5 most common onboarding pitfalls and how to avoid them

At PageGroup, we pride ourselves on sourcing the best talent in the market and screening candidates to make sure they match our clients' requirements and are a good company fit. But despite our best efforts, there are instances when new hires just don't work out. Fortunately, many of the causes are easily avoidable. Below is a list of five most common pitfalls and how to avoid them.

Pitfall 1: Have you set your new hire up for success?

Imagine you hire a top saleswoman from a competitor. You know how much revenue she's generated and know about her wide network of contacts. You think to yourself: I've got a sure-fire winner. But as her first few months pass, her results are only average. You scratch your head. Did she exaggerate her sales or has she lost her edge?

Although those are certainly possibilities, the answer is likely much simpler. The overall performance of any new hire is a combination of their potential, motivation and resources at hand. You’ve identified their potential through a thorough screening process and it’s rare for a new employee to be un-motivated, so chances are it's an issue with resources — anything from lack of training, software, staff or even time. For example, they might have had a secretary to take care of admin tasks or access to a list of warm leads or a company car to get to more meetings every day.

The fix: Sit down with new hires and find out exactly what resources and systems were provided for them to excel in their previous role. Questions like “What resources were you provided in your previous role that you don’t have here” will uncover any concerns. It may also give you valuable insight into resources used by other firms or competitors.

Pitfall 2: Have you sold the benefits of having a new hire?

The announcement of a new hire can cause anxiety and even resentment for other team members. If one employee in the department was expecting to be promoted and you’ve just hired someone with the same level of experience and skills, it’s natural for them to see the new hire as competition. This is to be expected and even tolerated -- if anything, it demonstrates the incumbent employee’s motivation and ambition.

But there is a line when friendly competition turns un-friendly. For example, an incumbent employee may exclude the new hire from work gatherings outside the office. Worse, they notice a mistake in the new hire’s work but instead of pointing it out, they let it slide, triggering the inevitable complaint from a manager or customer. As one author commented on corporate competition, “Why try to outrun the bear when you can just tie your co-workers' shoelaces?”

The fix: Before a new hire joins, explain to the team why this new person is being hired and sell the benefits of having an extra pair of hands. If you identify someone who might be threatened or challenged by the new hire, speak to them and ease any concerns. Not saying anything is the worst course of action.

Pitfall 3: Are you getting and giving feedback?

Many new hires we speak to are completely shocked when they don't make it past their three-month probation period. This is a clear case of lack of communication from both sides. The new hire may interpret silence from their manager as tacit approval for completing work as expected. They may also feel guilty for already taking up too much of their peers' time with endless questions during onboarding and fail to communicate more. On the other hand, managers may have a backlog of incomplete work and priorities after a particularly long and exhausting search for a new hire. As a result, they fail to regularly communicate with their new hire or guide them through their first few months. Some managers may want to assess how independent the new hire is as part of a “sink or swim” test. This approach is rarely ever beneficial for the new hire.

The fixRegular feedback and communication is probably the single most critical factor in ensuring a new hire is successful. As soon as a new hire joins, schedule regular one-to-one sessions to provide feedback and to build critical rapport for a successful working relationship. Your new hire will also feel more comfortable speaking to you and larger issues and misunderstandings can be avoided altogether.

Pitfall 4: Is a proper onboarding process in place?

Many companies are already stretched in terms of resources and when a new hire joins, the company simply expects them to learn everything on the job. In short, they expect everything to just “work out”. This isn’t necessarily wrong — you have likely hired a very qualified and intelligent person and spoon-feeding every single piece of information may not be necessary. But is this really an efficient way to onboard a new hire? From a practical perspective, not every single rule or a company can be written down, nor are many rules actually rules but just tacit agreements that have developed over time. Most new hires will have a story of a corporate faux pas when they innocently broke an unwritten rule.

The fix: Your HR department may have a company onboarding plan but that might be limited to high level procedures that have little impact on your new hire's daily routine. For a proper introduction to roles and responsibilities, you should have your own team/department onboarding plan. You can also informally pair the new hire with a “buddy” to help him or her get accustomed to the company’s culture and unwritten rules.

Pitfall 5: Have you reviewed the job description?

Job descriptions can often be some of the most confusing documents in existence. Filled with technical jargon, unique department names and vague and unclear wording, they can be a challenge for anyone to completely understand. This creates its own set of problems and you run the risk of having someone trying to be successful in a position where success cannot really be defined. Some new hires are very diligent and make sure they understand every line of their job description. Others might understand and agree with most of it, but there could be areas which are unclear and, caught up in the excitement of a new job and company, they fail to subsequently clarify.

The fix: In one of your first 1:1 sessions with the new hire, ask questions like, “Any parts of your job description that are not clear?” or “Based on your first few weeks, does the job description seem to match up with what you’re doing?” With any role and job description, there is bound to be the ideal and the reality. By regularly reviewing the job description, you ensure everyone understands and agrees on the objectives and purpose of the role and what success looks like.

Don't stop here, find out how to hire a candidate who will fit in seamlessly with your organisation


The weeks and months after a new hire joins is critical. Ensure they have all the tools necessary to be successful. Taking a few simple precautions and having a structured onboarding plan can make all the difference between failure and success for your new hire. Ask yourself these five questions:

1. Have you set your new hire up for success?

2. Have you sold the benefits of having a new hire?

3. Are you getting and giving feedback?

4. Is a proper onboarding process in place?

5. Have you reviewed the job description?

If you are looking for a job, visit the Candidates section

Are you Hiring?

If you are an employer and would like to discuss your hiring needs, fill in the form below and we will call you back.

Please note that this form is for hiring managers looking to hire. If you are looking for a job, please apply for a job or submit your CV.

Advertise Your Role With Us

Advertise Your Role With ReachTalent