Hi! My name is Kostia, and I’m a PS Department Manager at one of the partner projects of the outstaffing company SD Solutions.
Before becoming the Professional Services Department head, I taught at a robotics school, mentored dozens of juniors and managed teams as a team leader. Based on this experience, I developed my strategy for managing the probationary period. How to properly onboard recruits and evaluate their results, when to give turnkey tasks, and move on – let’s dig through my experience.
How long should the probationary period last?
In the first month, the newcomer might be timid and needs time to get used to the new environment. In the second — the person adapts and gets into place. And in the third month, you can evaluate performance and weigh up strengths and weaknesses.
I recommend giving at least 3 months for the probationary period because there is a risk of losing valuable employees. People might need more time to adapt. Storytime: two newcomers started at the same time, and at first, I was sure that one was stronger in terms of skills than the other. But my opinion changed within a few weeks: both could easily handle different tasks and solve problems extraordinarily.
If you have the slightest doubt, you can even offer a 4-month trial to ensure you don’t miss out on a great specialist. But six months is already too long.
Onboarding with a mentor
Those who help new teammates need a pre-arranged “welcome book”. This is a set of tools, terms, and instructions necessary to introduce a newcomer to the product (service, microservice, project) environment.
What should be added to the “welcome book”:
- Information about the company. Isn’t it obvious? Yes, but it’s worth mentioning. If it’s freelancing, you need to describe the general concept of the project to which the newcomer is assigned. If it is a product, you need to go into details: what technologies were used to start, continue, and finish; how it works; who uses it, etc. If the projects alternate, specify the industry and share examples.
- Organisational issues. How and where the pitches are conducted; who is responsible for what; what is the KPI for a particular position; how performances, code reviews, etc., are shown.
- Basic concepts that are necessary for work. For example, these are the client, product, and database table names in my project.
The training should include a test version of the product/database/service that a newbie can play with and not be afraid to break something. The best way to teach quickly and efficiently is to give them the opportunity to click buttons, crack something, and fix it to get to know the product.
Criteria for evaluating the results of the probationary period
Although the achievements of each trainee must be analysed individually, having a consistent list of evaluation criteria is also the basis for successful cooperation. So in case of an unsuccessful trial, the mentor can provide qualitative feedback, point out mistakes and the direction in which to develop, or, in case of doubt, accurately consider the pros and cons.
Time spent on basic training
The manager determines the approximate time required to complete the training programme, e.g. I have determined that one or two weeks is sufficient for my training. If a mentee spends more than that, it can mean either:
a) the person is very attentive and picky about details;
b) the person is procrastinating or needs help understanding the basics.
In order not to weed out good specialists, in scenario “b”, it is better to try to move on to the next stage: there are often employees who have not fully mastered the basic programme but have passed the test. It’s okay because not everyone can learn at the same pace.
The best way to understand whether a person is attentive or just procrastinating is to give them the same task again and again. If the first time the junior spends a day on it and continues to do so on the second and third attempt a day too, the mentor should think it over.
The mentor should make an initial list of required skills and put a plus sign for each during the trial. It’s important to regularly review and update the list after welcoming new team members, as everyone possesses distinct abilities, particularly soft skills.
Code review vs solution review
During training and probation, you need to pay attention to solutions. Before checking the code, you need to set up the desired mindset in the team. An effective way to assess the mentee is to give a task and schedule a meeting to discuss its solution. This way, you can follow their thought patterns, and thus it becomes easier to guide them in the right direction.
Does a perfect code exist?
Think back to how you write code: a year later, you look at it and feel like making many changes. This is related to our personal development as specialists. Although striving for perfection is natural, it is better to accept that neither your code nor anyone else’s will be perfect.
If the error doesn’t affect the code globally and everything works as it should, you don’t need to fix it now. For example, if a person chooses the wrong one out of two methods in Angular, it’s worth pointing this out during an one2one meeting and discussing it, and this error will not occur again.
But if the mistake is critical, you need to ask yourself: “How have I let it happen?” For example, a person knows how to use jQuery, and instead of learning Angular (which is needed for the project), they use what they already know – jQuery.
Common mentor’s mistakes
Providing too detailed task descriptions
There is a very subtle line between a clearly defined task and one too detailed. When you start giving a task to a junior, you need to describe what you want from them clearly: take this and that function, then write the code. Next time describing the task, subtract some information. In the end, the task description should be shortened to the core. And mentee should ask specific questions: what system; what payment method? When the mentor allows mentees to think, there are fewer questions.
Not assigning real tasks
Giving real tasks is a must for a beginner. It is necessary to safely provide a live task depending on the company’s specialisation. You can do it in an actual product but explain clearly what not to do. Then the person feels responsible for the work.
The more complex the task, the more time you need to give. You don’t need to rush or set too short and strict a deadline, but relaxing too much is not recommended because there may be time management problems.
Delivering tasks from urgent projects
If a task or project is on fire, handing it over to a newbie is toxic. Then they will need more time to analyse their mistakes in detail. Only in rare cases can you try to pull off such a gamble, but almost always, it will negatively affect the outcome of the probationary period and, in turn, the mentee’s training.
Giving another person a task
Let’s look at a specific example. There is a mentor Oleg and his mentee Vitaliy. Alongside them is Maria, who has too many tasks on her shoulders. Overwhelmed, Maria may ask Vitaly for help with the pile of tasks to achieve her results. However, mentor Oleg should not agree because a newcomer’s primary mission is to undergo high-quality training and adaptation. There is an old saying that your mentor’s mentee is not your mentee. It may have been about feudal lords and vassals, but the point is the same.
Getting attached to your mentee
Mentors must carefully assess a person’s abilities and weigh the pros and cons. Even mentors can feel hesitant to invest time in teaching someone new. However, it’s essential to set a minimum standard and, if necessary, say goodbye to those who don’t meet it. It’s never easy, but sometimes it’s the best decision for everyone involved.
What to do if the probationary period is failed?
When a person is fired without explanation, they begin to feel injustice. You can’t just say goodbye to someone and not provide feedback on their work. It is best to learn from mistakes, but how can anyone learn from them if they are not pointed out to them?
So, you need to follow these rules after a failed trial:
- Tell the truth. The likelihood that the truth will come to the surface and leave a person with unpleasant memories is very high.
- Present specific reasons. List what went wrong and explain why it is important to fix it.
- Point out the strengths. There is no need to be negative; highlight the areas and tasks the person did best.
- Guide them on what to consider when looking for a new job. It is best to end with a summary of strengths and weaknesses. Do not assert. Advise, but do not harm.
There can be many reasons for failing the probationary period, but having passed interviews and received an offer already means the person deserves due attention and a proper farewell.
And when should turnkey projects be offered?
When a person has completed their training, performed well independently, shown attentiveness, and taken initiative in problem-solving, this is a positive sign for moving forward.
You should be able to trust the team because it will not only ease your workload but also give them a sense of duty and responsibility, leading to better results. t’s important to provide turnkey tasks to your team members. When they are trusted to handle important tasks, they are more motivated and work better..
The trial period is an opportunity for both parties to find out whether the cooperation will be effective in the future. Define a well-thought-out strategy for managing the trial, learn from mistakes and do everything possible to avoid repeating them. Let’s be honest; it’s simply impossible to keep up with everyone, so as mentor you need to establish positive and trustfull atmosphere in your team. Then, over time, the newcomer will become a colleague who will perform tasks independently alongside you and may even start mentoring others.