Failing a Probation Period – What Happens When You Don’t Pass?

Dealing with anxieties around a new job is hard enough without dwelling on the prospect of failing the probation period. In most cases, you will have some indication that the probation isn’t going well. This might be through reviews you had with your boss or perhaps just going with gut feelings.

Failing probation is never a nice experience. But deal with it right, and it can be a life affirming moment. Some positive actions can help you move on and evolve into a more confident person.

Reasons You Might Fail Probation?

If there are genuine concerns that you’re going to fail your probation period, then a supportive boss will have plans in place.

These can include extra review sessions which are used to discuss potential problems and how these can perhaps be overcome. It may involve an informal chat with a few suggestions on how to strengthen some of your weaker areas.

There will generally be signs that you are not going to pass your probation period and these should be addressed. Failing should never come as a complete surprise – if it does then the process being used isn’t working.

Top 3 Reasons a Candidate May Fail Their Probation Period

Lacking the level of professionalism required.

Sometimes, failing probation is about failing to meet certain expectations based on how professional an employee should be.

This doesn’t just mean having good manners, acquiring good interpersonal skills, and dressing well.

It’s also about how you handle work situations, the odd crisis, and how you conduct yourself day-to-day in the eyes of your colleagues. It involves being prepared for those meetings, being punctual every day and not clock watching the entire day.

If tasks are left incomplete and there is no motivation then this will show up in your review. Having the right attitude from the start will go a long way in coming across as a professional. Make sure even on the tough days that you show up and make the effort. It will be obvious when you pull a sickie, particularly if it happens after a rough day.

Forgetting to be a team player.

There is no “I” in a team and this is good to remember as you fulfil your new role. It is important to continually assess how you are doing as an individual. However, it is also essential to blend in as part of the team.

Failing to fit in with the other staff can have huge implications for the probation period. Your manager will likely seek the opinions of senior staff members when it is time to review your probationary period. By making the effort with your new colleagues and being friendly, you’ll show you’re a positive addition to the team.

Showing the wrong attitude.

Often, a probationary period shows quite starkly that the candidate isn’t a good fit. This means the process works as intended. It is designed to identify and address weaknesses.

Another reason a probation period fails is if the employee fails to display and adopt the right attitude. This means being able to take criticism when it is given.

Negative feedback is as important as positive. How you handle yourself when faced with some negative feedback will help determine your future there. Employees that get too emotional and defensive will likely not progress.

It’s fine to be upset when faced with some not-so-positive conversations. But put on a brave face and thank people for their honesty.

Can You Fail Probation Due to Sickness?

Perhaps your probation period hasn’t gotten off to the best of starts and you are researching this from your sickbed?

Having to take time off work can be stressful enough without the added pressure of knowing it may impact the outcome of your probation.

To answer the question, then yes you can fail probation due to sickness. However, this will usually only happen if they feel the reasons were dishonest or level of absence excessive. Now, things like this should have been discussed and potentially in the contract as well. However, it becomes less black and white if your illness is caused by a disability.

If at the end of your probation period, you have had a considerable number of days off, then your manager should discuss the next steps. This could involve an extension to your original probation period so that the situation can be monitored closely.

If your boss sees an obvious pattern in your absences during probation then you will likely find yourself failing. For example, if you commonly ring in sick either side of the weekend or before a big event then this won’t bode well.

If during your probation, regular sick days become a problem then you might fail.

Our guide on your rights when sick on probation will give more detail.

How Many People Fail Their Probation Periods?

Studies have found that 20% of employees, or 1 in 5, will not progress past the probationary period.

Source: HR Magazine

Even more staggeringly, an American study suggests that 46% of new hires will not last past the 18 month mark.

Most Common Reasons to fail Probation?

According to the 2014 study by HR magazine, the most common reasons not to pass probation are:-

  • Poor Performance (62%)
  • Absence (50%)
  • Personal Disagreements (12%)

What Happens When You Fail Probation?

Failing probation should be part of a structured review process. When you’re coming to the end of your trial, a review meeting should be conducted.

If your employer has good procedures, they should let you know in advance that dismissal is a possible outcome.

Probation Review

Your employer should issue you a date for a formal probation review. This will be a meeting between yourself and your manager. You will then discuss how you feel the probation period has been.

The review itself will cover:-

  • The job description
  • Progress made to meet this description
  • Thoughts of the employer
  • Thoughts of the employee
  • Any thoughts from other members of staff
  • An outline of employee’s strengths
  • Any weaknesses that crop up to be addressed
  • Any targets that were met /not met
  • The result of the probation period is revealed

At the end of the probation review, you will be informed of one of three possible outcomes.

You will either pass, fail, or be offered an extension of your probation period. If you pass then you will become a fully fledged member of staff. You’ll have the same contractual rights as the other employees.

In the event you fail, you may be given notice and will not be taken any further with the company. If this happens, you might be asked to work a notice period, or you might be asked to leave immediately.

How much notice you are entitled to will be outlined in your contract of employment. If you don’t have a contract, you have a statutory right to one weeks notice. If your employer asks you to leave immediately, they must pay you a weeks wage in lieu of notice.

Our guide on probation notice periods explains the law in more detail.

Failed Probation Letter

After a failed probation, the employer will usually issue a letter which will outline the reasons for dismissal.

This will provide you with the reasons you have not been offered a permanent position within the company. These reasons can be used as targets for your next place of employment.

Some companies won’t offer a failed probation letter. It will just be a verbal agreement that permanent employment will not be offered. If an employee on probation is pregnant and fails, then a letter should be provided stating the reasons.

It is illegal to be dismissed for being pregnant. That means it is important for employers to understand all the legislation.

If you have been discriminated against for being pregnant, then you should be able to take the matter further.

Can you Appeal a Failed Probation?

Some, but not all, workplaces will allow an appeal of a failed probation period. The letter of failed probation should include the appeal process and the deadline for pursuing this avenue.

However, if the probation period is clearly set out with targets, and there’s evidence these weren’t met, appeals are rarely successful.

What to Do if You Don’t Pass

You will feel pretty bummed after being told you are to be fired during probation. Give yourself some time to process it.

It will also be a stressful period while you wonder what to do next and how you will find another job. It’s important to take the time to deal with what has happened.

Don’t let the experience dampen your spirit. There is a whole world of possibilities out there, this just wasn’t meant to be.


You are not a failure

A failed probation isn’t a failed life. You need to get out of this mindset, dust yourself off and get back out there.

By all means, spend a little time processing but once you have done that it is important to look forwards. You weren’t the right fit for that particular job but the next role might be a perfect one for you.

Make a list

Who doesn’t love a good list? They help you put your thoughts in order and make some plans for next steps.

Your list should include why your probation period didn’t work out and any advice you will take on board moving forwards. This list will be useful for ironing out any weaknesses before your next job.

Don’t be afraid to ask for references

Reaching out to your ex employer might seem like the last thing to do. But it’s necessary if you would like a reference.

References are requested by most companies and they may question why this period of time is unaccounted for. Not passing your probation won’t count against you – it didn’t work out and that is okay.

It is best to be open and honest with prospective employers. Just explain you weren’t the right fit for that company but you feel excited for this next opportunity.

Put it all into perspective

This takes time but after you’ve had time to process this setback, you will be able to see the bigger picture.

You may even come to realise that the job wasn’t for you and you are keen to move onto the next challenge. When you first find out you have failed, it can seem like the end of the world. But you’ll come to see it wasn’t to be. After some time licking those wounds you can use the experience as a learning process and work on your weaker points.

In a nutshell, feel all the emotions (cliche I know) and then use the experience to take your next steps.

You might even decide that the job role isn’t for you and go for something completely different. That’s ok too – there’s so many different experiences out there and being on the cusp is very exciting.

Getting a New Job After Failing Probation

If you are reading this then you’ve perhaps been through the turmoil of failing probation and you’ve now come to terms with it all.

This is good – remember you didn’t have what the company wanted but the next one may well snap you up. When you are ready, searching for a new job is just the thing to help you regain your confidence and self-worth.

Look Over The Reasons For Failing Probation

Okay, we know this is maybe the last thing you feel like doing but it can be of massive benefit.

If one employer found things niggly enough for failing you then it is likely the next one will too. So take  these weaknesses on board and try to learn from them as best you can. If you were unorganised then make sure you work on ways to become better prepared next time.

Be Self-Assured

When it comes to the next interview, you’ve got this! Do not let the last job dull your sparkle or make you feel any less confident because self-belief goes a long way during the recruitment process.

If you show up shy, reserved and lacking conversation then you may not even make it as far as probation. Believe you are the best person for the job and the employer will believe so too.

Know what you want

Failing a probation period can be life-changing. You may even realise you do not want a career in that particular field.

It’s ok too if you aren’t sure what you want to do. Your next job can be a platform until you do know. Temping is always an option too and often good money while you work on your life goals.

How To Tell Your New Employer About Your Failed Probation

This won’t be the first time your prospective employer has heard this and it certainly won’t be the last – 1 in 5 people fail, remember. This setback is only a very small part of your story and if you show how you have learnt and grown from it then this will show huge maturity as a person. You can say that in my last job I didn’t do X Y and Z well but since then I’ve improved on these traits and feel I have acquired more skills. You don’t have to go into every reason you weren’t asked to stay on – gloss over the facts and just relay the important bits. It’s important not to bad-mouth the company and show that you hold no ill feelings towards them.

What Will Happen with References?

Don’t assume you won’t be able to get references from your employer after you have been let go. This is why it is important not to burn bridges and to keep the lines of communication open. It will mean that you can approach your previous employer for references.

If things did end on bad terms and you feel unable to approach them then it is best to be honest about this in your interview.

It might be worth a conversation with your manager to find out how the company deals with references for failed probations. They may just give a factual reference confirming dates of employment. If this is the case it gives more leeway.

Further Reading


Is failing probation dismissal?

Once you fail probation it is common to face dismissal as a result unless the employer wishes to extend the probation period instead. Dismissals should be clearly put into writing with the reasons for dismissal outlined.

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