You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know: 8 Tips for Onboarding


Early in my career, I took a position that finally lined up with my overall career goals. However, I didn’t realize something was missing from day one: proper onboarding. Often times, when taking a new corporate position, you receive some on-the-job training. Perhaps you sit with a colleague and learn what they do, or your shadow your manager in a few meetings to learn the ropes and have daily or weekly check-ins to make sure you understand your new role. This way, your team is setting you up for success and giving you the tools you need to be an effective team member. Being young, I took for granted that you don’t walk in on the first day knowing everything. I also had a supervisor who had been with the company for years and didn’t take the time to properly train me on all aspects of my role. I don’t believe this was done on purpose, but this person was used to doing everything before I came along and didn’t delegate very well.

Because I wasn’t properly trained, I didn’t feel comfortable in my role and lacked confidence. I would wake up in the middle of the night in a panic that I wasn’t doing my job very well and maybe I had made a mistake choosing this career path. I couldn’t shake this feeling, and always felt in bit “off” in my role. I was no longer excited about work. I was confused because I was successful and did well in positions I had previously held. It didn’t make sense why I was encountering these barriers. I didn’t have the experience to know that I lacked training or vocabulary to express that. A few months after I started, my supervisor left the company, taking all her institutional knowledge with her. I spoke with my senior supervisor, and eventually my boss’s replacement, to communicate that I don’t feel entirely comfortable or confident in my role. I was offered few words of encouragement.

I eventually took a position at another company, with my confidence very much shaken. I was worried that I would encounter the same obstacles, but this time I was fully onboarded. I spent the first couple of weeks training with a counterpart on my new team. I also met with business partners to learn how they traditionally work with my group. Within weeks, I was successfully growing into my role. It took a little while, but feeling good about my work and contributions to the team helped repair and boost my confidence! After a while I moved on from that position, and once again had a supervisor and team that trained me in the beginning to give me a solid foundation on which to apply my skills. When that supervisor left six weeks after I joined the company, I wasn’t too worried, knowing that I had been set up for success in her absence. I learned that it’s important to establish the onboarding process for a new role, whether you’re making an internal move or joining a new company. And that it’s important to ask questions, because you honestly don’t know what you don’t know.

People take for granted how essential it is to be onboarded properly. No one arrives on day one knowing it all. Here are some tips that I’ve learned along the way:

  1. Ask about the onboarding process during the interview: Level set with your hiring manager/future supervisor and establish that you will be given the tools for success.

  2. Determine the timeframe of your learning curve: How long do you have to learn everything? When should you start to be concerned if you're not understanding your role or feeling confident? Work with your supervisor on that timeline.

  3. Play the "I'm new" card for as long as possible: Mention it to everyone with ears so if you do make a mistake it's understandable because you're new and still learning.

  4. Ask questions: Again, you don't know what you don't know.

  5. Meet with not only your team, but business partners and other departments: Learn how they like to work with you. Ask about areas of improvement and pain points you can fix and also what they like. Then make your adjustments as you see fit.

  6. Make use of the old pros: If your predecessor still works at the company find time to meet with him or her for training and insider tips.

  7. Know what kind of learner you are: Use that to your advantage and express your preference to your supervisor or whoever is training you.

  8. Don't let early mistakes define you: Apologize, learn from it, and move on. This is something I still struggle with, but I'm working on it.

Jonelle Brown is marketing and brand strategy professional in New York City. She has spent over 10 years working in the entertainment industry. Interested in blogging with The Mentor Method? Email us today with samples or story ideas.

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