5 Onboarding Steps For PhDs That Protect Your New Industry Job

Onboarding expert and contributing author Sarah Smith, PhD, shares her company onboarding experience.

The day I had been waiting for was finally here. My first day in industry.

I had been looking for a job for nearly a year, and this one seemed like a great fit for me.

I couldn’t wait to get started…But when I showed up, no one was prepared for me to be there.

I had no desk.

One of my coworkers seemed very annoyed that they had to find a random table for me to sit at. I didn’t have a computer either.

I was there, but I had nothing to do.

I just stared at the 1-page document they gave me when I arrived. I felt like I was bothering everyone, and I wasn’t supposed to meet my manager until the following week.

It was so awkward.

Was this what it was like when you started a new industry job? I was not ready for this. I was frustrated with the lack of onboarding, and it created tension between my manager and me. I was visiting their office to talk over every little detail I didn’t know how to handle.

But I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing.

It took us a while to reach a comfortable place. I wish that I had understood more about what it takes to integrate into a company. Ultimately, I enjoyed my first industry position. But I never forgot that bad first impression.  So when I interviewed for my next industry job, I always asked about the onboarding process.

How Onboarding Can Make or Break Your New Industry Role

Most companies spend money on the onboarding process. They want to make sure that you are fully integrated and ready to work.

If they don’t do this, new employees will struggle, and they will lose money.

Business reported that 22% of staff turnover occurs within the first 45 days. Yes – after 45 days, almost a quarter of new hires leave. According to Harvard Business Review, 33% of new hires look for new jobs within the first 6 months.

Bad onboarding makes people want to leave.

Yet good onboarding not only encourages employees to stay but makes them more productive. The Society for Human Resource Management observed that strong onboarding processes improve new hire retention and productivity by 82% and 70%, respectively. So be prepared to create a good onboarding experience for yourself – even if the company does not have a formal onboarding process.

5 Ways PhDs Contribute To Good Onboarding Process

Onboarding is simply the process by which you are integrated into a company. The company needs you to perform and do high-quality work as soon as possible. If you aren’t integrated into the company’s processes or teams, you will not perform well.

If the company isn’t doing a good job of integrating you, then it’s time to take matters into your own hands. Here are 5 key onboarding concepts that many PhDs can use to take charge and integrate themselves into a new job.

PhD sitting in office

1. Orientation is not the same as onboarding.

A formal orientation is an event where you sit in a room with other people who were probably hired on the same day.

This is a 1-time event.

At orientation, you’ll go through HR policies and get a nice shiny booklet about what the company is all about. Don’t confuse orientation with onboarding.

Orientation won’t provide the “deep dive” that you need to get integrated into the company and start being productive.

Onboarding is more about adapting you as you learn to do your job. Since the orientation is not enough, you need to be engaged and ask good questions as you are working.

In meetings, you should be sitting forward, paying attention, and asking appropriate questions.

If you take a real interest in what others talk about, being intellectually curious is not that difficult. And as a PhD, once you do take an interest, your natural intellectual curiosity will help in examining important company issues. This curiosity is something that sets you apart from the rest, and it demonstrates your dedication to succeeding.

2. Being patient and curious will make you a valuable team member.

Adjusting to the new environment may be challenging – especially if you’ve never worked in industry before. It’s your job to observe these changes and to see how things are done at the company.

But as a PhD, you likely want to impress the boss right away.

You want to demonstrate your value within the first days on the job. Don’t fall into this trap – it can make you come across as really cocky and aggressive. And if that’s not the company culture, then you will stand out in a very bad way.

Instead, you need healthy intellectual curiosity.

Ask questions and observe. Don’t try to “fix” anything just yet. After meetings, go to your manager and ask questions about how things are done so that you know what they expect of you.

Spend some time practicing active listening and asking good questions. This will leave a good impression on your teammates.

Good questions show that you’re humble enough to learn.

And they demonstrate that you’re smart enough to know what the important questions are. This is just temporary, but it’s important that you don’t rush in and try to take the lead before understanding how things get done.

suave PhD thinking about onboarding

3. Learn company processes by asking direct questions.

Set up a 1-on-1 meeting with your manager as soon as you can. Ideally, you should set it up within the first week.

A 1-on-1 meeting is important because it gives you time to ask key questions.

Use this meeting to ask your manager what your day-to-day work is supposed to look like.

Ask:

  • What you should be doing with your time
  • Whom to work with on certain projects
  • What processes you need to learn the fastest
  • Where you can get all the information you need
  • What they would like to see by the end of your first month on the job

This is also the time to start planting seeds for the conversations about your end-of-year goals.

It will take a little time—probably 30 to 90 days—to actually solidify what those goals are. Your manager needs to know right away that you’re a very goal-oriented person, and that you’re looking forward to setting the goals for the year.

You will need to attend the appropriate meetings, so don’t wait for an invitation – ask about these meetings on your first day.

It’s embarrassing when you’re new at a company and somebody asks why you weren’t at the last meeting. The most critical question to ask your manager is, 

What communication method do you prefer?

Are they somebody who wants to receive text messages? Do they want to communicate with you through email, Skype, or some other digital platform? Do they want you in the office, or can you work from home?

How do you alert them to critical concerns versus minor updates?

Learn the answers to these questions now so that you can move forward without changing the system in unwanted ways.

4. Build strong relationships with coworkers by being reliable and adding value.

Networking is an important part of getting a job, but it doesn’t end after you’re hired. After you land your new job, networking will teach you the best way to get your team’s work done.

Thankfully, building relationships with coworkers should be easier than networking with random people.

You share the work you do, which is a great starting place for getting to know people. But it can still be challenging because everybody has their own objectives and their own goals.

You have to work really hard to build that network and those relationships.

New PhD hire in onboarding meeting

Your coworkers won’t want to sit down for coffee with you unless they understand how your work overlaps with their own. So you should be asking questions when you’re meeting these people 1-on-1:

  • What are you working on?
  • How do you foresee [their work] overlapping with what I’m going to be doing?
  • How can we help each other out?

Those are very real conversations you hear in the hallway all the time, and they’re a great way to build relationships.

Once you know this, you can build dependability and reliability by delivering on what you say you’re going to do.

You will accomplish this over time by being reliable and consistent.

5. Onboarding takes 3-6 months, so don’t expect immediate results.

As a PhD, you are probably ready to hit the ground running in your new position. You want to get through this “onboarding” phase as fast as possible.

This is a bad idea.

It’s going to take a while for you to get up to speed with everything. Onboarding can take anywhere from 2 months to a whole year. The average time is 3-6 months, and you need to be patient during this time.

It’s actually a good thing that onboarding takes a while.

If you don’t need some time to get comfortable with your new job, you may not be in the right job for you – it’s not as much of a stretch as it should be. If this new position is really the next step for you, it’s going to be a learning process.

It’s going to take you several months to master your new industry skills.

It’s uncomfortable to know that mastering things takes a while, but that’s okay. That’s why there is an onboarding phase.

But remember that orientation is not the same as onboarding. Orientation is basically just a small series of introductory meetings. You need to help build your own onboarding process as outlined in this article. Have a good attitude – being patient and curious will make you a valuable team member. Learn company processes by asking direct questions, and build strong relationships with coworkers by being reliable and adding value. Onboarding takes 3-6 months, so don’t expect immediate results. Over time, your new job—and your place in the company—will take shape in a satisfying way, and you’ll feel comfortable in your role.

If you’re ready to start your transition into industry, you can apply to book a free Transition Call with our founder Isaiah Hankel, PhD or one of our Transition Specialists. Apply to book a Transition Call here.

Book a Transition Call
Get Free Job Search Content Weekly

ABOUT SARAH SMITH, PHD

Sarah Smith, PhD, holds a degree in Biochemistry. A tireless science consultant at large, her rigorous pursuit of pristine labwork is unflinching. Yet Sarah’s keenest passion--guiding emergent academics into the business world--stems from personal experience with the transitional struggles she would have no PhD face alone.

Sarah Smith, PhD

Similar Articles

Is Your Body Language Costing You The Job?

Is Your Body Language Costing You The Job?

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

I ran into an old colleague a few days ago – literally. We actually collided going into the same coffee shop.  As luck would have it, we both had some time to kill, so we took a seat and started visiting. I told him all about the work I do, connecting PhDs with the strategies to get hired in industry.  He’d since gone on to work in human resources as a manager at one of the Global 500. We talked about things we wish we’d known after graduation – the importance of things like networking and creating a powerful resume…

5 Ways To Bomb A Perfectly Good Interview Presentation (And What Savvy PhDs Do Instead)

5 Ways To Bomb A Perfectly Good Interview Presentation (And What Savvy PhDs Do Instead)

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

The first time I was asked to give a presentation as part of an onsite interview, I thought, ‘Well this should be a cake walk – I’ll just redo my defense presentation.’ I didn’t get the job. And I knew that mid-way through my presentation. To start, they had only scheduled 30 minutes for my presentation, yet the one I had prepared was an hour. I ended up speed talking my way through the entire thing. Mistake number one. Mistake number two was not appealing to my audience. My presentation was highly technical, but my audience included people from R&D,…

The PhD Cheat Sheet For Conquering An Onsite Interview

The PhD Cheat Sheet For Conquering An Onsite Interview

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

When I was offered my first onsite interview, I was elated. But that elation quickly turned into panic. I had no idea what to expect. I had heard about other colleague’s interviewing experiences, but they all seemed so different. Some were in panel interviews, some had back-to-back one-on-one interviews, others had presentations, while others had a combination of all the above. I didn’t even know where to start in my preparation. So, I did what many PhDs do. I memorized verbatim answers to a handful of interview questions. I even reread my thesis to make sure I remembered every last…

The Shrewd PhD's Guide For Answering Behavioral Interview Questions

The Shrewd PhD's Guide For Answering Behavioral Interview Questions

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

I went through three rounds of interviews and now the company is ghosting me! What did I do wrong?! I’ve heard so many PhDs utter these words. If you can relate, chances are, you’re not going into your later stage interviews fully prepared. You may think that you’re in the clear or that late-stage interviews don’t matter as much. No matter the reason, just know that now is not the time to put your guard down.   The key to nailing later stage interviews is anticipation and preparation.   You must anticipate what types of questions you’ll get during an…

6 Ways To Crush The Competition During Your Next  Video Interview

6 Ways To Crush The Competition During Your Next Video Interview

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

During my first industry job search, I was doing everything I could to prepare for in-person interviews. I got together with friends and colleagues, asked them to act as the interviewer and give me the tough questions. I asked them to critique my body language, my speech, and even how I planned to dress.   I really thought I was ready. So, after my first successful phone screen, I was completely sidelined when they told me the next steps included a video interview. A video interview? I wasn’t ready for this! At first, I prepared for it as I would…

Don't Flub The Phone Screen (8 Expert Tips For PhDs)

Don't Flub The Phone Screen (8 Expert Tips For PhDs)

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

I don’t think I’m alone when I say I dread phone calls. I’m willing to spend hours online trying to fix a problem just to avoid the 5-to-10-minute phone conversation it would require to solve it.    If this sounds familiar, I have some bad news: phone calls are unavoidable during your industry job search. In fact, its common for the first interaction between a job candidate and an employer to take place over the phone. This is called the phone screen. When I started my industry job search, I had no idea that phone screens were part of the…

6 Colossal Interview Blunders That PhDs Routinely Make

6 Colossal Interview Blunders That PhDs Routinely Make

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

When I started my industry job search, I thought interviews were merely a formality. Walking in the door, I was sure I already had the job. But so many times, I walked into an interview full of confidence and walked out feeling hopeless and confused. I was clearly botching my interviews, but I had no way of knowing where I was going wrong. When I aired my frustration to a friend of mine in talent acquisition, she told me what hiring managers really care about. It was then that I realized my blunders. It wasn’t that I was unqualified or…

Master The Informational Interview (And How To Land A Referral)

Master The Informational Interview (And How To Land A Referral)

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

By the time I started my industry job search, I was desperate. I was nearing the end of my PhD and I was consumed with what seemed like a million last-minute tasks – final experiments, last drafts, and defense presentations. I felt like I didn’t have the time to dedicate to my job search. And what little effort and time I did put into it was haphazard. My attempts involved repeatedly clicking the LinkedIn “Connect” button and uploading the same resume to any online job posting I could find. To make matters worse, I wasn’t even sure what job I…

5 Job Search Time Wasters That PhDs Should Stop Doing Immediately

5 Job Search Time Wasters That PhDs Should Stop Doing Immediately

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Feeling discouraged with your job search strategy? Have you uploaded hundreds of resumes without hearing back from employers? Are you starting to think you are not cut out for an industry position? This happens to many PhDs at some point in their transition journey.  They don’t know how to execute a correct job search strategy. So they waste lots of time doing things that don’t yield any result. Then get discouraged. An industry job search is maddening. As PhDs we are never trained rigorously on how to do it in academia. Most PhDs are never trained on how to execute…

Top Industry Career eBooks

Complete LinkedIn Guide For PhDs

Complete LinkedIn Guide For PhDs

Isaiah Hankel

The LinkedIn tips & strategies within have helped PhDs from every background get hired into top industry careers.

63 Best Industry Positions For PhDs

63 Best Industry Positions For PhDs

Isaiah Hankel, PhD & Arunodoy Sur, PhD

Learn about the best 63 industry careers for PhDs (regardless of your academic background). In this eBook, you will gain insight into the most popular, highest-paying jobs for PhDs – all of which will allow you to do meaningful work AND get paid well for it.

Industry Resume Guide for PhDs

Industry Resume Guide for PhDs

Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Learn how to craft the perfect industry resume to attract employers. In this eBook for PhDs, you will get access to proven resume templates, learn how to structure your bullet points, and discover which keywords industry employers want to see most on PhD resumes.