Off to the Right Start

Teaching Basic Skills to New Hires

Off to the Right Start - Teaching Basic Skills to New Hires

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Give your new recruits the best possible start by teaching them the skills they need to do their job.

Nathan has recently hired a grad.

Although his new hire is bright and competent in the technical aspects of the job, Nathan quickly discovers that he's sorely lacking in other, more basic areas. For instance, his emails are poorly worded, and he doesn't use a To-Do List or other planning tool to help him remember tasks and deadlines. What's more, within a few days, his desk is so disorganized that he has trouble finding key files.

In short, he's missing many of the fundamental skills that any employee needs to be successful in the workplace.

According to surveys in the U.S. and U.K., the majority of employers polled reported problems with the numeracy and literacy standards of recent graduates. Other skills, such as communication and people skills, can also be seriously underdeveloped in people new to the workplace.

In this article, we're looking at the fundamental skills that inexperienced people need, to get off to a good start in their careers. We'll identify how to assess their training needs, and we'll explore the key areas where they're likely to need additional training to bring them up to speed.

Identifying Current Skill Level and Needs

Before you can work on building basic skills, you need to identify your new hires' strengths and weaknesses. Administer a Training Needs Assessment to help you see where they're lacking, so that you can develop an effective training plan.

Although "hard skills" (such as literacy and technical skills required for a job) are relatively easy to assess, "soft skills" (such as interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence) are just as valuable.

Important soft skills include the following:

Organization and Time Management Skills

Basic organization skills such as managing email, filing, using To-Do Lists and prioritization are important for staying on top of a large workload. If your new hires aren't effective in these areas, they may quickly fall behind.

You may also need to teach them other time management skills as well. For example, everyone has a "peak" time of day. This highly productive time should be used for high-value tasks and projects. But, often, people waste this valuable time doing mundane tasks such as checking email or returning calls. (You can learn more about this in our Is This a Morning Task? article.)

Communication Skills

Working with people who lack communication skills can be a frustrating experience. No matter what your new hires are doing, they need to be able to read, write, and speak effectively.

First, make sure that they know the basics. For instance, they should be able to read and understand documents commonly referred to in your organization. You may have to address your new hires' writing skills too – they should know how to compose emails effectively and write reports.

Understanding the Communication Process, as highlighted in our Introduction to Communication Skills article, will also be useful here, particularly in highlighting the importance of Active Listening.

Problem Solving

Problem solving is a crucial skill-set in many roles, and even entry-level new hires may need to have some of these skills.

Begin by identifying their basic problem solving skills. This includes how to identify a problem, brainstorming potential solutions, evaluating solutions, and then implementing the best idea.

Then, focus on teaching a variety of problem solving techniques such as Appreciative Inquiry, Drill Down, and the 5 Whys. The more tools that they are comfortable with, the likelier they are to solve problems effectively.

Interpersonal Skills

New hires are likely to be part of a team. This means that they need to know how to work with others.

This is why they need to develop qualities such as empathy, emotional intelligence, conciliation, positivity and supportiveness. These traits may not fall under their job description, but they can make or break a team.

Make sure that your new hires know how important these soft skills are. Then, try to discover where they have soft skills gaps. For instance, they might be great at keeping a positive attitude, but as soon as tension flares up in the team, they may retreat inward without knowing how to resolve the issue. (This behavior would indicate that they need to work on their assertiveness and conflict resolution skills.)


Keep in mind that approaching new hires about their lack of basic skills requires sensitivity and empathy. Use principles from our article on Heron's Six Categories of Intervention to help you understand how to help your people effectively.

Creating a Training Program

Once you've conducted a Training Needs Assessment, you'll need to set training goals, and create a training program that addresses the basic skills that your new people are missing.

Your training program can involve a number of different approaches. For instance, you might find that mentoring works well – pairing new employees with experienced team members can accelerate learning and improve staff retention. If you decide to set up mentoring relationships, make sure that your experienced employees have the right mentoring skills – this will help you ensure that relationships are productive and effective.

Another approach is to administer the training yourself, or to use different team members based on their strengths and their experience. For example, if one of your team members is extremely organized, use her to deliver training on using To-Do Lists, or managing email.

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If you go this route, use Active Training strategies to keep your new hires engaged in what you're teaching. For instance, keep your lectures short (10-15 minutes), invite participation, and use a variety of different activities and techniques that will accommodate different learning styles.

For some areas, it might be more appropriate to provide your new hire with useful online resources, or printed material to read. On-the-Job Training may also prove useful.


As with all types of training and development, it's important to review your new hires' progress regularly. An effective way of doing this is to ensure that their training and development is tracked through the regular performance review process.

Identifying Potential

It's also useful to identify whether or not your new hires have leadership potential. This can help you customize your training and mentoring to help them take on additional responsibilities in the future.

Our article on Building Tomorrow's Leaders will help you identify and develop leadership potential in your new hires.

Key Points

Organizations often discover that new hires, especially those new to a work environment, are lacking basic communication, time management, and organization skills. So, you may find that it's up to you to teach these fundamental skills to new recruits.

Start by conducting a Training Needs Assessment. Then, once you've identified the skills that you need to address, put together a training plan or program to help them learn these skills, and monitor their progress at regular intervals.

It's also useful to identify leadership potential in new hires, so that you can tailor their training and development appropriately.

This site teaches you the skills you need for a happy and successful career; and this is just one of many tools and resources that you'll find here at Mind Tools. Subscribe to our free newsletter, or join the Mind Tools Club and really supercharge your career!

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Comments (2)
  • Over a month ago zuni wrote
    Hi everyone,

    Having worked in a number of different organizations, it is true that some new hires may not have the foundation skills needed to be successful in their new roles.

    Many organizations will conduct a quick orientation and leave it up to the new hire to figure things out for themselves. If you are a quick learner and know how to find information and ask the right questions, you can piece together what you need to know and do. Unfortunately, it adds an unnecessary layer of stress on the new recruit.

    MichaelP mentions the importance of culture. In my mind, helping new recruits understand expectations around how the organization really operates (outside of the organization chart), is critical. I've seen some new hires fail miserably because time was not taken to introduce them to who's who and discuss the situations that can get them into trouble.

  • Over a month ago MichaelP wrote
    Great article and what I particularly like is the transition today, of responsibility from the employee to the organization for making the start a success and then building on it. My experience was historically the expectation was always placed on the new employee to know the 'Obvious" and yet given that each organization has a unique culture what is "obvious" in one case is ignored in others.

    Success is a shared responsibility between the new employee and the organization, since we don't know what we don't know! and making sure the start is as good as it can be is such a great platform to build form.