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On the job: understanding probation

GradAustralia

As a graduate you'll likely be placed on probation – find out what this means for you and how it can impact on your career.

When you start a new role you may be placed on probation. Don’t worry, this is pretty normal! The purpose of probation, which typically ranges from three to six months, is for both you and your employer to assess if you are suited to your new role. During this time, your employer will typically help you to develop performance goals (also known as key performance indicators or KPIs). This gives you both a clear view of what you are working towards – and something by which to measure your performance and suitability for continuing employment.

It’s important to know and understand the terms of your probation. This means confirming:

  • The length of your probation.
  • All goals and tasks you are responsible for during your probation.
  • Whether there will be a formal performance review at the end of your probation.
  • Who you can speak to if you have any questions or concerns about your probation.
  • How the firm deals with employees who don’t meet their probation requirements (especially when prevented from doing so by extenuating circumstances such as accident or illness).

Your employment can be lawfully terminated if you fail to achieve the required expectations (subject to the terms and conditions of employment). A strong support network can be invaluable in helping you deal with your employer’s expectations – especially if those expectations are not reasonable.

According to the Australian Government Fair Work Ombudsman, employees who do not pass their probation are still entitled to receive notice when their employment ends. Furthermore, you are not to be denied any basic entitlements, such as paid leave and sick leave, during your probationary period.

An opportunity to learn

While being on probation can feel a little daunting, you should see this period as an opportunity to learn as much as you can about your role and the organisation. This is the time to ask lots of questions – after all, no one expects you to know all the answers just yet! It will take some time before you find your rhythm – most learning curves at the very beginning are steep, so be patient and remember you are there to learn.

Don’t be alarmed if you make a mistake (or two or more!). Mistakes happen and if seen in the right way, are a great learning experience. Think about what it was that didn’t work, why and how you could do better next time. Seeing every opportunity as a learning opportunity and cultivating a growth mindset will help you develop resilience and compassion for yourself as you move ahead in your career.

A time to reflect on your career path

It’s also important to take the time to regularly reflect if this is the right path or place for you. Sometimes it can be confronting when you realise that a chosen path isn’t necessarily what you thought it might be. In fact, it is often the case that a role may not exactly match expectations – some aspects might be more exciting than you thought, others perhaps more mundane or less interesting. The reality is that there will always be some aspect of your job that you dislike more than others… and sometimes you just need to ‘stick it out’. Know that your role will evolve over time – and that you can have a say in this! If you see aspects of your role that you particularly like, or would like to do more of, be sure to express this to your manager.

At the same time, don’t be scared to admit the truth. If you continue to feel that your specialisation or role is not quite right, it’s ok! It’s never too late to change a role, a specialisation, or an organisation. You are never stuck and there are always options if you look hard enough.

For more tips on surviving and thriving in your graduate program, check out GradAustralia’s article about how to handle performance reviews.