What's your top trick for getting a new employee set up quickly? Do you use images, scripts, something else?
Ghosted images that then run a user customisation script work well. Give the user all the basic stuff (OS, Office, Firefox, misc corporate software) and then get the server to allocate shared drives and exchange on first login. This is of course a windows-centric answer :)
I should also mention, for developer machines, I would then back off and let a higher level of customisation. But then I'm biased.
If you have no process to automate this already, start by doing a manual setup of a user's workstation. Include all the little details like partitioning specifics, branding logos, backgrounds, themes, applications to install, changes to their default configuration and so on... only once you have this on "paper" and it works as a manual routine - you can start automating it.
User-profile settings could either be provided as part of the default user profile on a new machine's image, which is copied to generate the profile for a new user on the first log-on. Or you could script all the changes and apply them during log-on regardless of the user's state.
Many settings are of course easily adjusted using Group Policies and won't require any tinkering with the client image.
Once you have an image defined, and policies and log-on scripts that do what you want, deploying a new user machine shouldn't take any time at all.
Check out Windows Deployment Toolkit for example as Microsoft (of course) prefer you use their imaging tools and formats these days. It's a lot easier as well but (for full effect) requires that you step away from that old XP thingie I guess ^^
I have found that the best to way optimize a new user setup is to start before they are hired. Get with the manager and find out what the employee will need. Have the hiring manager let you know the minute they accept the position. Have the manager give you all their info so you can do things like set up their login credentials.
In my last job, the most important thing for us was knowing WHERE the new employee was going to sit. It's so much easier to set up a computer if there is a desk to put it on.
As has been mentioned, setting up the machine with any productivity applications, corporate software, and a proper web browser (Firefox) are important basics. Shared space is another good point, though you should also make sure to map that properly on the user's machine and probably provide links to it so that the user knows it is available. In the same vein, bookmarks in the web browser to helpful intranet sites are a definite plus for users new to the company.