Laura Berlinsky-Schine
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You’ve received an offer of employment at a terrific company, and you’re excited to accept it. There’s just one caveat: you’ll need to work on a trial basis. What does this mean, and should you do it? Here’s what you should know. 

What does it mean to be hired on a trial basis?

If you’re hired on a trial basis, it means the company plans to try you out for a specific period of time before evaluating whether it will keep you as a full-time employee. This isn’t quite the same as a temp job, because the latter assumes that the employee will not be full-time unless the job is temp-to-hire. 

During the trial period, the employer will evaluate the employee’s fit with the role and company and assess whether she wants to keep her on staff. She may dismiss the employee without cause at any point.

How to hire on a trial basis

Some companies may use staffing agencies, usually used to find temp workers, to employ workers on a trial basis. These can be advantageous to employers for a number of reasons, including that the staffing agency will pay the worker, while the employer will pay the staffing agency. Others hire through their typical hiring processes, using recruiters or advertising through job boards, job search sites, and other means. 

If you do decide to hire an employee on a trial basis, make it clear to her that you are doing so upfront. You should include this stipulation in your job listings and other materials. Explain how long the trial period will last, what the assessment will be once it ends, and any other pertinent details.

Then, you should onboard the hire just as you would any other employee. Describe your expectations, give her the assignments you would expect a full-time employee in the position to complete, and continue to evaluate her. Remember to be patient and make her feel welcome — any new employee would be nervous, and this situation is especially anxiety-provoking.

Also, don’t forget to have your own system for assessing the employee so you can track progress and success. There’s no need to keep it a secret; let her know what skills and competencies you’ll be evaluating. 

Benefits for employers

From an employer’s standpoint, hiring an employee on a trial basis has a number of benefits, such as:

• Enabling the organization to evaluate the employee’s skills and interactions on the job.

• Engaging in less risk; it is much more difficult to terminate a full-time employee than a trial hire.

• Requiring fewer costs and expenses; trial hires do not receive benefits and may even have a reduced salary during the trial period.

• Filling a job vacancy more quickly, since the hiring process will likely be less lengthy for a potentially temporary hire. 

How long do trial assignments typically last?

Trial periods can last any span of time, although they typically fall somewhere between 30 to 180 days. Many tend to be around 90 days. Keep in mind that the employer can terminate the employee at any time during this period.

Also, note that this is different from a full-time hire’s initial assessment period (usually 30 days), which generally culminates in a performance review and is used to spot any red flags.

Why you’d want to do this

While many job candidates would prefer full-time positions, accepting employment on a trial basis can enable recent graduates, people changing careers, and others having difficulty finding full-time employment get their foot in the door at their desired workplace.

What to do if you’re employed on a trial or probation basis

• Understand the terms.

Make sure you know what skills your employer will be evaluating, how long the trial period will last, what the next steps are, what success looks like, and any other terms before you sign a contract or verbally agree to the arrangement. Ask about payment and whether it will be increased if you are hired on a full-time basis, as well as benefits.

• Work hard.

You should work hard in any role, of course, but it’s especially important when you’re working on a trial basis. After all, you’re being evaluated closely, and for better or worse, you do need to prove yourself. If there’s ever a time to go the extra mile, it’s now. 

• Get to know your colleagues.

You’re not sure if you’re going to be in this role for a more permanent period of time, but you should behave as though you will be. Make the most of your job by getting to know your coworkers and being enthusiastic. Remember that your manager is assessing your fit with the company in addition to your skills, so it’s important to engage with others.

• Ask for feedback.

Just because this job isn’t necessarily permanent and you’ll likely be receiving a performance review at the end of the trial period doesn’t mean you can’t ask for feedback along the way. It can be helpful to check in with your manager to make sure you’re meeting her expectations so you can adjust as needed. 

What employers are looking for

When employers hire a worker on a trial basis, they’re likely assessing a number of qualities, such as:

• Fit with the company and personnel

• How you perform in a job setting

• Your attention to detail and ability to perform the work

Pros of working on a trial basis

While this type of employment tends to benefit the employer far more than the employee, there are some pros for you.

1. You’ll gain work experience.

As explained above, many people with a lack of work experience, such as new graduates and people changing jobs, can improve their hiring prospects by agreeing to work on a trial basis. Plus, it will give you the opportunity to learn more about the business and industry without committing. 

2. You’ll be able to evaluate your own fit with the organization.

Just as your employer isn’t required to keep you, you’re not obligated to stay. This will give you an opportunity to determine whether this is a place where you really want to work.

3. If you are hired, you’ll be able to better market yourself.

If the employer ends up hiring you full-time, you’ll already have proven yourself and can use the experience as a bargaining chip in your negotiations. You can point to your exemplary performance when discussing salary and benefits, for example.

Cons of working on a trial basis

Of course, there are plenty of downsides for employees who work according to this arrangement.

1. You may feel overworked.

Some employees struggle to prove themselves so much that they end up working overly long hours, which can take a toll on your mental and physical health.

2. It’s a huge risk.

It’s a gamble to take a trial job, and if you have important financial responsibilities, it may not be worth it. Remember that you may ultimately be out of a job and have to repeat the hiring process all over again. 

3. If you’re not hired, you will have trouble bringing the work experience to a new employer.

If the company doesn’t hire you, you may not want to add the short-term experience to your resume. This will require you to explain an employment gap in future interviews. 

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