How to Survive the 90-Day Trial Period at Your New Job
Editor’s note: So you finally scored that dream job, all the hard work has paid off, and now you’re sitting in the hot seat. How do you prove yourself during those crucial first 90 days? We tapped Heidi Nazarudin, a former investment banker and CEO of a Nasdaq-listed tech company—who gave up a $500,000 salary to launch The Ambitionista in 2007—to share her advice on navigating this trial period. Read on for her wise words.
At some companies, they treat it like some prolonged Hunger Games, where at the end, only a lucky bunch gets confirmed and welcomed to the Capitol, I mean the company. I don't want you to just survive; I want you to thrive! Whether you are the new assistant or the new vice president, make the most out of your probation period by showcasing star quality. Start off with a bang and be consistent; your job depends on it. Be an expert communicator, be open to constructive criticism, and have lunch with someone new every week. Make a good and lasting impression by following my tips for success, and if you keep it up throughout your time in this position, you’re sure to get promoted within your first year.
You’re the newest addition to the company, and yes, you are being judged, observed, and monitored. Not only by your boss, but also by everyone from the assistant to the mailroom intern to the rest of the office staff. But now that you know everyone is watching, you can turn this into a good thing. Be nice to said assistant and gush over how amazing her outfit is (if it is), and say hello to that mailroom intern. Never gossip or indulge in rumormongering. How you carry yourself in your everyday interaction is being used to assess your personality and character traits. For example, if you are wonderful to work with and you get along well with others, your boss will instantly know that you’re a great team player. In fact, oftentimes a winning personality and being seen as someone who has the drive to contribute to the company can induce your supervisor to make your probation period shorter. Besides, as a newbie, you should be nice to everyone because the assistant might be the boss’s eyes and ears in the office, and that mailroom intern could be his nephew (true story).
I know this sounds like an absolute cliché, but just like most clichés, it is based on the truth. Being right on time or, better yet, being about 10 to 15 minutes early, not only proves that you’re committed to being a star employee but also confirms that you’re disciplined. And the reason you shouldn’t clock out right on time? Because it sends a signal that you’re only doing the bare minimum of what’s expected of you. As a newbie, there’s always a lot to learn. So even if you are an ambidextrous speed-reader, blessed with photographic memory that can do the job of three people, you can always use any “free” time you have after your tasks to do some relevant research.
Whenever a group of people is put into a hierarchical situation—some designated as leaders and the rest as followers (aka The Office)—there are bound to be some politics at play. During your first three months, however, it is important you remain a neutral yet sensitive observer of the office dynamics, because it can affect your own work performance. As the newest member of the team, the best policy is not to get involved, accidentally or otherwise, so you can be productive and proactive. Being sensitive to office politics can also make your job easier at times. For instance, when I asked to lead a diverse group of junior investment bankers years ago, knowing my team’s personalities and understanding office politics helped me immensely when I started to delegate tasks.
No one is expecting you to make BFFs out of your officemates, but putting a sincere effort into creating genuine relationships with people can make work so much easier and more enjoyable. Remember tip number one about how the new girl is always being judged? Showing you play well with others is key to getting off probation. Furthermore, having genuine friends can help you do your job well. Perhaps you need your colleague to help you crunch numbers for a report? If he/she could just stay an hour after work, it could be on your boss’s desk first thing in the morning (which would be quite impressive). It’s easier to call in a favor if you’re friendlier to work with. Having people who have your back at work is also priceless when you make a mistake. I once spilled coffee all over my boss’s desk while trying to deliver a report—classic mistake, right? My colleague who witnessed the accident intercepted my boss and distracted her with some work-related questions for 10 minutes while I frantically cleaned up the mess with another colleague. Teamwork! My boss did not suspect a thing.
When you’re the new kid on the block, you are going to learn a lot of things and often. Things will be said to you in shorthand, or quickly, over multiple people talking. Avoid the chance of miscommunication by writing everything down. Furthermore, send written summaries of what was said via email to all parties involved, especially when engaged in a group discussion, to wrap up the conversation. This could mean giving your boss a summary email of what was discussed, or an email that lists the tasks given to you by a manager or fellow associate. Putting it in writing eliminates any misunderstanding between everyone involved. It also creates the impression that you are organized, orderly, and dependable, qualities all employers want from their staff members.
To be viewed as an asset, you need to do more than what your job description entails. To be really wanted by a company, you should think in terms of “What can I do to help the company/boss/my team be better?” And as someone on probation, you don’t need to do something big or spectacular—just start small. It can be as simple as training team members to use a free cloud-based project management system that makes multi-people projects easier, or configuring the office printer to accept print jobs straight from everyone’s cell phones. Companies are always looking for people who go above what’s required of them, and can always make room for someone who is seen as genuinely helpful.
Make sure your trial is a success with our top picks below.
What are your tips for surviving the 90-day trail period? Let us know in the comments.
Opening photo: Terry Richardson for Harper's Bazaar