how to train a new hire

A reader writes:

I’m transitioning out of my job and into a new one. My replacement will start a week from today, and I’ll have a full week week to train the new employee. My organization has not historically been good at training. When I started this job, my predecessor sat over my shoulder and instructed me what to do as we simply did her/my job together for the entire 8 hours of three consecutive days. It was exhausting and painful.

I want to create a training plan so that I can give my replacement independent tasks and some down time to absorb everything, rather than sitting next to her for 8 hours for 5 days and overloading her brain with too much information too rapidly. Although I have written manuals for most of the specific tasks of my job, we don’t have an employee manual or other literature to introduce the new hire to the organization in general. How do I go about creating a training plan? My organization has never used a formal training plan so my own boss can’t be helpful here.

Is it better to end up sending the new hire home early if we move through the plan too quickly, or is it better to create an ambitious training plan that we may not get all the way through if some things take longer than anticipated? Is it OK to give a new hire in a position that will ultimately be autonomous and self-directed the freedom to work independently on non-critical tasks during this initial training period, even though she has only just been trained on the tasks that same day or week?

Your instincts are exactly right here: Giving her time to absorb things and work on her own is going to increase her retention dramatically, and a training plan is an excellent idea.

I’m a big fan of creating an outline of what you’ll cover and in what order. And here’s a good sample training outline from The Management Center. (Disclaimer: I wrote it and based it on one that I created in my old job.)

In addition to job-specific information, you should also include things like:

* An overview of your department and its staff, and who does what
* Important contacts in the rest of the organization; who to see for what
* Tips for working with other departments
* How to handle particular personalities outside the office and things to be sensitive to
* Common problems they’ll encounter and how to handle them
* What kind of communication your manager prefers
* Approval process for work
* How to locate important files and other sources of information
* Goals for the first month and first quarter
* How success in the role is judged generally, and keys for doing well in it

As you’re putting this together, think about what would have been helpful to you when you first started. What do you wish you knew earlier on? Were there things you discovered six weeks in that suddenly made your life much easier? Incorporate those lessons into your plan.

Also, structure this so that you first lay a broad foundation and then get more detailed. It’s much easier for people to retain details when they already understand what the bigger picture looks like. So give the view from 10,000 feet up first, and then zoom in on the details. Similarly, give her a copy of the training outline on her first day so that she knows what to expect. First weeks are nerve-wracking, and they’re easier when you have some idea of what’s around the next corner.

You also asked: “Is it better to end up sending the new hire home early if we move through the plan too quickly, or is it better to create an ambitious training plan that we may not get all the way through if some things take longer than anticipated?”   Don’t send her home early. If you can, just move on to the next part of the plan. Or, have her start doing the work that you’ve trained her in. In fact, you absolutely must build in time for her to do the work on her own … because that’s when she’s going to run into problems and questions, and you’ll still be there at that point to help with them. If you don’t let her do any of the work on her own until you’re gone, it’ll be too late for that. So your training plan should include quite a few work blocks, where she’s doing the job and then has the opportunity to check back in with you.

One last thing: Check in with her periodically about the pace of the training. Are there things she’s not quite processing that she’d like to spend more time on? Is she ready to move more quickly? People often won’t speak up when they’re new on a job, so ask her proactively.

Good luck, and congratulations on your new job!

{ 20 comments… read them below }

  1. Josh S*

    On behalf of all new hires everywhere, YES! YES! YES!

    Every. Single. Business should be doing this for their new hires.

  2. JC*

    (First to the OP: I had to double blink at your question and then wonder if I somehow emailed Allison in my sleep! This was the exact same situation I was in just a couple weeks ago.)

    When I started my job 2 years ago, the training was terrible and it was obvious the person I was replacing just didn’t want to do the job anymore. She was also overworked and didn’t have the time to sit with me to go over items in depth. She basically just threw me into the pit after 3 days and expected me to figure it out myself. While she remained in the department and could answer questions whenever I asked them, a full training would have been so helpful to both of us in the long-term. I pretty much had nothing of context for about 3-4 months which was incredibly frustrating and time-consuming as I had to piece items together as best I could.

    I just left the job a couple weeks ago, and I had a week’s overlap to train my replacement. I first went over the new hire booklet my organization put together a year ago (filled with contextual goodies), and then I went through my own thick training manual with her. I included breaks and allowed time for her to read through the packet and other information on her own to ask questions. I tried to keep each day’s training at about 2 sections of the manual as not to overload. Finally, I worked in general tips, advice, and pieces of wisdom whenever I could.

    I won’t go into more detail, because Allison’s advice is spot-on to what you should include and how you should present information to your replacement. My only recommendation is to start putting this training packet together ASAP as it’s a fairly time-consuming process starting from scratch. Good luck!

  3. Catherine*

    I’m saving this post! My team recently hired 2 new people this year, and one of my tasks was putting together a more formal new hire training (I wasn’t leaving, we just needed something in place). I’m happy to say I covered about 2/3 of what Alison listed but of course it can always use improvement, and there are some wonderful things listed here that I didn’t think about. Our training up until this point had been what the OP had described – sit down for 8 hours a day for several days with a current employee and cram information into your brain. Nothing written down, unless you wrote it yourself.

  4. Julie*

    On the first day of my current job, my boss had me edit her Executive Director’s report that she was going to be presenting to the Board of Directors in a few weeks. (I’ve worked as an editor in the past but was hired as an admin assistant.)

    It was a really nice, low-key way for me to familiarize myself with the major areas of the organization that I’d be dealing with. Not only did it give me a “big-picture” view of what we were doing, but it also gave me a hint about the problems we might be facing or the projects I’d be dealing with.

    Naturally, OP might not be able to do something like this, but I thought it was a really nice way of easing me into the position and the organization.

    1. OP*

      Thanks for this idea! Although slightly different, your comment made me realize it would be great to have her read our most recent primary grant request that covers a significant proportion of our work, so she can see a list of our projects for the current grant period as well as how we define success on those projects.

  5. ChristineH*

    This x 1000!!

    At my previous job, I had a bit over two weeks’ training time before they had me take phone calls (I&R position). It seemed comprehensive enough: site visits, lots of reading material, review previous call logs, look through resources, you name it! In hindsight and in reading this post, there definitely could’ve been more structured training. Yes I recall having brief meetings with my supervisor and a couple other staff, and there was an outline of what I was to do. But I’d say it was 90% self-directed, which I think really affected my retention of the information. I eventually began getting used to everything, but I never quite got the hang of it entirely, and was laid off less than a year later.

  6. moe*

    What strikes me about Alison’s list–and where I think most on-the-job training lacks–is the focus on the culture and unwritten ways of doing business.

    1. moe*

      Pushed submit too soon… meant to add:

      If your manuals are good, they’ll teach the routine stuff, and most of it is probably known by others anyway. It’s much harder to teach, and arguably more important to one’s success on the job, to understand the hows and whys of a role vs. the specific whats.

      1. Catherine*

        Very true. I think one of the most helpful things is to have an important contacts list and some explanation of why you would contact those people, what situations warrant it, etc. The most my job had for an important contacts list was the university’s main website. So I didn’t have much of an understanding about why I would want to contact so and so, who was the best person in the dept to answer that question, etc.

  7. Anon Job Seeker*

    All of Allison’s advice here is great. Particularly this:
    “Also, structure this so that you first lay a broad foundation and then get more detailed. It’s much easier for people to retain details when they already understand what the bigger picture looks like. So give the view from 10,000 feet up first, and then zoom in on the details. ”

    YES! I have extensive experience as a temp, where training can range from a day or two of on-the-job training to “Here’s how to answer the phones, have fun; oh, and everyone who can readily answer questions will be gone this week”, with scant details on what the company even does for a living. I’ve always appreciated the trainers who were able to explain the big picture of the organization, how it worked, how *my* job worked in relation to the big picture, and what happened to my work once it moved on to the next stage.

    In any case, kudos to the OP for thinking about this in advance, and trying to make things easier for her replacement.

  8. Tokyo*

    I’m going maternity leave at the end of the year and this is going to be a great resource to help me train my replacement. Thank you for posting this!

  9. Riki*

    “* Common problems they’ll encounter and how to handle them”

    So much yes to this. When I started my new job, my predecessor did a decent job of training me. However, she didn’t tell me about all the weird operational quirks that I really would have loved to have known about in advance. I actually asked her about some of these quirks and her response was to “not worry about it.” Wrong! I understand not wanting to scare off a new hire, but if there’s an issue you know may come up, please tell them and explain how you handled the same/similar issue in the past. I enjoy my new job, but, man, it would have been so helpful to have gotten a heads up on certain things.

  10. Suzanne*

    Training? I didn’t think anyone did that anymore. (Yes, this is dripping with sarcasm.) Sink or swim seems to be the new business model for new hires.

    1. OP*

      Not my new hire :)

      I’ve really enjoyed working with my coworkers and for my organization’s mission and in an ideal scenario, they won’t miss a beat with me gone. My replacement will be armed with all she needs to step smoothly into my shoes and carry out all my functions once I’m gone, so my former coworkers (that I’ll stay friends with) won’t be sending me sad emails saying, “Everything is falling apart, nobody in your old department knows what they’re doing or how to fulfill my requests. I wish you were still here.” Instead I hope to get emails like, “Hope you’re enjoying your new job. Your replacement is awesome! Miss you.”

  11. Elizabeth West*

    Oh it’s wonderful when someone documents procedures. Someone did it in a job where they had to leave before I was hired, and I was so incredibly grateful. I wrote a manual for my last job, in a binder, with tabs and indexed and everything, just in case I got hit by a bus and they had to bring in a temp, or was on vacation, or whatever. I updated it once a year, as needed, when procedures changed. Besides giving the people covering me a place to look stuff up, writing it all down as I was learning really helped me absorb the information. :)

  12. Nicole*

    I wish every organization did this! I’d just recommend that anything about the manager and his/her communication style not be put in writing…maybe I’m just paranoid, but I’d be worried about my manager finding it after I left and thinking it was weird that I’d analyzed him/her, even if it weren’t anything particularly negative.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Oh, don’t put that stuff in writing — you’re just creating an outline of the topics to cover. So your outline might say “how to communicate with Megan,” and that’s your prompt to have that discussion with the new hire.

  13. Camellia*

    Where is Charlie, our resident trainer? I haven’t seen any posting from him in a while. Hope everything is okay and he is just enjoying a wonderful vacay!

  14. Sweet and Petite*

    Every company should have a training manual that covers everything about every job. I wish the place that I used to work at did. The place I worked at has poor training. I kept getting passed between coworkers and managers the entire time(I was sent home early on my first day, too. That extra time could’ve been used for more training.). Nobody knew where I was at, so the training was either repeated or just plain random. I learned most of the stuff I needed to know, though(I had to ask questions most of the time or I didn’t get trained. That’s not good. Just because a person doesn’t ask questions doesn’t mean they know what they’re doing.). Unfortunately, there were still things that I wasn’t trained to do that I should’ve been trained to do from the very beginning. Some of it was important.

  15. Liz*

    Thank you for this post and for sharing the training outline. It is so much more than I had hoped to find on the topic. Your style is straightforward, thorough, and feels very natural – which fits me and my organization to a T! My new hire is going to be off to an amazing start thanks to you. Thank you so much!

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