How To Conduct a Probationary Review (10 Questions To Ask)

Conor Quinn

The end of the probationary period is a critical point in an employee’s journey. Some experts suggest that approximately 20% of employee turnover happens within the first 45 days. In some cases, that’s barely long enough to finish a probationary period at all. Many employees, especially millennials, cite poor clarity in job expectations and lack of internal mobility as chief reasons for leaving so soon.

When including a probationary period with a new hire, establishing clarity and support for the employee is most critical at the probationary review stage. If you hope the employee will remain on your team, reviewing this trial period is the perfect opportunity to help determine their forward trajectory. Even small suggestions during the review could pay huge dividends in productivity over their time with your organization. But even if the employee is going to be terminated, it’s a chance to find out what went wrong, and offer clues to how you can ensure the next hire is more successful in the role.

Either way, it’s an important meeting for managers to get right. As an HR leader, it’s important to structure these meetings so they are productive for everyone involved, every time. To do so, you need both a productive process and a bit of tact.

Let's take a look at how you can get the most out of your probationary reviews with better questions.

What Is a Probationary Review?

A probationary review is a performance meeting and appraisal with an employee at the end of their probationary period. After the probationary review, one of three outcomes occur:

If extending, work with the employee during the meeting to set up a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) with specific goals and a well-defined timeline for improvement.

What Is a Probationary Period?

A probationary period is a specified amount of time at the beginning of a new employee’s tenure when they are being closely evaluated. Sometimes called the orientation or training period, its goal is to ensure the employee is truly a good fit for the company before offering them the benefits of full employment. Depending on company policy, this period may include withholding certain benefits like time off, health insurance, or certain wage rates.

Typically, probationary periods last anywhere from 30 to 90 days. Some last as long as six months. At the end of this period, your organization will make an official decision about the employee’s potential full employment. Prior to this final stage, the employee is “on trial.”

To be clear, a probationary period may not always be necessary. For many standard hiring/onboarding processes (especially for highly qualified candidates) you won’t need one at all. However, if you’ve hired someone for a conditional offer of employment or someone with lower qualifications that requires extra training, a probationary period may be necessary.

In any case, a probationary review is more than a formality. While you should already know the outcome by the end of the trial period, the review is a crucial mechanism for both the employer and the employee to align expectations and foster mutual growth.

How To Conduct a Helpful Probationary Review

During the probationary period, you’ve evaluated the new hire’s ability to adapt to the role, meet performance standards, and integrate into the team. Equipped with this knowledge, you can turn the probationary review into a dynamic process. Think of it as a dialogue for both parties to address key issues, set goals, and lay the foundation for a successful professional journey.

This is also a great opportunity to give your new employee a chance to voice concerns, seek clarification on expectations, and chart a course for professional development in their new role.

Clarify Goals and Expectations

Start the meeting by explaining your agenda and expectations for the probationary review. Your goal should be to engage the employee in a candid conversation about the objectives and requirements of the role.

Some of the biggest hurdles to productivity in the workplace are lack of communication, unclear expectations, and an uncertain job description. This probationary review is an ideal time to clarify these as well as other goals like:

All of these are integral to the employee’s success within the organization. You can also discuss how the position might evolve in the future, to provide a roadmap for professional growth.

At this point, you may also want to work with the employee to create a personalized development plan that outlines specific steps to address weaknesses. This is also a good time to introduce them to mentors that might be helpful in accelerating their development.

Set Up Communication Channels

At this stage, both parties should be on the same page regarding expectations and areas for improvement. To help, ensure managers and employees have clear paths of communication.

For most organizations, 1:1 meetings and performance reviews are normal parts of the employee experience. It’s also a good time to tell the employee what they can expect when working with their direct supervisor. Also provide them with contact information for anyone necessary to their success in their role. No one needs a helicopter HR department, but knowing your organization has your back is empowering.

Note that workplace communication doesn’t always have to be real-time or in person. HR and Talent Engagement software can enhance your workplace communication by transferring information more efficiently and dynamically. Provide extensive training on your software to ensure everyone is fully capable of using it to communicate with their teams.

10 Questions To Ask at a Probationary Review

In essence, a probationary review is an interview, which is meant to spark a more in-depth discussion. Here are ten key questions to ask in every probationary review. By standardizing the question sets you use in each review, you can ensure consistent results from this process for all employees.

1. Are you enjoying your job?

Start with an upbeat question that sets the tone for the rest of the interview. The ideal answer you’re looking for would be a definite “Yes,” followed by some concrete reasons why this job resonates.

In any case, their feedback can help you course correct and help them find satisfaction in their role before deciding to go elsewhere. But even if the employee is going to be terminated, consider their feedback to this question for future reference. Perhaps it wasn’t entirely their fault they aren’t meeting expectations, so it’s a time to learn about their obstacles to success.

2. How has working here compared to your expectations?

This is another opportunity for the employee to reflect. Did they hope for a fast-paced, quick-moving environment, but find it quiet and dull? Or maybe they thought they would be working in a customer-facing role and were surprised by being relegated to the back room. Disengagement quickly follows disappointment, so these are issues to address straight away.

3. Do you understand the job description and job requirements?

According to a recent survey, only 9% of US-based employees feel they really know what is going on at their company most of the time. If they don’t understand their company’s goals, how can they know what they’re supposed to be doing? Take some time to discover your employee’s understanding of their position within the company.

You don’t need a word-for-word recitation of the job description. Instead, look for an in-depth understanding of what the position involves and how it relates to the focus of  the company as a whole. Of course, if the employee answers “No, I don’t understand,” it’s an opportunity for a larger discussion.

4. How would you describe your performance over the past three months?

By the end of the probationary period, you may already have a perception of the new employee — but what does their performance look like from their perspective?

If you’ve seen less-than-ideal performance but your employee feels they’re doing great, their immediate supervisor may have some communication issues around metrics or expectations for the role. On the other hand, if you’ve got an all-star performer second-guessing themselves, offer some encouragement (with concrete evidence) before they become more disappointed.

This is the kind of question you will be asking the employee during regular performance reviews going forward. You can make the process more effective by using self-appraisal comments during the performance review process.

5. What do you feel are your greatest strengths?

There’s no right answer to this question, but you’re looking for information to help you ensure your employee is working in a way that utilizes their greatest strengths. Strength-based management has been shown to give incredible dividends, and if your employee feels that they can truly shine in the workplace, they will be that much more motivated to give their best.

6. Is there anything that you felt negatively impacted your performance?

Sometimes hearing about the factors behind a subpar performance can be incredibly helpful. When the outcome is termination, this is a great time to find out what you or the company can do differently next time. But if your employee is staying on, this can be the beginning of a conversation that leads to a more optimal work environment and a more productive team.

As always, encourage your employees to be honest in their answers. Assure them that their answers will be kept confidential and only shared with other HR leaders as necessary. This is essential, as sometimes the factors that negatively impact performance are people. If certain people in your organization are perpetuating a culture of discrimination and sexual harassment under the radar, this is the perfect opportunity to expose and correct that behavior (and perhaps terminate the people responsible).

7. Is there any specific training or support that you would find helpful?

As an HR leader, you ensure your employees have all the resources they need to succeed within the organization. That means making training accessible to everyone.

Sadly, some training and onboarding workflows only last a week, which often isn’t enough time to give a new hire everything they need to contribute value to the company. When an employee isn’t contributing value, they feel less engaged with their work, which makes them more likely to seek meaningful employment elsewhere.

But you can’t offer unlimited training time. Choose the most helpful training modules to offer employees at the most effective time. Once an employee has completed a successful round of training, you can get their perspective on their own knowledge gaps to help them succeed later on. Otherwise, if they are leaving, you can use this information to improve future training and onboarding for others.

8. Looking back, what do you feel most proud of?

You should have a good idea of your employee’s chief accomplishments, but this question can highlight some of these successes. It also gives the employee a chance to pat themselves on the back. They might point to an incident in which the employee showed leadership skills or excellent teamwork, problem-solving skills, or the ability to think on their feet. A thoughtful answer shows the employee has already been reflecting on their performance (a great sign for someone you want to keep on your team).

9. What are your expectations and goals for the next six months?

Goal setting is an important part of productivity in any organization. To make these goals more meaningful, let them be set by the person most involved: the employee.

This question will encourage the employee to think about what they want to accomplish in the near future. Ideally, your employee will have ambitious but achievable goals that fit well with the organization’s own goals. Of course, feel free to offer suggestions, but let the employee lead the discussion and take note of their responses to build a plan you can both agree on.

10. How do you see your future with our organization?

Turnover is expensive. If an employee doesn't see a future with your organization, there’s a good chance they will leave. You want to find and retain people who are with you for the long game. This question can start a conversation about the employee’s future.

A good answer to this question should demonstrate that your employee considers themselves a valued member of the team and  intends to grow with the organization. If your interviewee doesn’t have much to say, you may need to have a more difficult conversation.

Start Improving Probationary Reviews with Criterion

A probationary review is a key moment in an employee’s career with your organization. It marks the beginning of a new autonomy and responsibility in their journey, and it should be a dynamic event. Use this opportunity to address any issues that came up over the last few months and set goals for the future.

If you’re using a talent management platform to assist with onboarding, you should be able to deploy a probationary review schedule as part of your hiring and onboarding process. Criterion makes all of this simple and intuitive for everyone involved. Within a custom onboarding workflow, you can start nurturing employees from day one. Easily add a probationary review to a new hire’s schedule and create custom questions to create a consistent employee experience.

With Criterion, onboarding is just the beginning. We also offer completely connected and configurable solutions for payroll and HR, with the ability to integrate the HCM with any third-party platform. Book a demo to see how Criterion can nurture employee engagement and performance from beginning to end.

Conor Quinn
Partner Success Manager
HCM Software Specialist focused on client and partner success.

Related Posts