Onboarding Checklist

Tyler Orr
Tyler Orr
The way a new employee’s time with your organization begins is crucial to their longevity, engagement, and satisfaction. But onboarding is so often given the short end of the stick! Our encyclopedia has lots of great articles to help you improve your onboarding processes. This entry will focus on the nuts and bolts of the onboarding checklist — a simple but critical tool in starting your new hires off on the right foot.

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What Is an Onboarding Checklist?

An onboarding checklist is a list of tasks that must be completed in order to keep the process for new employee onboarding straightforward, organized, and comprehensive.

There is often a checklist for the organization (which includes tasks to be completed by departments and people such as HR, IT, and the hiring manager) and a smaller checklist for the person being onboarded (which includes only the subset of tasks to be completed by the new employee themself).

The checklist can also be split by time frame, including tasks that need to be completed prior to the employee’s first day, on their first day, and during their first week, month, or 90 days. It can even extend months longer than that, depending on how long your organization wants to provide extra support to new hires and how closely you want to tie onboarding to general talent development processes.

It can also be insightful to consider onboarding from organizational, technical, and social perspectives. This can help ensure that you look beyond the required forms and consider a variety of other ideas that will make a new hire a strong addition to the team. For example, the lens of those three areas might lead you to incorporate an organizational culture orientation, ensure that a new hire’s equipment is ready to go before day one, and assign a mentor. None of those tasks are necessary from a legal or compliance standpoint and could easily be missed if you are not thinking outside the box. But each will strengthen an employee’s understanding of and commitment to the organization.

Why is an Onboarding Checklist Important?

There are many reasons why having a clear and consistent list followed by everyone involved in the hiring process is important. Most of these reasons are included in the “Why” sections of other Eddy HR encyclopedia entries related to onboarding, including the articles on onboarding, employee onboarding experience, and employee first day, so check out those and other articles in the onboarding section of the main encyclopedia page.

In addition, a few of the most important themes are summarized here.

  • Retention. The onboarding process can make or break a new hire’s perspective on your company. An organized and clear process that meets all of their needs and gets them even more excited about the organization can give a kickstart that will help keep them there for a long time. On the flip side, a disorganized and frustrating experience that does not show them they are valued could lead to them searching for a new opportunity far more quickly than originally planned.
  • Productivity. One goal of an onboarding checklist is to ensure that a new employee has everything they need to help them ramp up and learn how to contribute to your mission and strategy as quickly as possible.
  • Compliance. A clear and complete list will help ensure that you don’t miss anything critical from a legal or corporate compliance perspective, such as an offer letter, I-9 or W-4 completion.

What To Include in an Onboarding Checklist

Every organization’s onboarding checklist should be unique and may include different tasks or events conducted at different times, based on culture and organizational structure. Therefore, we encourage you not to treat the following list as being anywhere close to comprehensive. There are many resources and templates online that can help give you ideas to build out your full checklist (including default templates from HR software systems if you use one of those to facilitate your onboarding process, as well as the section “How To Onboard New Employees” in the Eddy article on onboarding).

Rather, use the following checklist as a starting point, then be sure to consider time frames (tasks to be completed before day one, on day one, during the first week, month or 90 days and in the months after that), categories (tasks that will help support a new hire from organizational, technical and social perspectives) and responsible parties for onboarding tasks (what might HR, IT, the hiring manager and the new hire need to check off around the time of hire).

Before Day One

  • Send a welcome email with a list of tasks, forms, and basic information about the team and company (HR or hiring manager)
  • Complete W-4 and other employment forms (new hire)
  • Set up computer and other technical requirements (IT)
  • Prepare new hire workspace, including computer and other technical requirements, swag, office supplies, and any additional welcome materials (IT, HR, and hiring manager)
  • Assign mentor or onboarding buddy (hiring manager or HR)
  • Organize and schedule necessary orientation meetings and/or one-on-one meetings with crucial partners for new hire (hiring manager or HR)

On Day One

  • Bring paperwork required for I-9 completion and other required paperwork (new hire)
  • Welcome new hire at the front door or desk (the hiring manager)
  • Conduct workplace tour (HR or hiring manager)
  • Breakfast or lunch with the new hire and team members (the hiring manager)
  • Begin orientation with an overview of company, culture, team, and expectations (hiring manager, HR, etc.)
  • Review scheduled meetings and confirm plans for ongoing check-ins and future performance reviews (the hiring manager)
  • Facilitate and confirm completion of I-9 and other required forms, including setting up payroll (HR)

During First Week

  • Meet with all members of the team and schedule meetings with critical internal and external partners (new hire)
  • Complete onboarding paperwork and any initial required trainings (new hire)
  • Read employee handbook and become familiar with workspace, culture, and expectations (new hire)
  • Check in regularly with new hire (hiring manager, HR, and maybe IT)

During First Few Months

  • Continue checking in regularly, at least once a week (the hiring manager)
  • Collect feedback from new hire on the onboarding process and initial experience with the company (HR)
  • Conduct 30, 60, and 90-day check-ins or reviews to evaluate performance, development, and learning, and to ensure questions are being answered (HR and/or hiring manager)
  • Ensure mentor is meeting regularly with new hire (hiring manager or HR)
  • Schedule additional meetings with partners and leaders connected to the role (new hire)
  • Flow onboarding process into standard talent management cycle of performance reviews, promotions, pay increases, etc. (HR and hiring manager)

Types of Onboarding Checklists

There are a variety of tools you can consider using to create and distribute an onboarding checklist. Weigh factors like time to create and maintain the checklist, ease of sharing relevant tasks with internal partners, and the new hire and cost to determine the solution that makes the most sense in your organization.

Microsoft Excel/Word or Google Sheets/Docs

This is the method used by many small organizations that struggle to get the budget for a more robust tool. You can easily use these platforms to list each task and indicate a deadline, the person or department responsible for completing each task, and any other relevant details. These tools are also typically already available for use at no additional cost, and most employees are aware of how they work and will not require substantial training on the process.

Despite all of those pros, however, this is not the method we would recommend for almost any organization. Once a company grows past the first few employees, and particularly when it reaches a size that is important from a regulatory standpoint (such as the 50+ employee mark where some federal regulations come into play), managing employee onboarding via spreadsheets can become unwieldy for a variety of reasons.

For one thing, unless you are using spreadsheets at a very high level, the document will not send notifications or reminders for responsible parties to complete tasks. You may be required to do a lot of manual follow-ups to ensure that each step is completed on time. Sharing spreadsheets can also be a chore. Some spreadsheet platforms will not easily share documents with current employees that will remain up-to-date on everything that has been completed thus far. But even if yours does play well with others, you are likely to run into problems trying to share it with the new hire who is not yet part of the organization. There is also no easy way to send a customized welcome to the new hire with their relevant tasks, which some paid platforms make very simple.

Project Management Tools

This category of tools is a bit better and more robust than simply using an Excel or Google Sheet. Platforms such as Trello or Asana can be used to track, assign and send notifications related to tasks on the onboarding checklist. Similar to Microsoft or Google products, these types of platforms are already in use at many organizations, so you may be able to use your company’s existing project management tool of choice to facilitate onboarding processes at no additional cost.

All the pros of the Excel or Google Sheet method apply here in most cases, in addition to the added ability to include notification settings based on deadlines (in many of these platforms), easy sharing capabilities within the organization, and the potential for greater automation in managing the checklist.

However, a couple of the cons previously mentioned still remain. Sharing with the new hire themselves will still be an issue with any of these tools, and you will still need to manually send information and a welcome email rather than having some of those pieces automated.

Onboarding Software

Many HR software platforms (including Eddy’s) provide onboarding modules as a built-in offering. If you already use an HR information system (HRIS), it likely has a tool you can set up and begin using for new hires at any time. If you don’t have an HRIS, strongly consider changing that. Using one of these platforms will immediately open up new possibilities in effective onboarding.

Most of these systems resolve all of the cons previously mentioned. Not only do they make it easy to share tasks and assign items to various people and departments in your organization, but they typically do a good job on the new hire side as well. Your new employee will receive a welcome email and other notifications that look professional and give them the information they need to be successful from day one.

The one significant con is the potential added cost if you do not already use an HRIS that has a built-in onboarding module. However, these systems are typically worth the investment because of the time and energy saved and the way they help prevent important onboarding steps from falling through the cracks.

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Questions You’ve Asked Us About Onboarding Checklists

Are there legal considerations my onboarding checklist should include?
Core legal considerations in onboarding include the I-9 form (to verify employment eligibility), W-4 form (federal income tax withholding), the offer letter and any confidentiality agreements, noncompete forms or other terms and conditions of employment. Your organization may have different or additional legal considerations depending on factors like the industry, location or employment type of the new hire.
How long should an onboarding checklist be?
As long as needed to help start a new hire off successfully in your organization! The portion of the checklist sent to the new employee prior to their start date should be minimized and focus only on the tasks they are required to complete, but the HR professional or supervisor facilitating the new hire process should maintain a fully comprehensive list regardless of length. Consider incorporating an onboarding survey or new hire questionnaire to gather feedback from new hires and help you make adjustments to the onboarding process over time, including shortening or lengthening your checklist as needed.
Tyler Orr
Tyler Orr

Tyler is an HR professional-turned-career advisor. After earning a master’s in HR and an MBA, he completed several development rotations while working for a Fortune 100 financial services and insurance company. After gaining experience in HR project management, data and analytics, and as an HR business partner, he decided the right next move was a transition into higher ed and career services. He now provides career support for students in a top-ranked supply chain management program at a large Tier 1 university, but maintains a love for the field of HR and an interest in seeing HR professionals succeed and push the envelope!

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