What you need to know about probation

A probation period is your chance to establish yourself as a valuable member of the team, and it can be a pivotal step in your new job.

If you have just started in a new job, your employer may put you in a probation period to assess if you’re suitable for the role. Under Australian employment law, your new manager may decide on the timeframe involved. It can range from just a few weeks through to a 3 month probation or even 6 month probation period commencing from the start date of your employment.

Probation period is a time to sweat the small stuff

It’s important to use your probation period to create a good impression and demonstrate a positive approach with your employer and work colleagues. It could be the difference between staying on in the role and relishing this exciting new phase of your career, or finding your time with the company ends before it begins.

Small actions add up. Turn up a little early, take your introduction tutorials seriously, and give every indication that you are a good investment.

Make yourself known too. As the new face in the office it’s important to introduce yourself to people in the office. Ask questions and listen to your colleagues and managers. A sincere interest won’t go unnoticed.

Be everything you said you would be

Show your manager that you live up to your promises during your interview by delivering consistent, high-quality work. Be productive and professional. While it’s not recommended to try to change things before you know how the company works, have the confidence to gently suggest new ideas, different approaches, and keep an eye out for any innovations you could propose.

While you shouldn't feel under-powered to offer your voice, if you feel the need to question something, do so in a professional manner. Now is not the right time to assert your rights or challenge management decisions.

Be part of the team

Your skills and competence aren’t the only qualities being assessed during your probation period. Your new employer also wants to know how well you work with the team.

Take some time to get to know your fellow employees – their opinion of you will matter in the long run. Learn about the company culture and actively demonstrate that you are a team member. If you’ve been invited to a department lunch for instance, join your colleagues rather than eating a sandwich at your desk.

During the early days in your new role, avoid taking sides with particular colleagues or becoming involved in conflicts and divisions within the workplace. Stay completely neutral on all issues because you never know whose toes you might be treading on.

Ask for feedback

Your 3 month probation or 6 month probation is a period of learning, so don’t be afraid to ask for feedback.

In particular, ask your boss for key performance indicators (KPIs), a full job description and request someone to mentor you into the role. The more responsibility you take for getting it right, the greater the likelihood that you’ll sail through probation.

What to avoid during probation

Starting a new job is exciting but your probation period is also a vulnerable time and it’s worth avoiding a few traps that new staff members can easily fall into.

  • Making special requests at an early stage can flag you as a problem employee. Unless there is a genuine family emergency or major health issue, do not take sick days, apply for leave, or request anything else out of the ordinary until your period of probation is over.
  • It might sound like common sense but dedicate office hours to productive work. Your probation period is not the time to take/make personal phone calls or engage in social media during office hours. Even outside of business hours, resist the temptation to post comments online about your job, coworkers or reporting manager.

It pays not to underestimate the importance of the probation period or to become complacent about your role and place within the organisation until you have the final nod of approval. Probation is a critical phase to prove you can accomplish everything you discussed during the interview process. Take a highly professional approach to the first few weeks and months in the role and it’s likely you’ll breeze through to secure the job.