What to do When You Have to Onboard Yourself

ACS Career Consultants share effective practices for starting a new job or project
Kristin Nuzzio Global S&T LIMS Product Owner, PPG
Kristin Nuzzio, Global S&T LIMS Product Owner, PPG

"Recognize your own learning preferences..."

While starting a new role is exciting, it can be challenging when onboarding is up to you. Depending on your role and level, self-onboarding may actually be the expectation. Before you start, ensure you understand how to safely perform your job, and escalate any safety questions to your supervisor or EH&S. 

Recognize your own learning preferences and tailor your onboarding experiences to your personal learning style. Initially, it is critical to understand the current state of how things are being done. Now is the time to learn as much as you can about the team, project, and culture to set a strong foundation for your performance

Determine who your stakeholders are across departments and levels, and prioritize shadowing them to see how your role fits into the broader picture. Don’t hesitate to ask questions, and take detailed notes since you will receive a lot of information and will want to reference it later as your knowledge expands.

Identify small targets or quick wins that can help you gain and maintain momentum early on. Your goals will change as you learn more, but try to be as specific as you can upfront. Clarify expectations in a discussion with your supervisor and align on what is in scope for your role based on what you have learned. 

Andreea Arginature Program Manager, Global NA, Axalta
Andreea Argintaru, Program Manager, Global NA, Axalta

"Be proactive..."

If you have to onboard yourself, you are probably not the first hire in the team who went through the process. Ask the latest hires for their onboarding documents and extract what applies to your role. Learning from others’ experiences will give you an idea about unwritten rules, social norms, team dynamics, and office politics.  

Set up at least a meeting with your direct manager(s), to understand their work philosophy, and expectations and start building a trusting relationship. Be proactive and share your proposed onboarding process, then ask for feedback. Your manager knows the colleagues at different 

levels and future strategic partners that you must connect with. If you have direct reports, spend a significant time working with them closely, to understand their roles and get to know them better. Take notes in all your meetings because it will be difficult to remember everything. 

Focus on delivering quick wins, but observe, understand, and don’t try to impose drastic changes immediately. People are resilient to change, and it might work against you.

Marciano Bagnoli, Quality Manager, Bakelite Synthetics
Marciano Bagnoli, Quality Manager, Bakelite Synthetics

"Knowing how success is defined in my role helps me get in tune with the needs of the organization..."

When I find myself in a new environment, I look to accomplish three things in short order. First, I want to completely understand my role’s deliverables and how they affect the organization. Knowing how success is defined in my role helps me get in tune with the organization's needs and how we can work together to address those needs.

 Second, I try to learn the names of individuals in my working vicinity (in the office). Building initial connections through some light small talk plants the seeds of important relationships early on and can help you enmesh into the organization quickly. Lastly, I try to look for a small, quick win that I can accomplish within a few weeks to set my “brand” in the eyes of my team, so I can efficiently accomplish my goals with the resources around me. 

Jacqueline Thomas, Principle Scientist, P&G
Jacqueline Thomas, Principle Scientist, P&G

"My advice is to make an Action Plan..."

When you are onboarding to a new project, team, or job, it can feel overwhelming at times. When you must onboard, and you must do it all yourself that can make it feel even more overwhelming. My advice is to make an Action Plan; a plan with step-by-step actions you need to get accomplished to make sure your onboarding is successful. This plan should include items/topics that you need to learn about. Your learning actions would either be by doing some research on the new item or seeking out a seminar/class/workshop where you can learn more in-depth if needed. 

This plan should also include seeking out experts to talk, learn from, and connect with - maybe persons who previously had this project/role or worked closely with previous persons. Finally, you should track your progress by updating this plan often, marking off items that were accomplished, and/or adding new items that you uncovered in your learnings that you will need to be successful.   

This article has been edited for length and clarity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of their employer or the American Chemical Society.

ACS Career Consultants are experts and leaders working in the field of chemistry who have volunteered to support other ACS members’ career development through one-on-one career counselling. They can stimulate your thinking, ask important career planning questions to help clarify goals, provide encouragement, teach strategies for making meaningful career decisions, and aid you in your job search. Connect with an ACS Career Consultant today!

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