The Best Onboarding Tips For Your New IT Professionals


July 25, 2023


180 Engineering

Although the tech sector has been wracked with mass layoffs for almost a year, the job market remains tight. In fact, Robert Half reports that 93% of tech managers are facing challenges in finding skilled talent.

The increased adoption of digital technologies in other sectors of the economy is largely responsible for the continued high demand for tech talent. Employers in the administrative and support, finance and industry, and manufacturing sectors, in particular, are seeking skilled tech workers. As a result, the overall unemployment rate for tech professionals remains significantly below the national unemployment rate across all industries.

As employers struggle to fill open tech roles, experts are advising a renewed focus on retention strategies. While offerings like remote or hybrid work, opportunities for professional development and internal mobility, and enhanced salary and benefits packages can go a long way in attracting and retaining talent, the onboarding process is an oft-overlooked factor in employee satisfaction and retention.

The statistics around onboarding are eye-opening. A piece in Forbes reports that:

  • 30% of new hires leave within the first 90 days;
  • 88% of employees don’t believe that their company’s onboarding program contributes to their success; and
  • 58% of businesses have onboarding programs that mainly consist of processes and paperwork.

On the flip side, structured and in-depth onboarding programs typically help employees thrive. Forbes also reports that with effective onboarding:

  • 77% of new hires hit their first performance milestone;
  • 58% of new hires stay with the company for at least three years; and
  • Employee engagement, loyalty, productivity, and quality of work are significantly improved.

Given the difficulty in hiring skilled tech workers, retention strategies are of utmost importance. And those strategies should begin right as onboarding is rolled out.

Why Onboarding Is Critical For Tech Professionals

Onboarding is important to the success of all employees. However, in addition to the usual onboarding processes, IT professionals typically need specific tech-oriented onboarding that helps them navigate the technical aspects of their jobs, their role within the team they’re assigned to, and any tools or workflow processes that are unique to your organization.

Complicating matters further is the fact that some or most of the people designing and managing onboarding may not have a tech background. As a result, they will likely have difficulty designing and delivering an effective onboarding program specific to the needs of tech workers. Further, technology advances very quickly. It’s important for your new hires to get up to speed quickly as well so that they can keep pace with the changes.

In order to be productive, successful, and engaged employees, it’s critical for your new tech hires to work through an effective onboarding process.

Creating An Effective Onboarding Process

Many companies consider onboarding to be an initial introduction of an employee to their new role, consisting of the necessary paperwork to complete the hire and a discussion about company policies and culture. However, by definition, that is an orientation. In most cases, orientation takes a few hours, though it may span a few days.

Onboarding is much more in-depth. It should be designed to provide an employee with all the tools that they need for success and should lead to better employee engagement, job satisfaction and retention rates. While the goal of onboarding should be enabling the new hire to become productive as quickly as possible, the timeline for effective onboarding may be up to one year.

A successful onboarding plan integrates new hires into the team and provides them with the knowledge, training, and support that they need to become productive and successful employees. In particular, an onboarding plan should define:

  • Expectations that the company has for the new hire;
  • The resources and support that the company has to offer the new hire; and
  • The pace at which the new hire is expected to reach set milestones as they strive to meet company goals.

If you don’t already have a proven onboarding process in place, or if you suspect that your existing process could use some tweaking, there are a few specific steps to take.

Define Success

While a tech professional is expected to be adept at the technical aspect of their job, the desired outcome of that job is likely not tech related. For instance, they may be contributing to their company’s bottom line, or they may be working in a customer-facing role where customer satisfaction is critical, or they may be designing new products that need to meet certain requirements. When you understand how your company measures success and how each specific employee contributes to your company’s overall success, it becomes easier to develop an effective onboarding program.

Start Onboarding Before The First Day Of Work

Forbes reports that 32% of the new employees who leave within 90 days of starting do so because they don’t think the company culture is a good fit.

For that reason (and others), it’s important to look at the onboarding process as starting when you first reach out to a candidate to invite them to interview. As you work through initial contact and the interview process, you have the chance to showcase your company culture and establish your relationship with the candidate.

Further, as explained in a piece at Pluralsight, there is no guarantee that a candidate who accepted an offer will actually leave their current employer to join your team. As they submit their resignation and required notice, there will be time for cold feet to kick in, for their current employer to counter-offer, and for another company to swoop in with an even better offer. By starting the onboarding process before the interview even happens, you and the candidate will both have a chance to make sure it’s the right fit for all involved.

Clarify Your Company Culture

Although you’ve given your new hire insight into your company culture throughout the interview process, it’s important to clarify your mission, values, and history to each new employee. Understanding a company’s mission and values helps employees better grasp the purpose behind their everyday duties.

Ideally, within a few days of starting their role, each new employee should have the chance to meet with the company’s leadership to learn about the company culture and have the opportunity to ask questions.

Establish Your Communication Structure

Every company has a different communication structure. In order for your new hire to feel comfortable asking questions and to get answers in a timely way, they need to understand your communication preferences.

Lay out the lines of communication, making it clear who is best to approach about different issues. As well, clarify your company’s preferred communication methods, both internally and externally. For example, you may primarily communicate via Slack or Microsoft Teams within the office environment, but email may be preferred for external communication with clients and vendors.

Create A Documentation Resource

In a piece at Medium, Shawn Reisner suggests that a documentation resource be created and “colocated in a single, easy-to-navigate location, and should be given to developers on their very first day. Ideally, this documentation will allow developers to ramp up as autonomously as possible to minimize the amount of impact on the rest of the engineering team.” Reisner recommends including the following:

  • Plans for environment setup and workflow procedures;
  • A high-level overview of project architecture;
  • Resources for languages, frameworks, and tools;
  • Coding standards and values;
  • Technical processes;
  • Company jargon;
  • Team dynamics; and
  • Organizational structures.

Reisner further suggests that the resource be dynamic and that new team members be encouraged to add to it or make changes since they will be able to see what is missing or unclear.

Establish Connections With Mentors, Buddies, And Teammates

Helping new hires create social connections is critical to their success. Not only do social connections help to break the ice and allow the new hire to feel comfortable at work, but they provide invaluable support as they learn the ropes and start on their path to success. Any onboarding process should include meet-and-greets with key team members, leaders across the organization, clients, and programming partners.

In addition to general introductions, assigning buddies and mentors is a terrific way to set up new hires for success. A designated buddy or peer mentor can provide easy-to-access support by answering questions, helping new hires integrate into company culture, and introducing other coworkers.

Senior mentors can be invaluable as well, providing more in-depth support on the company’s systems and processes than a buddy may be able to. A senior mentor may also be able to offer tech-specific guidance and advice on projects.

Let Them Start Coding

Tech workers enter the field because they enjoy tech-based work. In his piece, Reisner recounts his frustration at sitting through 4 weeks’ worth of daily 8-hour video conferences as part of his onboarding at one startup. While it’s inevitable that the first few days at any job will require paperwork, training, and staff introductions, the best way for tech professionals to feel productive is to let them dive into hands-on work as soon as possible.

In an excellent piece at Mattermost, it’s suggested that guidelines be put in place to help new tech hires dive right into work. To help them find their footing in your organization:

  • Set small goals to start, gradually increasing the size and complexity of the projects they contribute to;
  • Give them time and permission to do the work they’ve been hired to do;
  • Give clear directions around processes and workflows; and
  • Provide the documentation resource referenced above and let new hires know that they can make any needed changes to it.

An effective onboarding process will take time and resources to develop. Given that onboarding should take 6-12 months, it’s a significant initiative to undertake. However, the payoff will be enormous since employees will have the tools and support that they need to be engaged, productive, and loyal and to contribute to the success of your company’s mission and bottom line.