Career Advice

Four Keys to Passing Your Probationary Period

Businesswoman leading discussion during meeting

It is estimated that almost one in five new employees fails to get through their probationary period when starting a job. So how should you best navigate those tricky first few months under a constant spotlight? Keep these four keys in mind.

1. Be Cheerful

You may feel a probationary period is all about you being ‘on trial’, and to an extent it is. But a probationary period cuts both ways: it’s about them getting to know you and you getting to know them. It’s also in the interest of both sides to ensure a probationary period is a success. Of course, you want a job and the salary that goes along with it — but they also want the probationary period to be successful because hiring people is expensive and time-consuming. A reliable, competent employee is a valuable asset. Plus, if you fail their probationary period, it may raise some difficult questions about their own recruitment and management processes.

Having said all that, one of the best ways to ensure a probationary period goes swimmingly is simply to be unfailingly cheerful, no matter what is thrown at you. It’ll be hard, but coming across as someone who can suck up the pressure and the workload with good grace and a positive, eager attitude will make it much harder for them to turn around in three to six months and say ‘you don’t belong here’.

2. Be Visible (But Not Invasive)

During your probationary period, you want to stand out and make a good impression. But you also want to be quickly developing a reputation as someone who’s reliable and can deliver results with minimum fuss and bother.

This is a difficult balancing act. On the one hand, you mustn’t be afraid to ask questions. This is, first, to enable you to find out how things work so you’re not going to be tripped up by them later on, and second, to show that you’re interested in what you’re doing and that you have an appetite to learn and develop. On the other hand, recognise that too many constant questions will eventually become wearing to those around you, and you may start to be perceived as someone unable to work independently.

Similarly, you’ll want quickly to start building relationships with the people around you — the key is to come across as friendly, approachable and competent. So, take an interest in your colleagues, and show a willingness to learn the ropes from them. It can also be a good idea to throw yourself into any networking opportunities that come along so as to start creating a bit of visibility for yourself more widely within the organisation. But, again, it’s a fine line. You don’t want to come across as pushy or overly ambitious.

Putting in discretionary effort or volunteering to take on extra tasks or responsibilities will show admirable keenness and enthusiasm. But make sure you don’t fall into the trap of taking on so much extra stuff that you’re unable to do your ‘day job’ properly.

3. Be Professional

Poor performance is generally the most common reason cited by managers for someone failing to pass their final evaluation. But absence and lateness are also frequent complaints, and are two of the quickest ways to get a black mark against your reputation.

This is hardly rocket science if your aim is to make a favourable impression, so make a real effort always to be on time and reliable. Of course, everyone gets sick from time to time, and everyone occasionally has a nightmare commute when everything goes wrong, but if the worst happens, do your utmost to keep the people who need to know informed; show you understand that time-keeping and attendance matters.

Make sure you look the part and fit in with whatever the dress code is for the organisation. You may eventually be able to develop that eccentric look that everyone finds quirky and endearing, but leave it until after you’ve secured that permanent contract.

4. Be Clear About What You Expect Back

Regular conversations with your boss about how you’re doing and how you’re meeting the various objectives you’ve been set are a vital part of getting through any induction or probationary period; indeed, they may form the formal record of your probation and be at the heart of being successfully ‘signed off’.

Ideally, your employer should have put in place a structured programme, with regular mentoring and conversations, performance appraisal and feedback. But too often, this happens for the first week or two and then day-to-day pressures and distractions kick in. Ironically, this is especially the case if you quickly seem to settle in and come across as a ‘safe’, reliable pair of hands.

While the temptation in this situation can often be to keep your head down and hope for the best, it is important you make it clear you do need and desire this mentoring to continue, for the record to be maintained. Why this is important is that, if you’re having regular performance conversations throughout the probationary period, it is much easier to put any issues right as you go along and so, naturally, improve your chances of ‘passing’. It also makes it much harder for any nasty surprises to emerge just as you’re reaching the end of the process.

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