8 Things You Need to Know When Your Contract Has a Probationary Period

Your new job has a probationary period.  At the end of that period, you’ll either have a job or be told it isn’t working out. Overall, you want to know how success is measured. Knowledge is power. Here’s what you need to know.

probationary period

1. Start a notebook

This first tip is more what to do than what you need to know, but it’s a critical first step. Over the next few months, you’ll be trained in numerous tasks and hear many tips on how to succeed. Keep track of all the information and insights in a notebook, tablet, laptop, or on your phone so you won’t forget.

2. Timing is everything

Your job includes a number of responsibilities. You might not be told how long each of your assignments will take so you must be proactive. Likely, you’ll be slow at first, but you need a target time to aim for.

What to do: Ask how long each task is supposed to take. Set incremental goals for improving up to or better than the target based on where you are now compared to how long your probationary period lasts.

3. Get and set priorities

Your boss may have a different Top Ten List than you do. One probationary worker struggled to meet what he thought were the key goals and requirements for his job. Meantime, the boss had a completely different set of expectations and the worker was struggling to excel at tasks the boss didn’t care about while neglecting his boss’s priorities.

What to do: Ask your boss what her priorities are for you for this critical probationary period. Work to excel first at those tasks.

4. Unspoken rules and policies

Every company has unspoken rules and policies. Does no one leave the building for a supper break on an evening shift? Unfair? Yes. But if you want to pass probation, best to toe the line as much as you can.

What to do: Ask a coworker (not your boss) what the unwritten expectations are. Also keep your eyes open to figure things out yourself. Then follow those unwritten rules.

5. Be aware that you’re the newbie

Even if you’re right on a particular issue, it’s likely no one is listening or cares. Remember, you’re new. If you see problems, be very careful about bringing them to someone’s attention. One worker in a new job got called out for misspelling a word that was actually spelled correctly. She tried to argue her point but no one listened.

What to do: Grow a thick skin. Don’t argue even when you know you’re right.

6. Learn from others’ failures

One newbie hired to replace someone who didn’t pass muster cut to the chase and asked about the other worker. She phrased it like this: “So I don’t repeat the previous worker’s mistakes, tell me what led you to choose me for this job.” She learned the other worker had an attitude problem as well as an objection to the premise of her main project. The worker was dragging her feet because she was uncomfortable. The new worker acted on this information, held her attitude in check, and kept the project moving.

What to do: Ask why previous employees didn’t pass probation. Then make sure you don’t repeat their behavior.

7. Excel at the easy stuff

Even if your office doesn’t have a time clock or cards, your boss and coworkers are keeping track of when you arrive and leave. One easy way to excel is to pick the low-hanging fruit—be on time or early. While it may take you longer than desired to learn how the necessary skills, arriving at work on time or early doesn’t take any special finesse. Nor does asking your boss if there’s anything else to do before you head home for the day.

What to do: Be early or at least on time. Don’t leave without a final check-in with your boss.

8. Progress reports

At some companies, you might not learn how you’re doing until the end of the probationary period when you find out if you’re staying or leaving. Or, those check-ins may happen but still be too infrequent for you to take action soon enough for improvement to be noted.

What to do: Ask your boss how often check-ins will occur. If these check-ins aren’t regularly scheduled, ask for a quick assessment meeting after the first week and then every month moving forward. Bring a list of questions each time.

If you follow these tips and keep track of your progress, you should pass your probation with flying colors.

Search for your next job now:


Back to listing

The Washington Post Jobs Newsletter

Subscribe to the latest news about DC's jobs market