7 MIN READ
How to Pass Your Probationary Period
Exceeding Expectations During Your Work Trial
Gina recently landed her dream role at a top tech firm. She started off feeling confident and capable. But, after just one week, she received some feedback from her manager about her performance that's left her worried for her job.
Now she keeps on second-guessing herself. She's scared to speak up and ask questions in case she looks stupid. Her confidence has dropped and she keeps making silly little mistakes. All of this worry is causing her to feel stressed, tired and upset.
Completing a probationary period at work can be one of the hardest parts of a job. In this article, we explore some strategies that will help you to pass it with "flying colors."
Discover how to take the stress out of your probation period.
If you're a manager and want to find out more about how to manage a probationary period effectively, read our article here.
What Is a Probationary Period?
Most organizations will expect you to pass a probationary period when you start. This "trial" typically lasts between one and six months – time enough for both you and your employer to decide whether the job's really right for you.
It may sound daunting, but it's not just about you proving your worth to your employer. The job needs to live up to your expectations, too! And, if it doesn't, it means that you have the power to terminate your contract with little or no notice.
Employees on probation usually have different contractual terms from those in permanent employment. For example, their notice periods tend to be shorter. Though, they'll still have statutory employment rights.
In the U.S., you don't have to be a new starter to be put on probation. Most employees are deemed to work "at will." This means that managers can impose probation on an existing team member if they feel that his or her performance is dropping. If he fails to improve, he may be dismissed, no matter how many years' service he's accrued.
However, employees are still subject to certain protections, so managers will still need to seek the advice of an employment or HR specialist before firing someone, to ensure that they are behaving fairly and acting within the law.
Why Do People Fail Probationary Periods?
A recent study found that almost half of new hires don't work out within the first 18 months. Rather than this being down to a lack of technical ability, the main reasons people fail are:
- Poor interpersonal skills (for instance, communication, listening, conflict resolution).
- An unwillingness to accept feedback.
- Being too emotional.
- A lack of motivation.
- Having the wrong temperament for the job.
The good news is that these are all areas that can be easily improved upon with the right attitude and determination.
Six Strategies for Passing Your Probation
Whether you're a new starter or you've been put on probation for performance reasons, there are lots of things you can do to shine during your trial. Here's six strategies that can help you to do this:
1. Make a Great First Impression
First impressions count. So, make sure that you look the part as well as you play it. If you're an existing team member, show some humility. Take your manager's decision to put you back on trial with good grace, and demonstrate that you understand her reasons for doing so.
Be enthusiastic by smiling, displaying positive body language, and working on your approachability. It's a good idea to dress smartly, too. This will demonstrate that you take yourself and your job seriously. And pay attention to your timekeeping. Arriving a little earlier and leaving a little later than your contracted hours will show that you're keen.
Finally, avoid self-sabotaging behaviors, such as being late or absent during your trial period – especially in the first few weeks. (If you have genuine reasons, which you can't help, be upfront and talk to your manager about them.)
2. Measure Your Progress
First, read through your job description and the organization's probation policy thoroughly. This will help you to clarify what will be expected of you during the trial period. Then, sit down with your manager and set yourself some SMART goals.
These will help you to focus on the objectives that you need to meet to pass your trial and to measure your progress toward them.
Remember to be proactive! Don't wait for other people to tell you how you're doing. Seek out feedback from your team members, and arrange regular one-on-ones with your manager.
It can also be helpful to keep a journal to record your development, and jot down the challenges that you face and your achievements. This will enable you to keep track of your progress and pull evidence together to show your manager at your end-of-probation review.
3. Find Opportunities to Shine
You need to become an indispensable member of the team. Do this by holding yourself up to the highest possible standards of work and seeking out opportunities that allow you to go "above and beyond" expectations.
Could you, for example, offer to help out a busy colleague or take on a new task? Perhaps you could volunteer for a project that plays to your personal strengths, or use your skills to improve a system or process that your team use. Helping out in a way that makes your colleagues' lives easier will get you noticed for the right reasons.
It's not a good idea to take on additional work until you can confidently complete your regular, day-to-day tasks. Your first priority needs to be achieving your main performance objectives.
4. Build a Network
When you have a strong support network (both inside and outside of your team) it can increase your visibility. You'll also find it easier to collaborate, share knowledge, build rapport, and learn about different parts of the organization.
Your company may already have a "buddy" or mentoring scheme but, if it doesn't, take the initiative by making an effort to get to know your colleagues. This could be as simple as inviting them for lunch or a coffee, or just taking the time to have a quick chat.
You don't want to fail your probation because you didn't take the time to connect with people. So, work on your interpersonal skills and be friendly – even with "difficult" colleagues. Above all, treat people with respect, and avoid gossip and office politics.
5. Consider the Bigger Picture
Keep yourself motivated throughout your probation by focusing on what you ultimately want to achieve in your career. Where do you see yourself in the short-, medium- and long-term? How will the challenges that you face during your trial period help to get you there?
Think about the skills that you need to achieve your career goals. You might be afraid to admit to gaps in your knowledge while on probation for fear of looking incompetent. But asking questions, participating in on-the-job training, and being proactive about your own personal development will get your skills up to code quickly and will peg you as a real "go-getter."
If, at any point, you do slip up and make mistakes, admit to them. It's better to be honest and learn from them, than to "bury your head in the sand" and hope for the best.
6. Look After Yourself
Being on probation can be one of the most stressful parts of a job. Not only have you got a load of new tasks to learn, you've also got a whole new team to impress. So it's essential that you take care of yourself, because when you let stress overwhelm you it can significantly affect your performance.
Use the following techniques to look after yourself during your probationary period:
- Be resilient. Don't "sweat the small stuff" or focus on minor errors that you make. After all, you're on a learning curve. Instead, accept criticism gracefully and make an effort to learn from the mistakes that you do make.
- Get the basics of self-care right. Take regular screen breaks, eat and drink well, and get a good night's sleep. This will boost your energy and keep your mind sharp.
- Get your work-life balance right. You might be tempted to direct all of your energy into work, but this can lead to burnout. Remember to relax. Exercise, take up a hobby, or just find some time for quiet contemplation.
- Use stress management techniques. If you begin to feel overwhelmed, calm yourself down by trying mindfulness, meditation or deep breathing.
- Maintain a positive state of mind. Your organization is investing time, effort and money in you because they believe in you. They want you to succeed. So, have confidence in your ability and show them what you can do!
Probationary periods are important to new starters and organizations, as they allow both parties to decide whether they are the right fit for each other.
For many people, being "on trial" can cause stress, anxiety, and worry for the future, particularly if they believe that they are not progressing as well as they want. And, many people fail their probationary period as a result.
But, it's crucial that people try and make the most of this time to really show off their ability. There are six key strategies that can help you to do this:
- Make a great first impression.
- Measure your progress.
- Find opportunities to shine.
- Build a network.
- Consider the bigger picture.
- Look after yourself.
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!