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Should you agree to an employment trial period?

Nicole Cavazos,

At some point you might be offered a job on a short-term trial basis, usually not exceeding 90 days, with the possibility of it turning into a permanent position.

It may seem as if this arrangement clearly benefits the employer, and for the most part it does. After all, by agreeing to a trial period, you are forfeiting most of the rights and protections you would enjoy as a permanently hired employee.

But in some instances, the trial period can be used to your advantage. The key is to make sure you know your rights before entering into a contract and understand the advantages and disadvantages.

Here are some tips and things to consider before agreeing to a trial period.

The good

There are times when you know you have what it takes to do a job, but you just don’t have the proof. Maybe you’ve just graduated from college and have plenty of talent but no professional experience. Or perhaps you’re transitioning to another field or industry and you have lots of professional experience, just not the right kind.

In these cases, a probationary employment period can work in your favor. While most companies might balk at hiring someone who isn’t a sure thing, they might consider a more risky candidate if they know they aren’t necessarily stuck with them.

An employment trial period also gives you a chance to test the waters as well. If you find you aren’t happy with the job, you’ll feel less obligated to stick around if you’re only there temporarily.

The bad

In some ways an employment trial period is no more than a glorified paid internship. You’re often working more hours for less pay and no benefits. Sometimes the company is unscrupulous and has no real intention of hiring you in the first place. This leaves you with an awkward gap in your employment history that you need to account for.

However, if the employer offers to extend your probationary period rather than offer you a job, it’s time to cut your losses and run — not walk — out of there.

Set some ground rules

A trial period is voluntary, and must be agreed to in writing by both you and the employer. It can only be offered to someone who hasn’t previously been employed by the company.

Before you agree to anything, make sure you understand what you’re signing. Ask how you’ll be evaluated, what the company is looking for and what happens after the probation ends. Ask about others who have worked on a probationary basis and what happened to them at the end of their trial. To avoid any surprises, make sure you discuss pay and benefits (if any) up front.

The written employment agreement should be signed by you and the employer at the beginning of your trial. Unless there was discrimination at play, most probationary employees have few rights. So try to bargain as much as possible up front before entering into an agreement.