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Probation Failure – New Hires Struggle Despite Great Qualifications

probation period

New hires shouldn’t be under a magnifying glass. How to avoid probation period failure and ensure success

Probation period failure is not always the candidate’s fault

Probation failure for new hires always raises questions. The interviews went well, the candidate’s experience lined up, and the new hire was more than competent. Why are they struggling?  Why do you feel like this new hire is making you look bad?

We all know the consequences of making the wrong hire. 

A perfect candidate surrounded by colleagues who have different expectations for the role’s success will also fail.

Not only is a bad hire expensive, but the team wastes time with time training and onboarding. A recent study found that 20% of new hires leave their company in the first 90 days. Rinse, lather, and repeat. In this case, interview, second guess and agonize, hire, and repeat.

Taking the job description for granted

Making sure your candidate is successful doesn’t start with onboarding or training. It starts with the job description. Many open postings will reuse old job descriptions. Remember, the candidate will or will not apply based on their qualifications against this out-of-date job description. The interviewers will ask questions based on the old job description. The candidate may be “close enough” to get through the interview process. They probably won’t be successful long-term after the hire.

Who is interviewing the candidate?

Setting expectations with the interview loop, the team(s) working with the new employee, and your boss is critical. These expectations come from the job descriptions. This is the step I see so many hiring managers skip or take for granted.

On our HR team, we have a very senior recruiter. He has led recruiting teams for both billion-dollar and fast-growth companies. He has also worked for more years than most of our hiring managers have been alive. Yes, I am lucky to work with him. Behind the scenes is a checklist for hiring managers, the interview loop, and the candidate. When a hiring manager comes to me saying the process is overkill, the decision usually goes to the guy with the years of experience.

Live and die by the quality of their candidate

Recruiters know their reputation is on the line every day. They need to deliver great candidates with every search. If he throws us ten candidates, hoping one will stick, we are interviewing too many candidates. When three employees interview three solid candidates, this is nine meetings. If three employees interview ten mediocre candidates, that is 30 meetings. Most interview loops include the hiring manager, a lead, at least one IC, and the hiring manager’s boss. That is 4-5 interviews per candidate. This guy saves us time, and money and brings in better candidates. A recruiter can ensure a great candidate experience and create project momentum. I don’t know of the last time one of his new hires failed the probation period.

Just a few items on his punch list:

  • Setting expectations around salary (with the hiring manager and candidate)
  • Clarifying market expectations with the hiring manager, AKA – how long/challenging the search may be.
  • Explain the steps in this company’s hiring process so the hiring manager and candidate are not surprised or grow impatient.
  • Even if the role has been hired ten times prior, he confirms and updates the job description. Even though we may be hiring for the same title and role, the expectations can change from hire to hire.
  • He clarifies what the hiring manager, interview loop, and final decision-maker are looking for. This way, when they find the “perfect candidate,” everyone is on the same page. If all parties are working off of their own playbook, everyone will come to an independent decision. End result? “No hire”

I encourage any hiring managers to have the same rigor with their interview teams, boss, and the equivalent of the person that gives FINAL the thumbs up or down.

“HRN, this sounds tedious!”

  1. “I need to move fast. Candidates have multiple offers, and delays cost candidates.”
  2. “This additional process will give the candidate a negative interview experience.”
  3. “I don’t want to bother my manager with this minutia.”

The above are common responses when we lay out our process. Below are a few of our responses as recruiters.

Need to move fast:

Think of this as sharpening the ax before felling the tree and filling up the gas tank before the road trip starts. Extra prep time can save time and heartache in the long run. Getting everyone on the same page ensures that everyone agrees on what the final prize looks like. 

We avoid the below situation:

  • The Job Description states that success looks like A, B, and C
  • Our hiring manager is looking for A, B, and C
  • Interviewer No. 1 is looking for A, C, and D
  • Interview No. 2 is looking for B, C, and E
  • Final Decision maker is looking for A, B, C, D, and E

Better Candidate Experience

Setting expectations is completed BEFORE the interviews begin. The candidate won’t see or experience this part of the process. If you have ever had to call up a candidate and explain the role “has gone in a different direction,” a lack of prep work could be at fault. Prep work provides a more consistent interview experience for the candidate and the loop. The interviewers are asking fewer questions because expectations are set. 

This isn’t minutia

This won’t be interpreted as process-heavy. This is an update to your hiring manager, nothing more. No manager wants to be surprised, and progress updates minimize surprises. Your manager will NOT appreciate being asked to interview a candidate who isn’t qualified (in their mind). They will be even more frustrated when they realize the rest of the team also wasted their time interviewing. 

The hiring manager and the job description can be in alignment.  If you don’t include the rest of the crew in your process, don’t expect your crew to know what to look for if they were not included in the process.

Update your manager

The way to get the final thumbs up is to update your boss as the interviews progress. Let them know why some candidates are moving forward and others are not.

Boss, the hiring for our open req is on track. So far, we have looked at three candidates, and one is promising. The candidate that you personally recommended unfortunately didn’t make the cut. We interviewed them out of courtesy, but they only had B and C out of the agreed A, B, and C qualifications. As you recall, we came to the conclusion that these were the “must have’s” for success.  

We have three more candidates in the pipeline whose resumes look promising. We will keep you updated. One is especially promising as salary expectations are aligned, and they have qualifications A, B, and C.

By the time your boss interviews your candidate, it is more of a conversation and check box vs. an interview. This is how you build hiring trust with your boss.

Probation success vs. failure 

A process where the interviewers have misaligned expectations isn’t fair to the candidate. If, by some miracle, an agreement is reached to hire a candidate who came in through the above process, they are destined to probation failure.  (PS, that miracle isn’t Baby Jesus; it is your boss or VP. They are allowing you to fail and learn a lesson the hard way. See this post:

If hired, all interviewers will have different performance expectations of the new hire. They will receive mixed signals on priorities, valued skillsets, and culture.  The candidate came into the company with the job description as the roadmap to success. But the interviewers are all on different maps. All parties have different destinations for success. All paths will lead to the same destination: Probation period failure.

If you want your new hire to make it past the probation period and make you look amazing, align the rest of your team, set expectations, and keep your managers updated.

See you at the after party,


nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, ridiculously good, tricky, and manipulative but with the result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone good at something. “He has a nasty forkball.”