Office Tour or HR Paperwork — Which Comes First? 3 Steps to a Better First Day

By Merit Gest

I remember my first day in my new job. I was excited — it had been my dream to work for a radio station in downtown Chicago, and here I was.

I spent hours deciding on the perfect outfit to make a good impression on my first day. I woke up extra early and got to the office about an hour ahead of schedule just to make sure I wouldn’t arrive stressed or late because of traffic. In my mind, I imagined meeting all of the DJs and bonding with new co-workers. It didn’t occur to me to bring a lunch — I thought my boss would take me out, to get to know me. I told my roommate I’d be home late, because I was sure that there’d be drinks after work with my new work buddies.

Sadly, the only people who saw my first day outfit were the receptionist, HR manager, business manager, and my boss (for about 15 minutes). Wide eyed, and wide grinned, I waited in the lobby, behind the locked glass doors, for someone to arrive. The receptionist was first on the scene. She greeted me, but didn’t seem to be expecting me. A little later, Pat, the HR Manager arrived. She knew I was starting that day so she brought me back to her office where she spent about 40 minutes pulling papers together for me — and that was in between phone calls.

There was a mountain of paperwork, and Pat insisted I read every document so I would know what I was signing.

After about 90 minutes, I was tired, bored, disappointed and hungry. She left me in her office “for just a sec” — and didn’t return for another 90 minutes. I didn’t know where to go, where my desk was, or who anyone was. She popped her head in only to say she was going to lunch and that the tech guy would be in to get my computer set up “so sit tight.”

Looking back on that day, is it any wonder that I’m a Professional Onboarding Specialist today? I want to do what I can to help companies create a better experience for their new recruits. Here are three things you can do to make sure your new hires have a better experience than the one I endured.

1. People Before Paperwork. The worst thing you can do to your new hires’ enthusiastic attitude is stick them in a room to fill out paperwork. They came to the office with some anxiety, and you don’t want them leaving the office the same way. Take them on a meaningful tour to meet the team so they start and end their day feeling connected to the people, not just their pen.

2. Skip the Quick Tour and do a Meaningful Tour instead. The quick tour of the office is a waste of everyone’s time and an interruption in their day. A meaningful tour is one that folks are expecting. They know in advance that the new hire will be walking around to meet people. Ideally, they have 15-20 minute “mini-meetings” set up with people and each person walks them to the next on their schedule. It takes a little organizing, but it’s worth the effort because it gives people the chance to make a meaningful first connection — and that’s what retention is dependent upon.

3. Design the First Hour of the First Day. You never get a second chance to make a first impression, and when it comes to retaining top talent, the first hour of their first day on the job is critical. What can you do to make it an amazing experience? Get creative!

Certainly there must be some paperwork on day one, but rather than have that be the sole focus on the first day, sprinkle it between people-oriented activities. It makes a big difference in ramping people up fast and encouraging them to stay forever.

Merit Gest is President and Founder of Merit-Based Development, a Denver-based firm specializing in onboarding top talent. She is one of a small handful of specialists in the world certified and trained in both Emotional Intelligence and Cultural Transformation Tools, giving her a unique perspective for hiring, onboarding and retaining top talent. Reach Merit at 720-980-1286 or
Originally published: Nov 5, 2012

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