Tips for Training New Staff Members

Our director always jokes that if you stay in admissions for long enough, it’s inevitable that at some point you’ll wind up in charge of training new team members. While some folks might not necessarily enjoy the training process, it has long been one of my favorite things about my job.

For campuses across the state, pandemic-era hiring freezes are coming to an end, and we are finally able to welcome new staff members and fill open positions on our teams. At Iowa, we’ve been excited to welcome three new admission counselors, two communications coordinators, and three new student interns. In this busy season of welcoming new team members, preparing for fall travel season, and continuing to navigate the need for virtual recruitment, here are some tips to make training new staff members efficient, effective, and fun for all involved.

  • Send out important information ahead of time. Send new staff an email before their first day detailing where they should park, where they should check in, and who will be there to greet them. Also let them know if they should plan to bring a lunch or if their lunch will be provided to them. If your campus has exclusively paid parking options, offer to cover their parking for the first few days before they are able to get a parking pass. Give them an idea of dress code and be sure that they are prepared for whatever their first day might entail. Are you planning to have them shadow a campus tour? Tell them to wear weather-appropriate clothing and a comfortable pair of shoes!
  • Be sure to enthusiastically welcome new team members on their first day. Have a designated person ready to meet them in your lobby area, and make sure all other team members are aware that it is someone’s first day so that everyone knows to be welcoming and introduce themselves. If there is time and space available, see if a colleague would be willing to bring in baked goods or other treats to celebrate. To be honest, this was an area where I really dropped the ball with two recent hires. Their first week took place at a time where lots of our staff were off work on vacation or taking advantage of remaining work from home time. It was definitely not the ideal environment for our newbies’ first day, and I wish I had planned things differently!
  • Make sure they are set up for success. Try to have as many critical items as possible ready ahead of time. Ideally, new staff should have all of their technology ready to go when they arrive on their first day. For our team, that means a laptop, docking station, monitor, keyboard, mouse, and headset. Work with your IT team to make sure their accounts and email address are set up. Have at least a few basic office supplies ready, including a notebook and a pen to take notes.
  • Explain the HR and benefits process in great detail. Let’s be honest: health insurance, benefits, and HR policies can be overwhelming. Especially for younger team members who may be in their first full-time role, some of the decisions that have to be made when starting a new job can be downright confusing. Be sure to have someone (whether an HR representative or a trusted colleague) sit down and explain any unfamiliar terms for new staff and make sure that all of their forms are filled out correctly. This can help avoid stress and headaches down the road!
  • Fill their time! It can be tough for new staff to have a lot of down time at their desks, since they likely won’t have much to do. Try to fill the first few weeks with content sessions, shadowing, or presentation practice. Also be sure to give them tasks to fill the desk time that they do have, whether that’s watching pre-recorded training videos or completing online trainings for things like FERPA.  When some of our new team members started this summer, their first week had an awful lot of downtime, and it wasn’t a great experience for our newbies. Thankfully, when all of our staff returned to the office the second week, we were able to fill up their schedules nicely and make it a much more positive experience with a good balance between scheduled sessions and a few short breaks to process new information.
  • Make sure new team members meet everyone. Obviously, it’s important for your new team members to meet all of their colleagues. However, introducing everyone within the first half-hour of their first day can be incredibly overwhelming! Let’s be honest, no one remembers names after the whirlwind tour of the office and staff introductions. Instead, enlist all of your team members to help with training so that they can spend meaningful time with new colleagues. For our team, each person on our on-campus staff will spend at least thirty minutes with our new hires, teaching them about a particular topic. This allows staff to make connections, and it’s much more likely that the newbies will remember names. And don’t forget about your regionals! Our training this summer included several sessions with regional staff members to help build those relationships. Regional reps have such great perspective to share about managing a territory.
  • Make sure departing staff pass on all relevant information. This can be tricky, but, if possible, try to encourage departing staff members to pass on as much information as they can about their territories, students they’ve worked with, travel planning information, and important contacts at each high school. We all develop a ton of great knowledge about our territories, and the office shouldn’t lose all of that information if we leave. Try to make sure that departing staff set their replacements up for success with detailed notes.
  • Utilize technology! Throughout the last year, we’ve all become highly familiar with Zoom and other technologies to enable communication over distance. These tools are highly useful when it comes to training new staff members. Use a combination of in-person trainings, Zoom sessions, and pre-recorded videos to train staff effectively and efficiently.
  • Be sure to repeat the most relevant information multiple times. Think about the most common questions you receive from prospective students about your policies or processes. Think about the trickiest things that you had to learn when you started in the office. Think about information that can seem a little convoluted or complicated at first. Write all of those things down, and make sure to cover them multiple times with your new team members.
  • Give them time with admissions leadership so that they can understand the big picture. While it’s easy to focus on the immediate needs of their new position (how do I give an admissions presentation? What is a high school visit? Who are the school counselors at the high schools in my territory? Where do we keep the printer paper?), it’s also important that new hires understand how their role fits within the bigger mission and strategic plan of the office and of the institution. Make sure to schedule conversations with admissions leadership, including your director and VP, to help new staff put together all of the puzzle pieces.
  • Have them meet with current students! Especially if they are not alums of your institution. I’m not an alum of the University of Iowa, so when I started, the toughest thing for me was talking to prospective students about the student experience. The best way to solve that problem was to get to know as many of our current students as possible. I asked them tons of questions about why they chose Iowa, what they liked about their experience, their freshman year residence hall, their classes and favorite professors, their student organizations, their favorite places downtown – all of those stories have helped inform how I talk to prospective students about life as a Hawkeye.
  • Schedule some social time. Admission professionals just wanna have fun. Although training on the information and policies of your office is clearly top priority, you also want to help cultivate strong relationships amongst your team. You want to be sure new hires know that they can be themselves at work and that they work with a team of people that they can trust and rely on. It’s amazing how much a quick coffee run, lunch with a group, or even an after-work happy hour (either for drinks or French fries, depending on your preference) can contribute to staff bonding and a strong work environment. This is an important part of the onboarding process that you don’t want to ignore!
  • Consider an official mentorship program. A few years ago, we implemented an official mentorship program that pairs newer staff with a small group of more experienced professionals. We try to add some variety into the groups, with combinations of regional staff, on-campus counselors, and folks on our events team. This has been a great way to enhance relationships among staff and provide a designated time for newer staff to ask questions and solicit advice.
  • Check in regularly and find ways to quiz staff on important information. Find a way to track new team members’ progress. For me, I try to check in regularly with our new hires, either formally or informally to ask how things are going. If they do content sessions with other colleagues, I check in afterwards to see what questions are coming up. Our new admission counselors don’t know this yet, but next week we’re having a designated “quiz time” where I’m going to ask them some common questions to see how they’re retaining everything they’ve learned. It’s important to know what’s sticking and what needs to be revisited.
  • Get them connected with Iowa ACAC! Depending on the timing of your hires, have them attend Admission Counselor University to get to know the organization and some other new members. Be sure to explain what Iowa ACAC and NACAC are, the purpose of the organizations, and what their membership means. Encourage new team members to attend member meetups throughout travel season, and also encourage them to get involved with a committee within the organization! Some of my best professional experiences have come from my Iowa ACAC involvement, and I love to share that with new colleagues.

Every time we post a position for a new team member, I tell our director that “We should hire colleagues who are kind and who work hard. We can teach them everything else.” I stand by this, but I also understand how important it is as the training coordinator that I’m holding up my end of the bargain. Overseeing training for new staff is an important responsibility, and it’s critical that the training process be handled thoughtfully and with care. If you set your new colleagues up for success in those critical first few weeks, you’re setting them up for a great career in college admissions!

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