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5 Things PhDs Need To Know About Onboarding After Getting Hired

Written by: Aditya Sharma, Ph.D.

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 and to meet everyone!

But, when I showed up, no one was prepared for me to be there.

I had no desk.

Someone, who seemed very annoyed, had to find a random table for me to sit at until my desk was ready.

That meant I didn’t have a computer, either — so, there was no way to work.

I was there, but I really had nothing to do.

I just stared at the one-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 next week.

It was so awkward.

Is this what it’s supposed to be like when you start a new job?

I was not ready for this.

I managed to make it through that first week, and eventually I did have a desk and a good idea of what I was supposed to do.

But, I had to work really hard to get the information I needed.

There was no smooth process for me to follow.

Because I was frustrated with the lack of onboarding, it created tension between me and my manager.

He thought I was asking too many questions, 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 become integrated into a company when you first arrive.

Because, although I did enjoy the work I did at my first industry position, that bad first impression stayed with me.

And, I was certain to ask about onboard processes when I interviewed for my next industry position.

Why Smooth Onboarding Is Key To Succeeding In Your New Industry Position

Most companies spend money on onboarding and making sure that you are fully integrated and ready to do good work.

Because, if they don’t, things break down. reported that 22% of staff turnover occurs within the first 45 days.

Just 45 days, and almost a quarter of the employees leave.

Additionally, the Harvard Business Review reported that 33% of new hires look for new jobs within the first 6 months.

Bad onboarding makes people want to leave.

But, good onboarding not only encourages employees to stay, it actually makes them more productive.

The Society for Human Resource Management reported that strong onboarding processes improve new hire retention by 82% and productivity by over 70%.

Onboarding is incredibly important for finding success at a company.

So, you need to be prepared to create a good onboarding experience for yourself, even if the company does not have a formal onboarding process.

5 Things PhDs Should Know About Onboarding At A New Company

Onboarding is simply you becoming integrated into the company.

This process is extremely mportant because companies need you to be performing and to be doing good work as soon as possible.

If you aren’t integrated into the company’s processes or teams, you can’t perform well.

But, sometimes you have to take control of your own onboarding process.

And, you always need to know how to be proactive in your onboarding process.

Here are 5 key onboarding concepts that many PhDs don’t understand…

1. Expect onboarding to take at least 3-6 months.

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.

But, 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 about 3-6 months.

And, you need to be patient during this time.

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

If something doesn’t take up to a year for you to be comfortable, then you’re not actually in the right job, because it’s not as much of a stretch as it should be.

If this new position really is the next step for you, it’s going to be a learning process.

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

It’s super uncomfortable to know that you’re not mastering things for that long, but that’s okay.

That’s why there is an onboarding phase.

2. Realize that onboarding is more than just administrative tasks.

Onboarding is really about integrating you into the company.

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

And, you’ll go through HR policies and get a nice shiny booklet about what the company is all about.

It is a one-time event.

Orientation is not the deep-dive that you need in order to get integrated into the company.

Do not expect orientation to be the end-all, be-all for how you’re going to do your job.

Typically it is just an introduction to the company as a whole.

So, your orientation is not your onboarding.

Onboarding is more about acclimatizating 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.

Being intellectually curious is actually not that difficult, if you’re taking a real interest in what’s being talked about.

It’s something that sets you apart from the rest and demonstrates your dedication to succeeding.

This is the time for you to figure out how you fit within the company.

3. Lead with curiosity, not cockyness.

As you acclimate to this new environment, it’s going to be very different for you, 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 want to impress the boss right away.

You want to find the best way to do something right away.

But, this can make you come across as really cocky and aggressive.

And, if that’s not the company culture, then you’re not fitting in right away.

Instead, you need to have a very healthy dose of intellectual curiosity the minute you walk through the door.

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.

Rocking the boat is not a good way to become integrated into the company.

So, spend some time just really listening and asking good questions.

As a matter of fact, a good question can really leave an amazing impression on your teammates.

Good questions show that you’re humble enough to learn and that you’re smart enough to know what the real questions are that need to be addressed.

This is just a temporary period of time, but it’s important that you don’t rush into trying to “fix” something that you don’t really understand just yet.

4. Focus on building relationships with your peers.

If you thought that networking was important only for getting the job, you’re dead wrong.

Networking takes on a whole different form when you’re in the job.

Typically, you’re networking so that you can figure out the best way to get your team’s work done.

You want to have the right network so that you’re getting the best possible information to get your projects completed.

Building relationships with people in the company should be easier than networking with random people because you have a common theme of getting work done.

But, it’s difficult because everybody has their own objectives and their own goals.

So, you have to work really hard to build that network and those relationships.

You have to find ways to add value.

These folks aren’t going to just want to sit down for coffee with you unless they understand how your work overlaps with theirs.

And, you should be asking those questions when you’re meeting these people one-on-one.

What are you working on?

How do you foresee that overlapping with what I’m going to be doing, and how can we help each other out?

Those are very real conversations you hear in the hallways all the time, and that’s a great way to build relationships.

Then, you can build dependability and reliability by delivering on what you say you’re going to do, consistently, over time.

5. Set the tone with your new manager by asking the right questions.

Set up your first one-on-one with your manager as soon as you possibly can — definitely within the first week.

And then, use this time to ask key questions.

Obviously, you want to know what projects you’re going to be working on.

But, you should also be asking more of the, “What does my day-to-day work actually look like?” and “Who do I work with on those projects?” type of questions.

Ask if there is something that you need to get up to speed on.

Ask how you can get the information you need.

Ask who you should be introduced to in order to get the information you need.

Plus, you should already be planting seeds for the conversations about what your goals are for the year.

It will take a little bit of time, probably 30 to 90 days, to actually solidify what those goals are.

But, you should — from the minute you start talking to your manager — let them know that you’re a very goal-oriented person, and that you’re looking forward to setting the goals for the year.

Also, you have to be added to the appropriate meetings.

Proactively ask for this — don’t wait for them to do it for you.

Say, “I know you probably have some recurring meetings that I should be in on, can you look at what those are now, and add me?”

It’s super embarrassing when you’re new at a company and somebody asks why you weren’t at the last meeting.

And, the most critical question to ask your manager is, “What communication method is your preference?”

Are they somebody that wants to receive text messages?

Do they want to see the whites of your eyes every single day — meaning, do they want you in the office versus working from home?

Do they want to communicate with you through email?

How do you alert them to something that is critical to cover, versus something that’s just an FYI?

Ask the right questions about the process, the culture, and the communication styles so that you can set things up to continue smoothly.

The first few months of your new industry job are so important. This is when you should be asking questions and learning as much as possible. This is when you need to be making an amazing first impression on all the new people you are meeting. This is your onboarding time. But, so many PhDs have no idea what to expect when they join a new company, and they end up having bad experiences. You need to expect onboarding to take at least 3-6 months, realize that onboarding is more than just administrative tasks, lead with curiosity and not cockyness, focus on building relationships with your peers, and set the tone with your new manager by asking the right questions.

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Aditya Sharma, Ph.D.

Aditya Sharma, Ph.D.

Aditya has a PhD in Physics from the University of Toronto, Canada and a passion for Nanotechnology. His PhD project focused on 3D magnetic nanostructures and he is now combining this passion with his keen business acumen and works as a scientific consultant at a top Canadian consulting firm.
Aditya Sharma, Ph.D.
  • Sree Niranjanaa Bose.S

    The article is really good for those whose are pondering about whether the industry job is right fit for them. Creating the first best impression in the place you really want to work requires more patience and persistence. The fact that the onboarding process taking about 3-6 months is quite surprising.