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Ultimate New Hire Checklist: 10 Steps To Start Onboarding!

You’re excited. You’re pumped. You’ve gone through dozens of job applications and resumes, interviewed a handful of great people, and short-listed a stellar few. 

Like Morpheus from The Matrix, you’ve finally found your Neo. (Cue the angelic singing...)

Maybe you’re hiring your first new employee, or the latest in a series of new team members. After an extensive and time-consuming hiring process, you want to make sure you’re not missing something in the new hire process that could mess things up later. Most importantly, you want to make sure they’re as excited and pumped to start as you are!

You’ve decided to formalize your new hire process, and create an orientation program as part of a more structured employee onboarding process.

According to the BC Chartered Professionals in Human Resources (CPHR) organization, nine-in-ten (87%) of Western Canadian organizations took one or more actions to reduce employee turnover, with better onboarding (51%) continuing to be the most popular action.

This article is written to help you get your new team members started quickly and efficiently.  The ten-step new hire checklist I’ve outlined here will take you all the way from making an official job offer, to the start of your new team member’s first day of work.

Important note: As you’ll see, while the current COVID-19 pandemic has changed many hiring and onboarding processes, this new employee checklist will apply regardless of whether you’re starting someone in the office or working remotely from home. Or head to this article to learn how to onboard remote employees instead.

I’ll also highlight a few key things to be aware of when it comes to new hire orientation and onboarding, such as: 

If you’ve already got a good handle on these issues, feel free to jump right in to the new hire checklist. 

You may already have some of the checklist steps in place, so use the following handy links to jump to a step of your choosing!

The New Hire Process

Step 1: Present your new hire with an employment contract
Step 2: Welcome the new hire with a call and email
Step 3: Send a new hire welcome package
Step 4: Send a new hire orientation email
Step 5: Arrange for new hire paperwork to be completed
Step 6: Prepare the new hire’s work tools and resources
Step 7: Prepare the orientation program agenda
Step 8: Create a training, development plan
Step 9: Involve senior leaders in new hire orientation
Step 10: Provide opportunities to meet, greet, and learn

Tip: There's a downloadable new hire checklist here, which provides a framework to follow the steps in I outline in the new hire process.

What Is The Difference Between New Hire Orientation And Employee Onboarding?

The Association for Talent Development (ATD) defines onboarding as a process of “organizational socialization, through which new hires acquire the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviors that will ensure their success in an organization.” 

An onboarding program would include a new employee orientation, an event that is one of the first steps in the onboarding process. 

According to Sapling HR, a popular HR software (HRIS) platform provider, “The best employee onboarding programs extend throughout the employee’s first 90 days—and may even extend out for a full year—to ensure new hires are fully supported as they ramp to full productivity.

Most of the steps in our new hire checklist would be considered part of the employee orientation program, and cover that critical time before the employee’s first day of work, and shortly after they start. 

Successfully implementing these steps will form a strong foundational core for the rest of the team member’s entire onboarding experience.

Why Is A Structured Employee Onboarding Process Important?

Research shows that implementing an effective new hire onboarding process and structured orientation program can have a huge positive impact on long-term employee retention, motivation, engagement, and productivity.

  1. Maximize retention and loyalty: according to Click Boarding, an employee onboarding software company, 69 percent of employees are more likely to stay with a company for three years if they experienced great onboarding.
  2. Maximize feelings of belonging and inclusion: it’s sometimes hard being the new face in a group of people, especially if it’s a tight and cohesive group. Great onboarding can help reduce anxiety and increase their sense of belonging to their new team.
  3. Maximize productivity: according to research done by Glassdoor, a strong onboarding process can improve productivity by more than 70%. An effective new hire orientation program and employee onboarding process outlines clear job and organizational expectations; reduces errors; and saves time and frustration.
  4. Minimize business risk: there are employment contracts to sign, payroll forms to complete, and company policies and procedures to review. Most of these things are in place to protect both the business and the employee.

What Are The Key Success Factors For A Successful New Hire Orientation Program?

The steps in this article that form a new hire checklist will only be successful if you also keep in mind a number of factors:

  1. Purpose: according to Tamara Wilson, Senior Manager, Learning and Development at FLIR Systems: “Get clear on why onboarding is important. What experience do you want the new hire to have? What do you want the new hire to say on online forums like Glassdoor about their onboarding experience? As with organizational values, identifying a purpose, will guide your direction with creating an effective new hire onboarding plan.
  1. No surprises: it can be difficult for anyone to walk into an unfamiliar situation and environment. Minimize surprises for the new hire, including everything from letting them know what the dress code is, to what their first day and week of work will look like.
  1. Preparation: your new team member will show up on their first day ready to get started, and you should too. Schedule meetings and training sessions in advance, get their computer equipment and workstation ready, and prepare other team members to help. 
  1. Patience: your new team member will almost certainly make mistakes, forget parts of their orientation program, and miss a step or two as they get up to speed. Patience is a virtue when it comes to employee onboarding.
  1. Paced: no one likes drinking from a firehose, so avoid overwhelming them with too much information, which can lead to more important things being missed or forgotten. Try to remember how long it took for you to learn everything!
  1. Resources: it’s equally important that a new employee knows who and where to go to for answers to their questions, in addition to what the answers actually are. Make it a priority to let your new team member know who key individuals are and how to contact them, and where resources like employee handbooks and policy manuals can be found.

If you make it a priority to demonstrate transparency, be prepared, practice patience, and equip the new employee with the resources they need, the following 10-step new hire checklist will ensure a positive and productive start to employee onboarding. 

When Should New Hire Orientation And Onboarding Start?

Try to start on step one below of the checklist as soon as possible, and ideally well in advance of their first day of work. 

Many organizations will mistakenly wait until the new employee’s first day of work to continue orientation and onboarding. In many cases, however, there will be a delay of days, weeks, or even months before your new team member begins their new job. 

This presents a great opportunity for you to use this time before they start to build excitement, help them feel like a part of the team, and begin the steady stream of information they will need to get up to speed quickly.

The New Hire Process

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Step 1: Present your new hire with an employment contract

Once you’ve identified your ideal candidate, conducted the required background checks and reference checks, and (in the United States) performed an employment eligibility verification, you need to make it official by putting a signed employment contract in place.

This is an important first step in the orientation and employee onboarding process, so avoid delivering the contract by email. Make it a priority to call your new team member, congratulate them, express your excitement, and offer to walk through the main points of the agreement together with them. 

What information does an employment contract include?

A formal employment contract is a legal document that defines the employment relationship. It outlines the various legal rights of you and your new employee, as well as things like:

This illustration shows the main things that an employment contract covers off.

How you deliver the employment contract is an important first step to building the relationship with your new team member. It’s your opportunity to answer their initial questions, address concerns, and get them excited about what comes next. 

As discussed in a previous article on hiring, a good business lawyer can help you draft an agreement, and explain the benefits of having a contract in place.

Is an offer letter the same as an employment contract?

An “offer letter” is not the same as an employment contract. This article by Bernie Portal describes how the two are different, and why you should have an employment contract in place in addition to, or even instead of, a simple offer letter.

Step 2: Welcome the new hire with a call and email

Once the employment agreement is signed, follow up immediately with a phone or video call. This is another great opportunity to express your excitement, and start preparing them for what comes next. During the call, provide your new team member a high-level overview of what they can expect from you before your first day of work.

Photo of Lorie Corcuera

According to Lorie Corcuera, co-founder of Vancouver-based SPARK Creations: “Even if you have an HR person who will do this, hearing from you [their manager] is significantly more meaningful and is important for creating psychological safety, and a sense of belonging.

Follow up a day or two after the phone / video call with a welcome email. The goal of this email, like the phone call, is to generate enthusiasm and help them feel supported and prepared for the next steps. Provide a bullet-point list of the main elements of the orientation program; a more detailed breakdown can come afterward.

Corcuera also recommends: “Send a welcome email or video to the company introducing the new hire, and share a few fun facts about them. This is a great way for people in the organization to get to know their new team member.” 

Step 3: Send a new hire welcome package

Everyone gets excited when they receive an unexpected gift in the mail or delivered to their door. According to Corcuera, a new hire welcome package can include things like:

Your new hire welcome package is your own to build, but here are some suggestions for things to include.

Make sure that your new team member will receive the welcome package well before their first day of work, and ideally just a day or two after your welcome call.

Step 4: Send a new hire orientation email

A new hire orientation email will contain significantly more detail about what additional information your new employee can expect to receive before their first day, and what they can expect their first day and first week of work to look like. Essentially, it summarizes the rest of the steps in our new hire checklist.

What should be in a new hire orientation email?

Following are some of the types of information you could include in this email. 

  • Start time and location: when and where they should be for their first day. If there are special instructions for car parking, be sure to include them.
  • Key contacts: include who they will first meet with on their first day (typically you or human resources), and other people they’ll likely rely on in their first week.
  • Dress code: this is an often overlooked aspect of the first day. Letting them know what the dress code, if any, can help avoid unnecessary embarrassment.
  • First week agenda: give your new hire time to mentally prepare, but keep it high-level e.g. Day 1: meet the team, building tour; Day 2: business overview; etc.
  • Team members: provide them with an organization chart that includes your team. They can use this together with LinkedIn to familiarize themselves with their new colleagues.
  • Key policies and processes: highlight 2-3 of the key ones that will impact them on day one. If you’ve sent them an employee handbook, point them at the relevant sections.

The email could be quite long, depending on the information you include, so you might want to preface it with a warning to your new team member to take their time in going through it all.

Step 5: Arrange for new hire paperwork to be completed

According to Sapling HR, the average new hire will be assigned 3 documents to sign, upload, or acknowledge. 

Paperwork is a necessary, but often boring, part of the new hire process, so encourage your new team member to complete as many of the required forms as possible before their first day. This frees the two of you up to focus on more important and exciting aspects of their new job. 

What types of paperwork does a new employee need to complete?

Depending on your organization, the new employee may need to complete forms for things like:

  • Payroll / direct deposit
  • Tax withholding (e.g. TD1 in Canada, W-4 in USA)
  • Medical coverage (e.g. MSP in Canada)
  • Extended health insurance
  • Group RRSP / 401(k) enrollment
  • General employee information (e.g. date of birth, emergency contacts)

Step 6: Prepare the new hire’s work tools and resources

It’s important to have ready in advance everything your new team member will need to be successful. You will probably need to have many of these things ready before their first day, while others can wait, depending on your orientation and onboarding plans.

What are some common work tools and resources to prepare?

Following is a sample list of work tools and resources that you may need to have prepared, depending on where the new team member will be working (remote work from home, or in office), what they’ll be doing, and what you may have already provided in the New Hire Welcome Package.

  • Workstation e.g. office, cubicle, or shared workspace; desk and chair (consider a sit / stand desk); filing cabinet; office supplies and stationary.
  • Computer equipment e.g. laptop, desktop, and / or tablet computer; monitor(s); docking station; mouse and keyboard.
  • Communications e.g. mobile phone; telephone landline; video conferencing equipment.
  • Network access e.g. shared network drives; company intranet; email address; email list access; remote network access.
  • Software licenses e.g. office productivity; project management; R&D applications.  
  • Office / facility access e.g. key card or fob; building alarm codes; ID badge.
  • Travel resources e.g. business cards; product demonstration kits; company-branded clothing.

You can run through this entire checklist of items with your new team member on their first day, or go through the items as needed to avoid overwhelming them.

Step 7: Prepare the orientation program agenda

Your orientation program, which is part of a much longer onboarding process, may require a day, a week, or a month. 

You’ve already given your new team member in the new hire orientation email a high-level overview of what they can expect. Now it’s time to map things out in a bit more detail. You may have a standard orientation program that applies to all new employees, or you may customize the agenda based on who your new team member is. 

Creating a new hire orientation agenda will serve as its own checklist to ensure nothing is missed in the employee’s first days and weeks of onboarding.

What are some typical orientation program activities?

Remember to look at the orientation program like you’re building a tower, which starts with laying a strong foundation upon which they can continually layer on new learnings. 

For example, the new team member’s first few days might include some of the following activities:

Typical orientation program activities include one on ones, an office tour, having a lunch with the new employee, and more.

Step 8: Create a training and development plan

A key part of orientation and onboarding is to set the new team member up with the tools, training, and resources they’ll need to be successful.

A comprehensive review of how to create a training and development plan is beyond the scope of this article. However, according to Tamara Wilson of FLIR Systems, there are six key steps to follow to build a successful training and development plan and implement the program for your team members:

  1. Assess the audience / team / learner’s needs;
  2. Identify the objectives / anticipated outcomes;
  3. Design a training plan outline;
  4. Build the program;
  5. Optimize engagement; and
  6. Evaluate the success of the training

Step 9: Involve senior leaders in new hire orientation

Perhaps you are the senior leader in your organization. If you’re not, schedule someone from the senior leadership / executive team to help with orientation and involved in activities like:

  • Deliver a company presentation
  • Give a tour of the building or facility
  • Present a specific training topic
  • Take the new team member out for coffee or lunch

Why should senior leaders be involved in orientation?

Involving a senior leader like a founder, for example, gives that person the opportunity to teach the new team member, tell stories, and talk about company values, guiding principles and culture. It will also help encourage the new team member to feel a sense of belonging and inclusion.

According to Tamara Wilson of FLIR Systems, “It’s easy to get focused on job tasks, procedure and processes. Integrating the employee in the company’s culture early on will connect the employee to their role, teams and larger organization. It is the common language that connects all employees and makes the new hire feel more comfortable from the on-set.

Step 10: Provide opportunities to meet, greet, and learn

As part of your new hire checklist, schedule short introductory meetings with key members of the organization and the new employee’s team.

You can also encourage and assist the new team member to schedule these themselves during their first week. This gets them using the work resources you’ve provided in the previous steps.

According to Bev Attfield at Jostle:

“One thing we do at Jostle that really helps is a 15-minute chat with the new team member and someone from every department/business area to hear what that team does and how they work with others. This means the person is (a) meeting roughly 12 people they wouldn't normally connect with; (b) they're learning about the business and that we're all responsible for it; and (c) they start to understand where they fit in, and what their contribution means.”

Remember: You can get my downloadable new hire checklist below to walk you through all of these steps.


Get our new hire checklist template!

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What Do You Think?

What are some other critical steps that should be included in a new hire checklist? How extensive is your new employee orientation program? Don't know where to start with your onboarding program? We've got you covered. Check this article out: How To Write A 30 60 90 Day Plan For Your Org's Onboarding.

You can also subscribe to the People Managing People newsletter to stay up to date with the latest thinking in HR from leadership and management experts from around the world.

For tools to improve your processes, check this list out of the 10 Best HR Software For Onboarding New Hires [2023]

By Mike Gibbons

Mike has held various senior leadership positions in the technology industry, most recently as the General Manager of FLIR Integrated Imaging Solutions. His responsibilities included coaching and leading a team of over 300 people; managing P&L for a US$100M business; and defining and executing business strategy. Mike is guided by his deeply-held beliefs in connection, curiosity, humour, empathy, and honesty. After much soul-searching he decided to leave the corporate world in 2018. Since then he has invested in and helped several early stage companies mature, grow responsibly, and live true to their values.

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