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New Hire Onboarding
17 Need-To-Have Onboarding Documents for New Hires

17 Need-To-Have Onboarding Documents for New Hires

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💡 What are onboarding documents?

Onboarding documents include everything from the paperwork new hires complete during onboarding to the documentation they use to get up to speed on the job.

Most people expect tons of documents when they start a new job. What they don’t expect? A (mostly) painless process that helps them start contributing sooner rather than later. 

It’s normal for new hires to feel like they’re drinking through a fire hose in their first few days. In addition to the seemingly never-ending notifications to “sign here” and “submit this,” there’s a lot of “learn that.” And that, and that, and that. 😅  

What’s the number one thing you can do to help new teammates get off to a smooth start? Simplify your process and streamline your onboarding documents.

Below, we’ll go over must-have onboarding documents for new hires (like 1-9s and W-4s) and the ones they’re secretly hoping you’ll have ready for them (👋,  immediately applicable how-to guides!).

List of common types of onboarding documents grouped by category (legal, company-specific, role-specific, training documentation, benefits) with corresponding illustrations for each category

1. I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification

If you operate in the U.S., you and your new employee must complete the I-9 form within three business days of their start date to confirm their employment eligibility. They’ll also submit documents as proof, such as their driver’s license and their social security card. 

2. W-4 or state tax withholding form

Along with the I-9, this is probably the other most critical onboarding document for your new hire to fill out.

The W-4 communicates how much federal income tax you’ll withhold from the new hire’s pay. Some people may need to fill out a state-specific form for state taxes, depending on where you operate.

3. Payroll and benefits information

Up for a little light reading? Payroll and benefits documents can be a lot to take in. 😵‍💫  

Payroll and benefits information can include any of the following:

  • Direct deposit form
  • Benefits overview or brochure
  • Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) terms
  • Health insurance information
  • Stock options
  • Retirement documents (401K information, pensions, etc.)

Some of these documents take extra steps to set up. For example, if your new employee is rolling over their old 401(k) into yours. 

To make it easier, you can stagger deadlines to give them more time for more complex paperwork.

Although legally you may need to say some things word-for-word, you can also include a glossary or a one-page FAQ to go with more complex documents to highlight what’s most important to understand. 

4. Offer letter

Offer letters help you and your new hire get on the same page about their role and what they can expect. They can also solidify any decisions made verbally.

Here’s a typical rundown of what to include in an offer letter:

  • Job title and description
  • Start date
  • Type of employment (salary, hourly, contract, etc.)
  • Starting wage or salary
  • Bonuses
  • Equity grants
  • Manager
  • Eligibility for benefits
  • Other requirements, if relevant (passing a background check, drug test, etc.)
  • Steps to accept the offer (deadlines, what information they should include, etc.)

This is also a great opportunity to show off your team’s personality. Is it still important to cover specific details, like the ones above? Of course. But can you add some flair to your letter? You bet. This can be as simple as using company colors or writing in your (hopefully fun and personable 😉) brand voice.

5. Drug testing, background tests, and similar contingencies

It can be a little intimidating to go through standard drug and background tests, especially for the first time. 

Send your new employee information on testing centers, instructions to navigate background testing software, and a checklist of what they must complete. 

6. Employment contract

If you think employment contracts seem similar to offer letters, you’re not wrong. Here’s the main difference: employment contracts are legally binding and more specific.

Contracts typically go more in depth on the employee’s and employer’s responsibilities and the consequences of violating the terms. This is also typically where you can include non-compete and similar agreements.

Here are some examples of what you might cover in an employment contract:

  • Overview of responsibilities
  • Wage or salary
  • Employment period (if relevant)
  • Benefits and probationary period
  • Other agreements, if relevant (non-compete agreement, non-disclosure agreement, consent agreements, etc.)

7. Emergency contact information

Fingers crossed that you won’t need to use emergency contacts too often. 🤞

Ask your new hires for one or two points of contact in case of an emergency. Information can include their contact(s) name, relationship with your teammate, email, and phone number. 

8. Team organizational chart

Remember your first week on the job? It was probably a whirlwind of meet-and-greets and welcome emails with more new names than you could remember. 🌪️

Sending over your team’s organizational chart can be really helpful, especially if you have an Ashley in accounting and an Ashley in HR. It can also help new hires understand which teams people belong to, how different departments fit together, and what the overall hierarchy looks like. If you have a big team, you may need to create a streamlined version that can fit on a page or two.

Putting faces to names is especially tough for remote teams. Including headshots in your chart can go a long way! 

9. Company calendar and holidays

Have you ever accidentally logged on during a holiday? 🤦🏾 Sharing your company calendar can help your new hire avoid missing a day to sleep in, too. 

Company-wide calendars can include:

  • Company holidays
  • Team meetings
  • Company off-sites
  • Team parties or happy hours
  • Major team deadlines, sprints, or other project-related dates

10. New hire questionnaire

Use a new hire questionnaire to learn how you can support your newest teammates. Questions about their work preferences or goals can clue you in on potential training or employee development opportunities they might like.

Send a questionnaire in the beginning to get to know them or send one during or after to get formalized feedback on the onboarding process.

Adding specifics, like asking for only one- or two-sentence responses, can save everyone time (and energy that they can use elsewhere!). 

Tip: Leave out questions that are easy for you to find in other documents they’ve filled out. Date of birth? Probably included in their other onboarding paperwork. 

Here are some examples of things you can ask, and when:

  • In the beginning: How would you describe your communication style?
  • During onboarding: What's been the toughest thing to adjust to so far?
  • After onboarding is complete: What’s one topic you wish we covered (or covered more in-depth) during the onboarding process?

11. Onboarding schedule

Send the new hire their full onboarding schedule so they know what to expect during their first few months. Your schedule can include training topics, client overview meetings, and syncs with other teammates.

Want to make your schedule even more useful? Attach or link to relevant documentation so your new team member can get a sneak peek of what’s to come. 

12. Employee handbook

Your employee handbook can be your new teammate’s one-stop shop for lots of topics like dress code, time-off policy, and company mission statement. Although not everyone will read it cover-to-cover, it’s a good place to direct people with FAQs.

Here are a few things you can house in your employee handbook:

  • Company information (values, mission statement, vision statement, etc.)
  • Dress code (if applicable)
  • Employee code of conduct
  • Time-off policy (vacation, jury duty, etc.)

Tip: Embed or link to software how-to guides, like the instructions for navigating your team’s time-off platform. Knowing exactly how to access the guides will help everyone take back a little time. 

13. Policy and procedure manual

Fact: policy and procedure manuals don't have to be a snoozefest. You can even sometimes combine them with an employee manual.

When the two are separate, policy and procedure manuals are typically geared towards managers and dive deep into everything from your team’s hiring policies to your training manuals and how-to guides. On the other hand, employee handbooks are typically written for employees at all levels, and don’t go too in-depth on policies.

If you do have a policy and procedure manual, make sure everyone knows how to find it, what to use it for it, and when it may be a better resource than your employee handbook. 

The next few documents may also live in your policy and procedure manual. We’re calling out these specific onboarding documents since they’re most relevant to new hires.

14. Software documentation

With each new company comes its own set of tools and software. To someone new, that’s essentially 101 new processes they need to learn—ASAP.

Software documentation can help new hires learn and get unstuck fast. Instead of interrupting your top performers with questions and screen share requests, they can use your guides to answer common questions. This makes it much easier to learn on the job and take ownership of their projects more quickly.

Great software documentation includes:

  • Annotated screenshots
  • Answers where and when you need them
  • Curated insights from the team

With most tools—that’s easier said than done. With Tango? It’s like magic. ✨ 

💡 Let’s Tango: Get new hires up to speed, in seconds
Ever spend hours putting together documentation for your new tools, only to get tons of questions or screen share requests because your instructions are confusing, already outdated, or too complicated to follow?

There’s a better way to help people get unblocked. With Guidance, you can create interactive walkthroughs with curated insights in just a couple of clicks.

Guidance shows new hires exactly where to take action on their screen. With built-in context and tips from your process experts, new team members can see exactly how your top performers work—without any real-time syncs or ad hoc interruptions.

Check out Tango in action:

15. Logins and data security policy

What’s just as complicated as learning new software? Working through the security policies and login requirements for each. 🔐

To walk people through how to secure each of their new accounts, send over your team’s data security guidelines in advance.

Your policy can include:

  • Guidelines for creating safe passwords
  • Security requirements (requiring multi-factor authentication, updating passwords frequently, etc.)
  • Tips for avoiding common scams
  • Examples of past scam attempts (if you’ve had trouble before)

16. Internal communication SOP

Communication norms aren’t always obvious, especially for new employees. Some teams prefer Slack for quick questions, while others prefer to include all questions in the same email thread.

Including a simple communication guide with their onboarding documents can help your new teammates start collaborating quickly and easily. 

Using visuals can also help cut down on dense text and more clearly communicate what needs to be done next. Which would you rather do: read a paragraph that ultimately tells you to “navigate to the upper left-hand corner to the ‘Submit’ button,” or take one look at an annotated screenshot? 

17. External communication SOP

Will your new teammate be client-facing or collaborate with other partners? Do you have specific brand guidelines they need to follow? 

Sending over your team’s external communication and branding guidelines will help them dive in *and* represent you well. Your external communication SOP might include a list of FAQs as well as subject matter experts who can help in their area of expertise.

Categories of onboarding documents

Your team’s onboarding documents may vary from our list above. However, most documents typically fall under one of the following categories:

  • Legal documents include forms that each team member must fill out to start the job.
  • Company-specific documents cover information like how your team runs and your team’s overarching goals.
  • Job-specific documents go over information like your employee's role, their training schedule, and your expectations for them.
  • Training documentation walks people through steps for using your team’s software, submitting requests, and other best practices for tasks and projects.
  • Benefits information goes over information like their health insurance options, stock options, and time off policy.

How to write onboarding documentation forms that your teammates can easily fill out

These are a lot of documents to read, let alone fill out in your new hire’s now non-existent spare time. Any simplifications you can make upfront can help them save their mental energy for more meaningful work.

All the fine print and jargon in a legal document can feel especially overwhelming. To help ward off a migraine, try sending over an FAQ sheet to get ahead of common questions.

Here are a few more tips for putting together onboarding documents:

  • Opt for digital forms when possible to streamline the process for everyone (and reduce your footprint!). 
  • Manage access to completed onboarding forms to prevent privacy and security issues.
  • Stay on top of relevant labor laws—especially if you operate in multiple locations.
  • House your onboarding documents in a secure and centralized location for easy access.
  • Keep track of common questions and points of friction to improve on them in the future.
  • Send glossaries, FAQs, and other quick reference documents that tackle new hires’ most recurring questions.

How to capture processes for other onboarding documents

How-to guides, quick start guides, and other types of process documentation have much more flexibility than forms. After reading through dense paperwork, your new hires may be extra grateful for a break from more text-heavy documentation. 

Plain language, visuals, and simple formatting are your best bet for these types of onboarding documents. The easier it is to follow your process documentation, the more likely everyone (people who are teaching and people who are learning!) can stay in focus mode and get stuff done.

Below are some quick tips you can use when creating process documentation that your new hires will actually want to use:

  • Upgrade visuals with annotations that highlight the most important parts.
  • Write like a human and include enough context for them to understand.
  • Find a tool (like Tango!) that will guide new hires through each step in a process without switching tabs or interrupting their flow.
  • Update your processes with learnings and knowledge gaps you surface from each round of onboarding.
  • Create a feedback loop so you and your team can continuously improve your team’s processes together. 

Onboarding documents checklist template

Sometimes, things fall through the cracks. Those slips can turn into some light back-and-forth to track down your new hires’ last few forms. An easy way to avoid this? By using an onboarding documents checklist to keep track of each form.

We put together a free checklist template below that you can use with your team.

mockup of onboarding documents checklist PDF

The bottom line

In many roles, going over onboarding documents and getting familiar with new tools is a full-time job in and of itself. The more complex your onboarding process is, the longer it can take for your new additions to get up to speed. In the meantime, everyone else is probably in for a lot of one-off questions.

Instead of letting new notifications and screen-share requests derail your day, deliver Guidance directly to your team—where and when they need it. 

With the right answers, in the right place, at the right time, new hires can learn on the job more easily and effectively, and all of you can do more of the work that matters. 💃


How long does onboarding paperwork take?

Most teams take care of the majority of onboarding paperwork by day one. Some decisions, like their health insurance election, may take a few more days so they can weigh their options and ask questions.

Why do you need an onboarding checklist?

An onboarding checklist can help you and your new hires keep track of what forms they need to complete.

What is a pre-onboarding document?

Pre-onboarding documents include any paperwork that new hires complete before their first day. Pre-onboarding is the first stage of the onboarding process and can include documents like their employment contract or their payroll information.

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