“Onboarding…and Being Onboarded”

Rachel M. Benway, M. Ed, Zeta Beta Tau Fraternity

A phrase that I am working to adopt to my way of life is, “Always assume positive intent.” This has been tough for me in the past – and I would believe the same for others as well. I have found this sentiment very helpful for me to keep in mind when joining a new team.

“We are SO excited to offer you a position on our team and cannot wait to start the onboarding process with you!” Are those not some of the best words to hear? The first thought that comes to mind when that offer comes over the phone is, “WOW! A fresh start, I am so excited to learn, so ready to share my experiences, and eager to get trained to be the best I can be!”

When being onboarded, or helping someone onboard to your team, I believe the following are important:

  • Ask questions!
  • Showcase your experiences…but not too much.
  • Tiptoe, walk, run!
  • Apply best practices.
  • Onboarding is a joint effort.

Ask questions!

Asking questions shows that you care about the work that you are about to do. Showing your genuine interest in learning about the work, team, organizations history (the good and bad) will ultimately help the team to grow and welcome you in.

You do not need to think of questions just for the sake of asking. If your role is something similar to work you have done, you likely have a base understanding. Personally, this is my first professional experience in Greek Life, but I have worked in Higher Education for a few years now. When I joined my current team, I was honest that I am confident in my rapport building with students and leadership training skills, but understanding the roles of the Executive Board and Headquarters as a whole was not my strength yet!

Reading the room is also important. Making sure to ask (or answer) questions at the appropriate time is important. Some topics will be just for you and your supervisor, some will be for the greater good, and it is important to know the difference.

Showcase your experiences… but not too much.

Pay attention to how often you mention your previous institution/role. You obviously left your role for this team for a reason (or five), so find the balance of comparison, proving your experience, and ask yourself if you are sharing to brainstorm or brag.

Relationships on your team will come when they do. Starting off with bragging or trying to change too much too quickly will not help you – no matter your role. Learn what you can from those on the team. Watch that you aren’t telling the exact same story to everyone on the team all in your first week.

Tiptoe, walk, run!

Know your role and honor your position. What is the best line of communication in the office? Who should you be connecting with daily for tasks? Weekly? Respect your office administrators because they likely know EVERYTHING.

You do not have to be perfect on day one or even six months in. Take your time to learn the role, learn best practices, and connect with your team. By focusing on the right steps you will eventually become the perfect version of your role. Patience is key with yourself and others while onboarding.

Be willing to learn and change. Things will be different in your new role – and as they should be!.Creating a new challenge for you where you can learn, and grow might even be one reason you left your last role. Once you have found your footing in your new role, get to running!

Apply best practices.

How do you (and don’t you) like to work with others? Share what you do best. How do you plan to communicate? Share the expectations that your teammates can have of you. Sharing your strengths will help you to communicate in the best way possible.

How important is time to you? Do you work best on deadlines or are you happier to have a loose schedule and get the work done without a specific due date?

How are you expected to communicate outside of the team? What about HR? Make sure to follow what the team has set in place (with good reason, of course). Once you learn the culture, then you can help change the processes for the better. You need to learn and respect before you can grow and change!

Onboarding is a joint effort.

Be honest with who you report to. What past work experiences are you bringing to the team? If your questions or actions come from a positive experience, let them know that.

If you are coming from a team that was not the right fit for you and your questions or actions are based in anxiety and micromanaging, let them know that, too.

What influences you best? Are lists encouraging to you? How much do you rely on a weekly meeting with your supervisor to feel confident in your role?

What can you expect from your new supervisor? How do they manage, are you the only one, what strengths do they have as a supervisor, and why did they choose you for the role? Connecting personally with the person you will likely be working with most on the team will be essential to your success. They should be your champion – and you should give them reasons to want to lead the way for your success!

Onboarding is exciting and nerve-wracking in many ways. Keeping your goal in mind of reaching success as a team will be essential. Joining a team should be an encouraging time that both you and your supervisor are responsible for.

When in doubt in a new role, remember to always assume positive intent.


About the author

Rachel M. Benway is a passionate higher education professional and enjoys supporting students during their leadership roles on and off campus. She currently serves as an Assistant Director of Chapter Services at Zeta Beta Tau Fraternity. Through her role, Rachel has the opportunity to enhance the membership experience in a variety of ways, including chapter visits, monthly presidential calls, and continued student leader training retreats. Rachel earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Organizational Communication from Capital University and a Master of Education degree in College Student Personnel from Ohio University. Rachels love for higher education began during her college orientation sessions where she learned she could stay at a college campus forever. From there, Rachel worked as an Orientation Leader in undergrad and lead in grad school. She spent a year and a half leading Orientation as a Coordinator at University of Central Florida before joining the ZBT Team. She is also a proud volunteer for Camp Boggy Creek in Florida and Pet Rescue by Judy.

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