After Hours

10 tips for breaking in a new IT staff member

With a little effort and preparation, you can help your new employees get acclimated and up to speed with a minimum of anxiety and frustration.

Starting a job can be stressful and a bit overwhelming for your new recruits -- especially in a high-pressure IT environment. Here are a few things you can do to help them feel at ease and learn the ropes more quickly.

1: Find out what they know

Although some might deem it to be cruel and unusual punishment, I used to make new employees spend their first day taking a variety of Transcender exams. I knew that the practice tests were tough, and I didn't realistically expect them to pass all of the exams. However, asking them to take a series of exams was a great way to cut through any BS and find out exactly where their strengths and weaknesses were. That way, I could find out whether I needed to send them out for any training.

2: Hold off on providing full administrative rights

Even if new staff members are bona fide experts on all things IT, it is still a bad idea to initially give them administrative access to the network. Every organization has its own policies and procedures. Until new staff members have gotten a firm grasp on your organization's way of doing things, they can cause a lot of problems as an administrator.

3: Explain your naming conventions

One of the first things I recommend doing with a new staff member is taking the time to explain the various naming conventions your organization uses. You should discuss naming conventions for things like servers, user accounts, Active Directory sites, and Active Directory OUs. It can be tough for new employees to learn their way around an unfamiliar network. Knowing the naming conventions can shorten the learning curve.

4: Provide a copy of the network documentation

Give new employees a copy of the network documentation. Tell them to read it and to ask any questions they might have, because there will be a test.

You don't actually have to give a test, but telling them this accomplishes two things. First, it ensures that they will actually take the time to read your documentation. Second, the questions they ask will likely be a good indication of areas in which you need to improve your network documentation.

5: Give them the full tour

The last corporate job that I had before I became a full-time writer required me to manage a large chain of hospitals and healthcare facilities. When I was hired, the company owned 20 facilities that were hundreds of miles apart. Even so, someone took the time to drive me to every one of the facilities, show me the systems that were in place, and introduce me to each facility's staff. Did I remember every facility? Of course not. However, most of the facility administrators remembered me, and that made my job a lot easier.

You never know when you will have to send an employee to a branch office. Spending a little time up front to show them the offices and introduce them to the staff may pay dividends in the future.

6: Try to make them feel welcome

Anybody who has worked in IT for any length of time knows that IT can be stressful. There are a lot of long hours and unexpected situations. As a result, you and your staff will probably be spending a lot of time with new employees. That being the case, it's worthwhile to try to get things off on the right foot by making them feel welcome. You might invite them out to lunch or to a social gathering so that they can get to know everyone they will be working with.

7: Explain the procedure for getting user requests fulfilled

One thing I noticed when I hired new IT staff members was that some users would try to take advantage of them. The scenario is always the same. The user will try to become buddies with new hires and tell them about some request they have been trying to get IT to take care of forever. Of course, there is probably a good reason why the user's request has not been fulfilled.

Explain the procedure for submitting IT requests. That way, the new person will be less likely to be taken advantage of by the users.

8: Warn them about problem users

In most of the companies where I have worked, there have been at least a couple of users who were evil, wicked, mean, and nasty. You should be a pal and try to give new hires a heads up before they have to deal with someone like that for the first time.

Of course, you have to be careful about how you talk about the end users. It might be best to have someone on your staff casually mention the problem user to the new person (in an unofficial capacity).

9: Keep them informed of what's going on

IT is a fast-paced environment, and it's easy to fall behind. When you hire new people, it will probably be a few weeks before they're ready to start acting as full-fledged members of the administrative staff. After all, there is a lot of material that they need to learn. Even so, it is a good idea to give them a daily briefing about the types of things IT is involved with and the status of any current projects. As they gradually transition into a full blown administrative roll, they will already have an idea of what's going on in the company.

10: Realize that the first couple of weeks will be rough for them

Finally, remember that starting a new job is always rough. For the first couple of weeks, new employees will probably be bombarded with information. They may also be adjusting to a new schedule and be somewhat fatigued if the job requires them to get up earlier or to have a longer commute. Try to be understanding if they seem overly tired or if they just aren't catching on to things as quickly as you think that they should.

About

Brien Posey is a seven-time Microsoft MVP. He has written thousands of articles and written or contributed to dozens of books on a variety of IT subjects.

9 comments
RudHud
RudHud

Network documentation? Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Oh, I know. It's in the same directory as bgoings' Frequency Frease application.

bgoings
bgoings

After those 10 tips, then send the n00b out to find some Frequency Grease!!!

tommy
tommy

Really like the list as a whole, but I have to agree with RMSx32767 on the subject of testing. Having hired them, dropping them in to an exam situation day one is not a process I would use. If the job requires a specific skill set, which invariably it will in IT unless they're known to be raw recruits, then I test my applicants during the interview stages. I won't be hiring them unless I'm already sure that they're up to the job at hand, at least as far as theoretical technical savvy is concerned.

RMSx32767
RMSx32767

The world does not run on MS. Barrage of tests does not lead to feeling welcome. How much time is spent warning the users about problem IT professionals?

Professor8
Professor8

Make up your mind. Do you want to "make them welcome", quickly acclimated and productive... or do you want to waste their time and yours grilling them and making them uncomfortable and thrown off balance? You don't need to know every little thing about them, only whether they can do the job for which you're hiring them, and that's what you should be able to figure out within the first few minutes of the interview. Once you've hired them, you need to clear away barriers, not create additional artificial ones. Make sure they've got living quarters -- temporary for everyone, and time and means to secure a more permanent home for the real employees. Make sure they've got access to the appropriate docs. Give them or send them to appropriate new-hire training/education (and don't waste hours and expense telling them "Here's our lousy benefits package that we're excessively proud of.") Start the security clearance process. Ask them if there's anything they need, or need to know, to be productive (or more productive)... and, gasp, actually listen to what they say. A good STEM worker isn't so fixated on corporate pyramid building. They just want to work with great tools making great products in a collegial meritocratic atmosphere.

chuck.the.nerd
chuck.the.nerd

Guide them to the coffee machine and bathroom. Other must-know items are the procedure to follow during a fire drill and immediate reporting structure (corporate pyramid).

inouyde
inouyde

Show them where to find software installs, forms and documentation on the server.

LonePalm58
LonePalm58

Great idea Brien---but why not make that part of the hiring process? I help clients, for instance, design a web design excercise that tests knowledge of PHP, mySQL, JavaScript and frameworks, CSS and HTML. I've found that to be a better way than to depend on resumes.

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