Learnware™ Blog Posts

Why New Hire Questions Are a Very Powerful Onboarding Tool

onboarding orientation
magnifying glass with question mark in it

Questions are a powerful orientation and onboarding tool.  Asking questions during the first three months of employment is a critical strategy used by all new employees no matter the type of organization, job, or job level. Your new employees need to be encouraged to ask lots of questions. 

A great orientation and onboarding process anticipates the questions new employees need answered and provides both a formal and informal information discovery learning path for them to access the answers.

With today’s technology, there’s no reason why your new employees need to wait for answers.  You can provide 'self-serve' options by giving them a list of links to high value online resources.

How Many Questions?

If you had to guess, how many questions do you think a typical new employee asks every day? A conservative estimate would be at least 35 - 40 questions a day which equates to 5 questions per hour.

There is no other time in the employment life cycle when employees need to learn so much. The faster they move through the learning process the better. If it typically takes four months for employees to become fully job competent and you can reduce that time to two months, then your organization has gained a valuable strategic advantage over your competition.

So, great managers encourage new employees to ask questions and then provide the answers or sources of answers so the learning curve is shortened.

Types of Questions

Of course, answers to the 5W questions, i.e., who, what, when, where and why, are mandatory for new employees. Then there are the ‘how’ questions that are critical for knowing the expected procedures to follow and actions to demonstrate.

New employees typically ask questions about the following:

  1. Organization What is the organizational structure? How many employees work here?  What are the different units/departments?  What are these units/departments responsible for?  Where are the different units/departments located? 
  2. Colleagues/Team Who will I work with? What will I be doing with/for them? When should I communicate with them? How should I work with them?
  3. Customers (Internal/External) Who are my customers? What are their needs?  What products / services do they want? How do they find out about and purchase our products and services?
  4. Performance Expectations – What am I expected to do? How well? How far? By when?  How will I know I am meeting the expected job standards?
  5. Tools and Resources What tools and resources will I use? Why do I need to use them? How do I use them? 

As your new employees gain job experience, the frequency of their questions and the types of questions shift from ones that are simple to answer, like ‘Where is the cafeteria?’, to more complex explanations about organizational, unit/department and job processes, policies, and procedures.

I’m New Here – Losing the Right to Ask Questions

There is an interesting dynamic you may not know about. It involves your new employees’ right to ask questions.  There’s a perceived limit on the number of questions they can ask and a time duration for when they can ask questions that impact their first months on the job. 

When new employees join your organization, you will hear them say to you and others, ‘I’m new here’ followed by a specific question they need answered. It is human nature to feel obliged to answer new employees’ questions because they are new to the organization.  So, given this dynamic, your new employees feel good about asking their questions.

However, without even realizing it, your new employees lose the right to say ‘I’m new here’. Their time on the ‘new hire’ clock expires.

If your organization has a strong learning culture, this won’t be a problem. These types of organizations highly value inquisitive employees who ask questions and listen for answers, no matter their length of employment.

In reality, for most organizations, the more common response is for the new employees’ managers and colleagues to assume that the new employees should have learned the answers to specific types of questions within a certain (often undisclosed) time period. 

So, new employees learn to stop asking questions and hide their lack of knowledge and skills to your organizations’ detriment.

Asking Questions for Continuous Learning

Don’t let the clock run out on your new employees' ‘window of opportunity’ to ask questions. All of your employees, no matter their tenure with your organization, need to highly value the use of questions as a new hire learning strategy. 

Managers need to actively ensure and protect each employee’s right to ask and receive answers to their questions, no matter where they are in the employment life cycle.



Valerie Dixon, M.Ed., CTDP, President of Learnware Design Inc., (www.learnware.com) is a leading learning efficiency and effectiveness strategist and thought leader in the field of workplace learning and performance.  Valerie has over 40 years of experience in all aspects of performance needs analysis, learning organization strategy development and learning design.  She is the creator and designer of programs and products that accelerate job competence™.


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