How to avoid common mistakes during your probation period

6 mins

Have you recently started a new job and wondered what the etiquette is during your probationary period? To get yourself noticed in the right way and to help you pass your probation, we have put together a list of dos and don’ts. Rayhaneh Tehrani, specialist legal recruiter at Sellick Partnership, gives her advice on your probationary period, and what to do when you begin a new role.

Starting a new job brings with it the challenge of navigating through the probationary period. This initial phase, usually lasting between one and six months, is crucial for both you and your employer. It's a time for mutual evaluation, where your performance within the company is assessed, and you and your employer can each decide whether you are the right fit for the role.

Understanding how to avoid common pitfalls during this period helps secure permanent employment and set a positive trajectory for your career. It's also important to see probationary periods as an opportunity to take advantage of the support and training provided by your employer, to help you to develop and meet the expectations of the role.

Why is the probationary period so important?

The probationary period is a vital part of the journey for new employees, serving as a bridge between initial hiring and permanent employment within a company. It's a time when both the employer and the new hire assess the suitability of the match. For employers, this period is essential to evaluate not just the technical skills of the new team member/s but also their ability to blend into the company's culture and work environment. It's an opportunity to observe how new hires adapt to their roles, interact with colleagues, and contribute to ongoing projects.

From the perspective of the employee, the probationary period is equally significant. It offers a chance to understand the nuances of their new role beyond the job description, gauge the dynamics of their new team, and align their personal and professional aspirations with the company's objectives. This period also allows new hires to demonstrate their potential and commitment to the job. It's a time to showcase skills, adaptability, and the right attitude needed to go beyond the initial impressions of the interview process. Excelling during this trial period can set the tone for you, even opening doors for future growth and opportunities.

As such, it is vital to be aware of the common mistakes that could prevent you from making the right impression, and potentially stand in the way of you being offered a permanent employment contract.

What are the most common mistakes made during the probation period?

To pass probation and impress your new employer, you will need to pay close attention to what is expected of you, and do all you can to fulfill your responsibilities. That means steering clear of the following mistakes:

  • Failing to understand the job role: if you fail to properly review the job description or seek clarity on your responsibilities, it can lead to underperformance. It's essential to fully understand what is expected in terms of daily duties and overall contributions to the team and company.
  • Bad time management: few things make a worse impression than being late on your first day, or showing a lack of attention to schedules and deadlines. If you are going to be late due to factors out of your control, for example: trains being delayed or cancelled, then make sure you inform your Manager and team as soon as you are able. You should also try not to take excessive breaks throughout the day; this is not to say you can't take your full lunch break away from your desk.
  • Taking holidays during probation periods: try to avoid this, unless it was pre-agreed before you accepted the role. You may have been asked if you had any holidays booked during the interview stage, which is the best time to inform the company about any commitments you have already agreed to. If you have not mentioned this until your first day, you risk missing out on important training days that may have already been booked for you.
  • Failing to engage with colleagues or the office culture: not making an effort to integrate with new colleagues or understand the company culture can create barriers. Building relationships and adapting to the company's work environment are key to long-term success.
  • Overstepping your boundaries: this can include taking excessive personal calls during work hours, browsing social media using your work computer, or getting involved in gossiping and office politics. Maintaining professionalism and understanding workplace dynamics is important to avoid getting a bad reputation with senior stakeholders, including your Manager.
  • Neglecting feedback: ignoring constructive criticism or not actively seeking feedback can impede your growth. The probation period is an opportunity to learn and improve, and embracing feedback is important.
  • Ignoring your work-life balance: while it's important to be committed and dedicated, neglecting personal wellbeing can lead to burnout and an unsustainable impact on your personal life. Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is crucial for long-term productivity and job satisfaction.
  • Underestimating the importance of the probationary period: often, new employees may not fully grasp the significance of this initial phase. Treating the probation period as just a formality can lead to a lack of proactive engagement, and a missed opportunity to showcase your true potential.

Avoiding these common mistakes can significantly enhance a new employee's chances of passing the probation period. It's about striking the right balance between demonstrating professional competence, adapting to the new environment, and maintaining the right attitude.

How can you make the best possible impression during the probationary period?

Successfully navigating your probationary period in a new job is crucial for laying the groundwork when it comes to long-term success and integration. While it's not necessary to follow every suggestion to the letter, bearing the following points in mind can help to set a positive tone:

  • Be polite and positive: maintaining a polite and positive demeanour is pivotal in building good relationships with co-workers at all levels. Being courteous and approachable fosters a collaborative and supportive work environment, and this is especially important for new employees who are still establishing their reputation within the company. Positive interactions, even in passing, can contribute significantly to how you are perceived by your colleagues and superiors, showing that you are respectful and willing to engage positively with others, regardless of their position in the company.
  • Understand your responsibilities thoroughly: before your first day, revisit the job description provided during the interview process. Familiarise yourself with your daily duties and the broader scope of your role. Typically, you'll receive an induction schedule for your initial weeks; ensure you understand all aspects and are prepared for the tasks ahead.
  • Set clear expectations with your Line Manager: early in your probation period, arrange a meeting with your Manager to discuss the expectations outlined in your induction schedule. Clarify any ambiguities and confirm that both parties agree on these expectations in writing. This will help you to establish a clear roadmap for your probationary period and ensure that you and your Manager are on the same page regarding your role and responsibilities.
  • Gain a comprehensive understanding of the company: familiarise yourself with the company's mission, vision, and values by exploring its website and internal resources. Understanding the company's structure and key stakeholders is essential for new team members. This knowledge not only reflects well on you but also equips you with the context needed to navigate your new environment effectively.
  • Know your customers and client base: depending on your role, take time to understand the customer or client base you'll be interacting with. If direct communication with external clients isn't part of your role, focus on getting to know the internal stakeholders within your new employer's organisation. Building these relationships early on can be instrumental in establishing long-term connections and understanding the bigger picture of your role within the company.
  • Engage actively with your new team: active engagement goes beyond just listening. Don't hesitate to ask questions and interact with your new colleagues. This approach not only makes you more comfortable in seeking clarifications but also helps you understand the team dynamics better, enabling you to collaborate more effectively with your new team.
  • Seek help when needed: if you're uncertain about any aspect of your job, proactively ask for help. Early queries demonstrate your eagerness to learn and adapt, which are key traits employers look for in new hires.
  • Be accountable: acknowledge any mistakes you make and take responsibility for them. Honesty and accountability are highly valued in the workplace, and admitting errors, especially during the early stages, can build trust and respect among your colleagues.
  • Document your achievements: Keep a record of your accomplishments during your probationary period. This practice not only helps you track your progress and learning but also provides tangible evidence of your contributions when discussing your performance with your Manager.

By focusing on these key areas, you can effectively navigate the challenges of the probationary period, demonstrating your suitability for the role and your commitment to your new job.

Strategies for overcoming common challenges of the probation period

Naturally, avoiding pitfalls or adhering to best practices throughout your probation period can be difficult, and you will inevitably encounter certain challenges. From handling your workload to navigating office politics, it is important to approach these hurdles with effective strategies. Here are some tips to help you manage common challenges while maintaining your wellbeing and work-life balance:

Handling your workload

  • Prioritise tasks: assess your tasks and prioritise them based on urgency and importance. This helps in managing your workload effectively without feeling overwhelmed.
  • Set realistic goals: understand your capacity and set achievable goals. Communicate with your Manager if you feel the workload is unrealistic, rather than suffering in silence.
  • Seek clarification: if you are unsure about a task, do not hesitate to ask for more information. It is always better to get clarity upfront than to have to redo work later.

Navigating office politics

  • Observe and learn: spend time understanding the dynamics of your new workplace. Observe how decisions are made and how colleagues interact with each other, and you will be better placed to fit in as a new employee.
  • Stay neutral: in the early stages, it is wise to stay neutral and not get involved in any office politics. Focus on building positive relationships with everyone.
  • Seek mentorship: if possible, find a mentor within the organisation who can provide you with guidance on navigating the workplace culture.

Maintaining wellbeing and work-life balance

  • Take regular breaks: ensure you take short breaks throughout the day to recharge, without overstepping your allowance. This can improve your focus and productivity.
  • Set boundaries: establish clear boundaries between work and personal life. This might mean turning off work notifications after hours or not checking emails during family time.
  • Stay active: incorporate physical activity into your routine. Exercise can be a great stress reliever, and prepare you better to focus at work during your probation period.
  • Celebrate your wins: acknowledge and celebrate your achievements, no matter how small. This helps in building your confidence.

By employing these strategies, you can effectively navigate the common challenges of a probation period. Remember, this period is not just about proving your worth to the new employer, but also about establishing a healthy and sustainable work pattern that supports your long-term career growth and personal wellbeing.

Find out more

Successfully navigating the probationary period is a stepping stone to a rewarding career path. It's about demonstrating that you're the best person for the job, understanding the bigger picture of your role, and integrating seamlessly into the company. These points will not guarantee you pass your probationary period - but they will certainly help you along the way.

For more advice on finding and succeeding in a new role, get in touch with Sellick Partnership. Contact us here, or see all our latest roles here if you're still searching for your dream job.