Hey Boss: My First Day Really Stunk

skunk first day

I will never forget that day. I had just started a new job after finishing graduate school and moving back to the San Francisco Bay area. I showed up at the specified time and aimlessly walked around the office, looking for my new boss. He was at a “breakfast meeting,” I was told. “Go ahead and wait in the lobby.” I waited — and waited. Sad.

Remember your first day? You probably felt a mix of emotions — nervousness, excitement, maybe apprehension. Your goal was to meet the team, understand what was really going on at the company, and figure out how you could contribute.

But instead of feeling welcomed, you spent the morning completing HR paperwork and the rest of the day feeling lost and mostly invisible. Perhaps one person took initiative and introduced you to the team. But overall, it was a poor first impression of your new employer.

It is a familiar story. The new employee arrives fully prepared for the first day — but no one else is and that first day really stinks.

This is a shame because those first days are critical to a new hire’s long-term happiness. In fact, in a survey of 1,000 employees, one-third quit a job within six months of starting.

The top reasons for quitting? New employees wished for clearer guidelines and responsibilities, more training, and a helpful co-worker to shadow. But despite high turnover rates, 22 percent of employers still have no formal onboarding program for new hires.

At Aha!, we worked hard building out a program that ensures every new person feels welcomed and knows exactly what to do. Every new Aha! hire receives intensive training on the product and the market, which gives them a clear understanding of what we do and the problems our customers face. Each person becomes an honorary member of our Customer Success team, which culminates in a “graduation” — giving a live customer demo of our product.

Of course, your own onboarding program will look different depending on your company and the products you deliver. But if you want to help new team members start out strong, there are some universal actions you can take:

Be ready
Grant access to any systems the new hire will need. Managers should plan to spend time with them straightaway, answering questions and setting expectations for the first few days.

Teach hard
Give your new hires something that shows you are investing in their growth. For example, before their first day, we send each Aha! a set of books we have enjoyed as a team. Some recent titles include Drive by Daniel Pink, Grit by Angela Duckworth, and our own bestselling new book, Lovability.

Welcome proudly
Send out a welcome email to the entire team that includes a short bio, explanation of the new team member’s responsibilities, and an encouraging nudge for others to say “hi.” For example, we invite our newest Aha! to join the conversation in our chat tool.

Assign tasks
People gain confidence when they can start contributing quickly at a new job. So assign some tasks as soon as possible, and then ramp up responsibilities as they become acclimated to their role.

Make connections
Remember how long it takes to connect names with faces at a new job? Encourage team members to schedule one-on-one meetings with the new person.

Encourage mastery
I mentioned that each Aha! delivers a live demo when their onboarding ends. I meant it — everyone, from engineers to finance specialists. With proper onboarding, new hires can answer questions, and using the product becomes second nature.

You do not want anyone to have a rotten first day. You want it to be memorable — a good memory.

If you are a leader in title or action, you can do your part. Prepare for a new team member’s arrival in advance, and keep in close contact in the weeks and months to come.

A thoughtful onboarding process will help you keep those team members you worked so hard to hire. And you will have a happier team for it.

What went right (and wrong) on your first day?

About Brian and Aha!

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 roadmap software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the adventure of living a meaningful life.

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  1. Wade Weston

    I had the situation where my first few days were spent meeting people, reviewing the current activities and many of the activities that I would be responsible for, reviewing the systems and on and on. Good enough except all of that time would have been so much more effective had I received “intensive training on the product and the market” as Aha! does. This way, I would have had the proper context to better understand the purpose of all of these people, activities, and systems.

  2. Michelle Robin

    How refreshing to hear about an onboarding process that trains everyone in customer service and your product no matter their role. After all, when your employees are taken care of well, they will take care of your customers.

    I will never forget my worst first day when I was dropped off by HR after just a few hours of company information at the front desk and had no clue where to go. Luckily, the recruiter who hired me, happened to be walking by and showed me the area where my department was. Once there, no one showed me where I could hang up my coat or even my desk and I was immediately thrown into a meeting where my co-worker dumped a load of work on me. When I finally had a minute alone with my direct report and asked her about her background, her response was “I am overqualified for this position.”

    Believe it or not, I stayed with this company for 9 years and guess what? I ended up on a committee to create a better onboarding process.

  3. Marie

    Very nice post Brian. I’ve had a few first days where I wondered if they (the company) knew why they hired me or if they just expected me to create my own job. Also, nothing worse than being a surprise to your new co-workers!


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