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.