03/28/2008 02:48 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Corporate Freshman: Test Driving a New Job

This woman just came on board as a vice president in my department. She told me she was only with us for 90 days initially, that she was doing a trial first to see if she was a good fit for the job and the job was a good fit for her. A trial vice president? Huh? I'd heard of trials for magazine subscriptions and skincare products, but for a job?

Tery's situation wasn't like the traditional HR probationary period, which typically spans 30 to 60 days after an employee is hired and is usually considered a formality. In most companies with HR probationary periods, it's generally accepted that a new hire is there to stay unless she's a complete disaster. How many people do you know who've been fired during the probationary period?

True trial employment like Tery's is gaining in popularity across the country. The arrangement allows you 60 to 120 days to see if you like a job on an everyday basis and to determine if you gel with the corporate culture and your new team's personalities. Trials tend to work better in large companies with strong, pre-existing infrastructures, where things won't completely fall apart if one person comes and goes.

There are downsides to doing a trial rather than taking a full time position. For example, since no company is perfect and you have the luxury of leaving after a few months, you may find yourself jumping around a lot rather than giving a job situation a real chance. Colleagues may not take you as seriously when they find out you're on trial, and you may have to accept less money and fewer benefits and perks. Also, some trial employment contracts include problematic "at will" clauses that allow the company to let you go before your trial is up.

Nevertheless, trials are catching on because they present an advantageous situation for employees...and companies. Finding and hiring a new employee requires a considerable expenditure of time and money. Through trial employment, companies can evaluate on-the-job performance without any risk and ensure that they hire the right person.

So how do you get a trial gig? It's important to keep in mind that in order to make this strategy work, you must have the talent and experience that your target employers want. If you think you've got this covered, hook up with an executive recruiter who understands the trial employment concept and can position you effectively. And don't forget to ask around. Casual networking is a simple but invaluable way to learn about opportunities that fit your career goals and strengths.

Once you're in an interview situation, sell the employer on the idea of a trial. Ask him if he's talked to others about the position and if he'd be willing to bring you on temporarily so that you can demonstrate your value to the company. In today's revolutionary job market, you may find that he's more than willing to accommodate the request.