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Nick Gilmour

Nick Gilmour

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How to Professionally Manage a Probationary Period

After two or more interviews, skill testing and references, being awarded a new role with an organization is exciting, and it can be the start of a whole new chapter in your career.  When it comes time to sign the contract and review terms of hire, many candidates are surprised to learn that there is a probationary period.

Did you know that probationary periods can happen at any level?  While it is more common in entry-level roles where a track record and years of industry experience have not been acquired, some executives and leadership roles are dependent on probationary periods, with target benchmarks in sales, growth, marketing and other measurable.

We share advice for candidates who have been hired, contingent on a successful probationary period, and tips to prepare yourself for being hired full-time.  We’ll also share tips from our recruiters about bouncing back after an employer declines to hire, following a probationary period, and how to ease the transition back into searching for your new role.

Why Do Probationary Periods Exist?

You have the education and the resume, because it got you through the door and past so many other candidates that were competing for the job.  The best organizations in the world to work for have multiple levels of hiring practice which can seem arduous and frustrating to candidates, when it’s actually a very good thing.

Would you want to work for a company that hires without scrutiny?  Can you imagine what kind of workplace that would be, if everyone was hired on their paper credentials, without any kind of consideration about their personality, individual communication style or their ability to work well in a team environment?  It would be chaotic, but it could also quickly become a toxic work environment, which limits productivity, corporate culture and profitability.

Building a team is essential to the success of any organization, and while those paper credentials, test results and references are helpful, it’s entirely impossible to completely know how someone will integrate into an existing team.   If you have employees that are performing, dropping someone who is aggressive or disagreeable (or abusive) into the mix is catastrophic, and it can take years for a company to repair the damage to morale.

When you are applying for a job that has a probationary period, remember that the employer is committed to finding a talented team player, who will integrate peacefully and productively with his or her colleagues.   They are taking the time and making the effort to maintain the kind of work environment and culture that everyone wants to enjoy; that caution is a sign of a great employer.

How Should a Candidate Behave During a Probationary Period?

It is important to be yourself during the probationary period.  Starting a new job and getting to know your new colleagues will take some time, but be positive and take your cues from the environment around you.  The employer is not the only one that should be evaluating during the probationary period; the candidate should be observing and taking notes, to help decide if the employer is also a good fit for his or her career and interpersonal needs.

During the probationary period, candidates may be tempted to implement changes or innovative ideas to show their prospective employer the scope of their talent and abilities.  However, during this test phase, it is best to focus on mastering the role and getting to know your co-workers and the leadership in your department.

While a candidate is working through a probationary period, employers are looking for evidence of the following five things:

  1. Can the candidate do the job?
  2. Is the candidate reliable? On time, present and punctual.
  3. Does the candidate like the people he or she will be working with?
  4. Is the candidate liked by others?
  5. Are there any concerns regarding alcohol, drugs or interpersonal impediments that may contribute to poor performance or legal issues for the employer?

Conduct yourself in a probationary period by trying your best, learning the scope of your role, asking questions and developing key relationships within the organization, and more specifically within your immediate team.   The people who work with you will be consulted on your performance in most cases, and asked for their opinion regarding the essential interpersonal fit.

What to Do After You Have Not Been Hired

It is disappointing and you may not understand why the company chose to end your probationary period without hiring you.  No one likes the sense of emotional rejection that comes with not being wanted, but it’s important to differentiate the decision from a personal slight.   The organization may have loved your personality, but felt your skills were not a good match for the role.  Conversely, your skills and abilities may have been perfectly matched, but your co-workers may have felt uncomfortable, or that there was a potential for conflict.

In some cases, the candidate is a perfect fit and their future colleagues connected with them, but the organizational or department need changed during the probationary period.  This happens often when companies restructure, and roles are frequently reallocated or even phased out.

What not to do:

  • Express yourself negatively on social media about your disappointment. You can share a sentiment that you are ‘disappointed’ because you really liked the company and felt it was a good fit, but a rant on LinkedIn will not only confirm the employer’s hesitancies, it will also make you less marketable to future employers.   Would you want to hire someone that makes inflammatory remarks about their employer on social media?  Absolutely not.
  • Get angry on your last day. Instead, reassure your team and your supervisor and manager that you valued the experience and are disappointed, but are grateful for the learning experience.  While it’s hard to believe, a graceful ‘dismount’ can actually land you another job quickly; within the same organization, or by referral from a colleague or former manager or at the very least, a positive recommendation that you can add to LinkedIn, to assist your search.    Don’t burn your professional bridges by being aggressive on the way out, as it hurts your prospects.

Remember that while you are in a probationary period, nothing is certain.  Many candidates assume that they are a “sure hire”, only to find themselves financially unprepared at the end of the probationary period.   Thirty-days before the end of your probationary period, update your resume and start sending it out to recruiters and prospective employers.   If you are hired, you’ll have no problem explaining your responsible strategic approach to staying employed.  And if you are not hired, you’ll have a jump start and the opportunity to begin interviewing right away.

Thank you for reading!
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