees claiming you stop being supportive after onboarding. Positive offboarding helps secure your firm against disgruntled employees who wish to cause harm. 

Onboarding process examples: 3 companies succeeding with employee onboarding as a talent acquisition strategy

Let's take a good look at three companies with onboarding process best practices worth taking inspiration from.

Three of the best onboarding process examples

Company

Outstanding onboarding practices

Zapier

- Optional mentoring to support people who learn through shadowing

- Flexible virtual onboarding meetings and modules to appeal to remote employees

- Highly organized onboarding calendar built around the business’s culture and lead product

Pinterest

- First-day "knitting" to help new recruits get to know each other and build team cohesion early

- Engaging supervisor introductions to help new employees learn more about the chain of command

- Social collaboration on pre-project assignments to “test drive” new teams

Netflix

- Swift yet thorough preboarding to answer important questions before immersing hires in the culture

- Episodic onboarding modules across eight weeks to help different aspects of the role settle in

- 1:1 sessions with executives to help new recruits feel more confident and appreciated

Zapier

Zapper onboarding graphic

Zapier, a workflow automation provider, is as comprehensive as possible when it comes to its new employee experience. The interesting twist here is it runs a largely virtual onboarding process.

The company runs a “Zap Pals” program where new employees match up with veterans who can guide them through the onboarding process. It’s an opt-in process, meaning there’s no compulsion.

The firm leans into its automation roots with a streamlined system of connected apps and calendars to guide each new hire through the welcome process. 

Its onboarding typically covers Zoom sessions and Lessonly modules. Because Zapier's remote employees work in different time zones, the firm uses its own technology to automate events so there are no clashes or overlaps.[5]

This process promotes inclusive hiring because everyone receives the same warm and comprehensive welcome, tailored slightly for specific flexibility needs and personalized for each recruit.

The firm's custom onboarding approach helps attract remote talent who'd otherwise feel restricted by physical meetings – and those who are looking for a highly versatile, fluid onboarding process that works around its people. It’s a reliable strategy that helps the organization hire diverse candidates.

Pinterest

Pinterest onboarding image graphic

Pinterest, the social pinboard app, immerges new hires into its culture from day one with a process called“knitting.”

The brand’s onboarding typically starts with a batch of new hires meeting on the morning of day one before proceeding into icebreaker games and getting to know the workplace a little closer.

"Knitting" for the brand brings people together to unite and collaborate. The first day is about finding common interests with others and meeting supervisors. It’s heavy on social interaction, a fitting choice for the brand.[6]

This onboarding process is ideal for acquiring talent who feel impersonal, paperwork-focused welcomes have let them down in the past. 

Knitting enables people to start team-building before collaborative work starts for real. This program attracts people who thrive in collaborative environments and appreciate hands-on support.

Netflix

Netflix onboarding blog graphic

Netflix, the entertainment streaming giant, uses an inspiring “sports team” hiring and onboarding model that might seem a little cutthroat to some.

It's like a sports team in that the company isn't afraid to take a coaching stance to encourage talent and collaboration. However, again, like a sports team, if people don't contribute meaningfully, they get cut. 

It's a thorough take on a hiring plan that's inspiring and motivating for the types of people the business wants to attract.

The firm preboards to get paperwork up and out of the way before a new hire receives a message from an onboarding buddy or peer mentor. This strategy helps to answer questions and bring employees into the culture.

What differentiates this brand from others in terms of onboarding is its approach to splitting onboarding "episodes," where new joiners learn about the culture, meet teammates, and train on technology across seven to eight weeks.

Finally, the firm hosts one-on-one meetings for new hires to connect with some of the most important people in the business.

This onboarding process is praised thanks to its focus on spreading modules to avoid overwhelming recruits. 

Games and activities prove popular with new hires looking to ease into the process, and the thorough roadmap – though it offers lots of breathing space – gives new employees the confidence to get started on projects.[7]

Become a talent magnet with onboarding best practices

Your newest employees wield a surprising amount of power over your reputation. Their onboarding experience with you could inspire or repulse future hires in your talent pipeline

After all, the first few weeks at your firm offer a window into the future.

With onboarding best practices, create a welcome program that’s supportive, fun, well-organized, and worth shouting about. Show your new hires how much you value them, and you can expect:

  • A more attractive employer brand

  • Higher employee retention rates

  • Happier teams

  • A more positive and productive culture

But don’t stop here – there are plenty of ways to enhance these onboarding best practices to further improve your acquisition efforts. Consider organizing a hackathon, for example, to welcome tech experts into your business.

Next, read our guide on candidate nurturing to learn why caring for your incoming talent is so important.

Don’t forget about making skills testing part of your talent acquisition strategy – head to the TestGorilla library and browse our assessment catalog.

Sources

  1. “The Definitive Guide to Onboarding”. BambooHR. Retrieved September 20, 2023. https://www.bamboohr.com/resources/guides/the-definitive-guide-to-onboarding

  2. Laurano, Madeline. (August 2015). “The True Cost of a Bad Hire”. Brandon Hall Group. Retrieved September 19, 2023. https://b2b-assets.glassdoor.com/the-true-cost-of-a-bad-hire.pdf 

  3. “Staff Engagement: Ideas For Action”. (2016). Hays. Retrieved September 19, 2023. https://www.hays.com.au/documents/276732/1102429/Staff+Engagement.pdf 

  4. “Super CIO: What the CIO sees - that other people don’t”. (2018). Digitate. Retrieved September 19, 2023. https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/0cbe87_664f8806dc694bd7b52246c2e0fe41c1.pdf 

  5. Martinez, Krystina. (June 17, 2022). “Tricks of the automation trade: How Zapier scales employee onboarding”. Zapier. Retrieved September 19, 2023. https://zapier.com/blog/how-zapier-automates-onboarding/ 

  6. “7 Examples of Killer Onboarding Programs We Can Learn From”. (June 8, 2022). Employment Hero. Retrieved September 19, 2023. https://employmenthero.com/blog/killer-onboarding-programs/ 

  7. Heinle, Alexander. “How Netflix Nailed Employee Onboarding (And How You Can Do It Too)”. Zavvy. Retrieved September 19, 2023. https://www.zavvy.io/hr-examples/employee-onboarding-at-netflix 

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