What is a work trial period? (Plus how to succeed in one)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 25 August 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

In many jobs, you begin your employment with an initial trial period where your employment terms are slightly different to the terms once you've passed this period. This period helps both you and your employer to decide whether you're a good match for the job. This trial period may feel challenging at first, but knowing more about how they work helps you navigate it successfully. In this article, we discuss what a work trial period is and share some tips for going through this in a new job.

What is a work trial period?

A work trial period is an initial period of employment that allows the employer to assess the employee's performance. It also allows the employee to decide whether the job and company are suitable for them. This period allows the employee to adjust and learn the skills and procedures the new job requires. Employers generally expect you to perform effectively in your job by the end of the trial period. Sometimes work trials are also known as probationary periods.

When you begin a new job, your employer usually informs you about the details of the trial period, if you have one, including how long it lasts and what actions they take at the end of the trial period. This is also included in your employment contract. During a trial period, the terms of your employment are usually slightly different. For example, both the employer and employee may be able to terminate the employment immediately or with a reduced notice period. It's vital that you understand the terms of your employment both during the trial period and afterwards.

Related: Q&A: Why probationary periods are important for recruitment

Trial periods vs. trial shifts

Be aware that trial periods are different to trial shifts. For some jobs, for example, jobs in hospitality, you work a trial shift as part of the recruitment process. This helps the employer to assess if you can cope with the demands of the job and assess how you interact with colleagues and customers. This shift is usually shorter than a full shift and there's no obligation for the employer to pay you for your time.

Trial periods occur once you've secured a job and are an employee of the company. You receive a full salary during your probation period, which may increase once you've completed the trial. The employer is responsible for making you aware of how the salary works. During a trial period, you also have limited access to company benefits like health insurance.

How long does a trial period last?

Probation periods in a job typically last between three and six months. The employer decides how long the period is and is responsible for ensuring new employees understand this. Periods that last less than three months often don't give the employer enough time to properly assess the employee's performance. Lengthy periods lasting longer than six months can put extra pressure on the employee, affecting their performance. In many cases, the employer reviews the probation period arrangements after three months before deciding on further action.

What happens if you're unsuccessful in your trial period?

If you're unsuccessful during your trial period, your employer may terminate your employment. Your employer is responsible for giving you the training and support necessary for you to work successfully. If you feel like you're struggling, it's sensible to discuss your concerns with your manager so you can work more effectively. This reduces the risk of your contract ending.

In some cases, your employer may extend your probationary period. This gives you more time to develop your work and gives them more time to assess you. If they decide to extend your trial, the employer may provide additional support and training to help you. If they extend the probation period, they usually give you feedback about which areas you can improve. This can help you ensure that you pass the probation the second time.

Related: FAQ: What is a probationary review? (And its importance)

What if you're unhappy during your trial period?

In some cases, you begin a new job and quickly realise you're unhappy in the role. If this happens, it's worth thinking realistically about whether you want to continue in the job and what your other options are. It may be advisable to leave the job whilst you're still on your probation because you usually work a shorter notice period or may be able to leave immediately.

If you feel unhappy because you're struggling with aspects of your job, discuss this with your manager. They can offer feedback and support or training to help you overcome these issues. If you're unhappy for another reason, it's important to consider whether you can overcome the issue.

Related: How to cope with a job you dislike: 15 tips and strategies

Tips for navigating a trial period at work

Here are some tips for successfully navigating a trial period at work:

Find out what to expect

Finding out what to expect is a good idea, especially if you feel anxious about work trials. You can ask about probation periods at the interview stage so you understand what to expect and can decide if it suits you. When you begin a new job, the employer gives you information about your probation as part of the onboarding process. Ask any questions you have at this point too. Details of the period are also usually in your contract or employee handbook, so it's worth becoming familiar with the details.

Be willing to learn

When you start a new job, there's a lot of new information to learn, so being willing to learn is vital. This helps you develop your skills and knowledge as quickly as possible. This includes learning on the job and during more formal training sessions. Asking questions, taking notes and putting the new things you learn into practice are good ways to help you learn as quickly as you can. Being willing to learn also demonstrates a positive and proactive attitude, which reflects well on you as an employee.

Related: How to quickly learn new skills: a guide with 9 tips

Ask for feedback and support

Throughout the trial, seek feedback and support from your manager or colleagues. This helps you understand how well you're performing and identify areas you can improve. If you have concerns about particular aspects of your job, it's a good idea to talk to your manager so they can provide additional training or support as necessary. Getting feedback and acting on it can increase your chances of passing your probation period.

Related: The importance of feedback (with types and examples)

Be professional

Being professional is important because your work trial is as much about your demeanour and attitude at work as it is about your performance. Having a professional attitude and adapting to the company culture can help make you a valued employee. You can show professionalism by:

  • being approachable

  • building connections with colleagues

  • using positive body language

  • being polite and respectful

  • maintaining a professional appearance

Related: Key attributes of professionalism in the workplace

Exceed expectations

Exceeding expectations can help you pass your trial period. When you first begin a job, you usually require some time to settle in and get used to the work you're doing. Once you've adjusted to your new job, you can look for opportunities where you can add value and exceed the expectations of your employer. This may be volunteering for extra responsibilities like coordinating a meeting. If you do this, be certain you're ready to take on extra tasks or responsibilities.

Support the rest of your team

Use your probation period as an opportunity to show you can support the rest of your team effectively. You may have a reduced workload during your probation compared to other colleagues. If you have extra capacity, it's important to check whether you can help any of your colleagues rather than spending time procrastinating. This shows you have a positive attitude and work well as part of a team.

Related: The importance of teamwork: 10 benefits of working as a team

Be confident

Being confident in your own abilities can help you cope with a trial period. It's worth remembering that the employer hired you over other candidates for a reason and that you have valuable skills for the job. Staying aware of this can help the trial period seem more manageable and can give you the confidence to perform well.

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