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The Inside Scoop On The Industry Onboarding Process

Nothing could prepare me for the shock I received walking into my first industry onboarding experience.

Literally, everything was different from what I had experienced in academia. The processes, the culture, the pace – absolutely everything.

I also had no idea what onboarding meant. I heard the word tossed around but, to me, it was just the process you went through to get all the mandatory paperwork out of the way.

That was so far from the truth.

My first onboarding experience lasted almost 6 months. Yet, throughout that whole process, I had no idea that I was still being “onboarded”.

Had I known this, I wouldn’t have been so stressed.

In this early stage, I never felt like I was doing enough, learning enough, or participating enough in team meetings.

Little did I know that none of that was expected of me yet. I really thought I was doing something wrong to have not yet been handed my own project.

Another Cheeky Scientist member also commiserates with my experience:

When I transitioned into my first industry job, I definitely went through major shell shock.

I had no idea what to expect, and honestly, it led me to feel very disappointed in my first job. I left that job after 8 months because it wasn’t what I had expected.

Now, looking back, it was a great job. It had great company culture and a clear promotional ladder to climb. At the time, I just didn’t know what I was looking at.

I think many PhDs go through the same shell shock.

If we just had an outline for what to expect, it would result in many more success stories.

Today, I’ll give you that outline.

Onboarding Is A Probationary Period – Time To Prove You Can Do The Job

According to a recent Gallup poll, 88% of organizations don’t onboard new hires well. This translates to only one in 10 employees that are satisfied with their current company’s onboarding process.

The good news is that investing more in the onboarding process has become a trend among employees.

And no wonder – having a good onboarding process in place only stands to benefit the company.

A good employee onboarding experience can improve employee retention by 82% and it can even improve employee productivity by over 70%.

But don’t get the wrong idea – the onus of a positive onboarding experience doesn’t just lie with the company.

You, as a new employee, are also responsible for ensuring that your onboarding process goes smoothly.

It’s not only your time to learn your job, how the company operates, and where to find the good coffee – it’s also your time to prove that you’re a good fit for the job and the company culture.

You must prove that you’re an above-average employee.

If, during this time, you feel like you’re under a microscope – believe me, you are. Companies are watching closely during this probationary period.

That’s because companies experience high rates of turnover during the first month of employment. In fact, nearly one quarter of employees leave a company within the first 45 days of employment.

They want to make sure they made the right choice by hiring you.

So, to impress your new employers, walk in fully equipped with the knowledge and the insights that allow you to pass this initial step with flying colors.

Today, I’ll cover some lesser-known facts about the onboarding process that will set you up for success.

3 Must-Know Facts About The Onboarding Process (That Will Put Your Boss In Your Pocket)

1. Realize what onboarding is – and what it isn’t  

PhDs entering industry for the first time are often sidelined by the onboarding process.

Some think onboarding involves months of basic administrative tasks while others think they can hit the ground running.

Neither of these preconceptions are accurate.

Instead, onboarding is the process of bringing you from where you are now to where you need to be in order to be successful in your new job.

This process is designed to help you gain a better understanding of your new job and the company you work for.

It’s your opportunity to observe how your team operates, how work gets done, and what standard procedures are followed.

It’s also your time to integrate into the company culture.

In other words, onboarding is about learning.

Many PhDs stress out thinking they’re not doing enough. But realize that this time is purposefully set aside by companies for you to get up to speed.

They don’t expect the same level of productivity from you as they do their veteran employees.

Onboarding is also not the time to show off.

You may have years of research or job-related experience but walking into a new job at a new company, you’re no longer the expert in the room.

So, don’t act with unwarranted confidence.

It’s extremely off-putting to your new colleagues – and it’s certainly not the way to get into their good graces.

They’ll be far from impressed.

At this stage, what’s impressive is someone that shows up with an open mind and a palpable sense of curiosity.

Asking relevant questions, writing notes, and generally just leaning into situations will set you apart and show your dedication to the job.  

Also understand that onboarding isn’t synonymous with training.

Onboarding is a deep period of observation while training is when you begin participating in team projects.

This is the next step of integration into your new company.

2. Know the 4 types of onboarding structures

Onboarding looks very different depending on the company you work for.

But generally, onboarding structures tend to fall into one of 4 categories: Foundational, culture-oriented, optimal, and organizational.

Foundational onboarding is the most basic structure. It consists of basic compliance including tax forms and other required paperwork.

About 30% of companies abide by this simple structure.

The next step above is the culture-oriented structure.

Along with the basic paperwork, this structure provides an introductory window into the company’s culture.

The company may follow a checklist included in the company handbook – one that consists of people you should meet within the company.

This type of structure will also give you more insight into your role – the expectations, who you’ll be working with, and so on.

Next, we have the optimal onboarding structure. Around 50% of organizations use this type of onboarding structure.

It includes the basic compliance, and the introduction to culture, and a more structured introduction to company mechanisms.

Companies that follow this structure often coordinate team days with new hires. This provides an opportunity for the new hires to meet one another and allows seasoned employees to introduce themselves.

However, this type of structure still lacks a systematic structure – meaning these types of activities are coordinated within a team or a department, and not at the company level.

That brings us to the last type of onboarding: the organizational structure. This comprehensive structure includes everything that all the previously mentioned structures have and more.

It includes compliance, culture orientation, departmental introductions, along with higher level introductions to the company, its people, and its resources.

It’s also considered a more HR approach.

That means during the first week of onboarding you’ll only be working with HR to get trained on company processes.

You’ll also be integrated into a team before you even reach your desk (or metaphorical desk if you’re remote).

Only about 20% of companies have adopted this type of onboarding process with larger companies being the most frequent adopters.

Overall, knowing the four types of onboarding structures will make you better prepared for what’s to come – it can also act as a guide during your interview process.

As previously mentioned, a successful career is often built on a quality onboarding process. It’s your job to inquire about this during your interviews.

3. Understand the three phases of the onboarding process

To start, understand that the onboarding process begins the moment you accept a job offer. Out of the gates, you should be proactive.

Reach out to your new employer and ask what you should be doing to prepare for your new position.

Then, once you start, you’ll already be one step ahead. You’ll also demonstrate your commitment to the role.

Within the standard 90-day onboarding, you can expect to go through three distinct phases.

The first phase is orientation. You get the most leeway in this phase.

At this point, employers only expect you to know the company from the public point of view.

What they do expect, however, is that you to learn as much as possible during this phase.

Envision yourself as a sponge – absorb as much as you can. Remember, this isn’t the time to show off your skills.

Instead, this is the time to ask questions and gain as much information about the company and your position as possible.  

The next stage is the simulation. This is when you start to learn some of the unwritten rules at the company.

For example, when to start working (if they have flexible hours), who’s truly in charge, and even a little of the company-speak.

This is also when you’ll get a better grasp on the power structure and the beliefs of the company.

Following this, we have acculturation.

Acculturation is when you become fully integrated into the company’s culture. At least that is the hope.

And companies are looking for this – they want to know that you’re integrating successfully.

At this point, you should have a good grasp on the company rhythm.

When people take lunch, who is on your team and in upper management, and even what things are whispered about in the break room.

You should also have a good understanding of what must happen to get promoted and how good work is rewarded.

All these little details are called cultural artifacts.

While these three stages simply offer an outline of the onboarding process, expect that every company is different.

The take home is that you should be actively involved in the process – don’t let it just happen to you.

Learn everything you can, introduce yourself to as many team members as possible, and really learn how to integrate into the company culture.

Bottom line is, a successful onboarding is one that is proactive and intentional.  

Concluding Remarks

Onboarding goes above and beyond the standard compliance paperwork. It involves learning the job and the company; understanding the standard operating procedures; and also integrating into the company culture. To succeed during this probationary period, you must first understand what onboarding is and what it’s not. Moreover, walking into your new job equipped with the knowledge of the standard onboarding structure and its different phases, you’ll be one step ahead of most new employees. Overall, an employee that starts a new job with misguided expectations will likely feel disappointed and alienated; they also risk not meeting the expectations of their employer. Don’t let this be you. Make sure when you enter industry you’re equipped with the correct mindset and the right set of expectations.

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.

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Dr. Isaiah Hankel is the Founder and CEO of Cheeky Scientist. His articles, podcasts and trainings are consumed annually by 3 million PhDs in 152 different countries. He has helped PhDs transition into top companies like Amazon, Google, Apple, Intel, Dow Chemical, BASF, Merck, Genentech, Home Depot, Nestle, Hilton, SpaceX, Tesla, Syngenta, the CDC, UN and Ford Foundation.

Dr. Hankel has published three bestselling books and his latest book, The Power of a PhD, debuted on the Barnes & Noble bestseller list. His methods for getting PhDs hired have been featured in the Harvard Business Review, Nature, Forbes, The Guardian, Fast Company, Entrepreneur Magazine and Success Magazine.

Isaiah Hankel, PhD

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