07/10/2013 06:14 pm ET Updated Sep 09, 2013

Onboarding -- Are We Doing it Right?

I've started a lot of new jobs in my career; I transferred around, on average, every 18 months when I worked for AT&T in the 1980s and 1990s, and then worked part-time for a few universities before settling down at Drexel University. So I've had a lot of experience with onboarding from the employee side. I also hired a fair number of people in my career, both new hires to the company and those who transferred in from another division, so I also have had onboarding experience from the other side of the equation. None of it handled all that well, I'm afraid.

I remember one new job I started; I was told to bring proof of citizenship. So I brought my passport. The HR person I was working with refused to accept it, saying they would only accept an original birth certificate. I pointed out that they requested proof of citizenship, and a passport certainly qualified. But she was adamant -- only a birth certificate would suffice. I had thoroughly stymied that onboarding person, but she was unyielding; it eventually was resolved that I could still start with the company that day, but would absolutely need to bring in my original birth certificate the next day or all bets, and job offers, were off.

That was followed by a long and boring day of filling out paperwork and getting a physical. I can't remember now if I ever got to the organization I was actually hired into that day. And even though that happened a lot of years ago, not many onboarding experiences are much better, particularly for new hires. But we also shouldn't forget those who are simply transferring in from another part of the company.

Making someone feel welcome is critical to making the first day mean something. One time on a transfer, I was given my desk, a phone, a laptop, and a list of training courses I'd need to complete. No one asked me to lunch, only a few people came by to say hello. It was fairly isolating. You tend to remember these experiences for a long time.

But a recent article in Entrepreneur Magazine laid out a very nice way to greet new employees. It's a shame that more organizations don't do the things suggested in it, such as greeting the new hire at the door (see how Connor McClane, the fictional CEO of the fictional V3, does it on the TV show Necessary Roughness; that might be too much, but then again, the new hire certainly knows he or she is part of a team!).

A formal process makes a lot of sense, both for the employee and the employer. Sending out an email to let everyone know that someone new is starting is another suggestion from the Entrepreneur article. Seems like a good idea, particularly since we all work so hard we might miss a new face coming in. Having work ready for the person is another good idea. You certainly don't want to walk in and feel useless on your first day of work, especially when you are a mid- or late-career hire.

We all want to feel appreciated and we all tend to get excited at the prospect of a new beginning at a new job, even those of us who have, shall we say, been around the block a few times. As employers, we need to help our new employees feel part of a team, feel valued, and feel trusted. We can accomplish all this with a pleasant yet professional start to the first day on the new job.