insight magazine

Evolving Accountant | Fall 2022

The 5 W’s of a Successful New-Hire Orientation

With a little planning, CPAs can successfully welcome and orient new staff into their organizations. To help new hires hit the ground running, follow the “who, what, when, where, and why” of orientation.
Andrea Wright, CPA Partner, Johnson Lambert LLP

Another summer has come and gone, and with it the start of another school year began. Maybe you sent a little one off to kindergarten, helped your newly minted college student move into their first dorm, or entered into a new academic program of your own. In all the hustle and bustle of the back-to-school season, it would be easy to forget about the group that isn’t going back—your new recruits. In fact, if your firm or company is like mine, you welcomed a class of new hires as summer came to a close—many of them new graduates just starting their careers. And with new staff comes orientation to welcome them into your office culture and start them on the road to success in their new positions.

Admittingly, new-hire orientation isn’t always a well-loved event. But if done right, it pays long-term dividends. Let’s take our cues from our elementary school English teachers and examine the “who, what, when, where, and why” of new-hire orientation.


The question of who should attend new-hire orientation seems self-explanatory, but remember, this forms your recruits’ first impression of your organization. Simply put, they need to meet the right people! I suggest the following attendees:

  • A new-hire buddy: This person should be the vanguard of the welcoming committee. They should be in a similar role to the new hire, but familiar enough with the organization to answer any questions the new hire may have.
  • The employee’s direct supervisor: This person is key. New hires often feel more relaxed once they’ve had a chance to meet their managers individually.
  • Human Resources (HR): The firm’s HR team can help new hires start off on the right foot and will often know them best from the recruiting process.
  • Someone who can answer questions: This is likely more than just one person. New hires should know where to go when questions come up on things like technical topics, logistics, or IT issues. Nothing’s worse than not knowing what to do when you’re stuck.
  • Other new hires: In an age of virtual and hybrid orientation events, it’s important to give new hires a chance to meet each other and build camaraderie in a relaxed setting, not just during training sessions.


The questions go hand in hand. Orientation should start as soon as someone joins the organization. Furthermore, orientation and onboarding aren’t just for the first few days or weeks of someone’s employment. At Johnson Lambert, we consider the onboarding process to last for a recruit’s first full year. Until a new hire goes through an entire year’s business cycle, it can be difficult for them to understand our workflow and priorities.

To help with this endeavor, we’ve instituted a program called First Year in Focus, a monthly gathering for anyone who has joined the firm over the last year. It’s designed to introduce new hires to the firm by highlighting different practice areas or initiatives of the firm with senior leaders. The program’s goal is threefold:

  1. Promote the firm’s open-door policy with senior leadership.
  2. Build camaraderie within the new-hire cohort.
  3. Provide further insight about what a career at the firm can look like.

This program has been particularly valuable as we, like many other firms, navigate hybrid and remote work. Remote workers can feel at a loss initially since they may not organically meet colleagues like they would in person. Even hybrid or in-office workers may only meet a few of the colleagues they’d benefit from knowing. Because strong professional relationships are a good indicator of future loyalty to a firm, it’s best to do everything you can to promote interaction among colleagues.


There’s no right or wrong answer to where the orientation should take place—remote or in person, on-site or off-site. My advice is to do what makes sense for your organization. More importantly, ensure that your remote and in-person employees have the same opportunities to ask questions, get to know each other, and learn new things. I’ve heard from my teams that they highly value the opportunity to congregate in person for orientation and other training events, whenever possible and feasible. It’s worth learning what your own team benefits from most.


Without a clear goal, the why of orientation will be lost, so consider this: Employment researchers tell us that there’s a strong correlation between someone’s onboarding experience and their longevity at a company. What’s more, we’ve all experienced being the new person at one time or another and know what a difference the right directions can make, so let that experience be a genuine guide.

If you have an existing orientation program, I suggest regularly reevaluating its agenda and topics to ensure they’re truly contributing to your organization’s goals and your new recruits’ success. Don’t be afraid to cut presentations or other components that don’t align with your objectives.

If you’re just formalizing an orientation program for the first time, perhaps some of our goals can guide you:

  • Immerse new hires in the firm culture and provide an overview of the firm’s strategy and structure.
  • Instill confidence in each employee to ensure successful future work performance.
  • Introduce employees to technical terminology, skills, and resources. The key word is “introduce.” We aren’t trying to turn new hires into experts during orientation.
  • Review the technology needed for the job.
  • Develop camaraderie with other new hires and build rapport with firm leaders.

Two parting words of advice: Be realistic. Regardless of the goals you set, you can only achieve so much during an orientation event. The signs that you’ve put together a top-notch orientation program are that people walk away feeling welcomed and set up for success.

We may only be CPAs but that doesn’t mean we can’t make this the best “back-to-school” year yet.

This column was co-authored with Hannah Price, CPA, learning and development manager at Johnson Lambert LLP.


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