How does one work with a client who insists on a "trial period"?

I have been recruiting for 25+ years and just came across a new issue.  If anyone has suggestions, I would really appreciate the help.


I am dealing with the American subsidiary of an Asian company.  They are looking to hire a COO.  The compensation is about $300k, so it is pretty senior.  Now that they have started interviewing candidates, they are telling the candidates that they have a policy of a 90 day trial period.  This is, of course, a turn-off to all the people I have sent.  It severely limits the candidate pool to those who are currently not working.  I have never had this issue.


Does anyone have a creative way of dealing with it?  I suggested to the client that they agree to a one year contract which does not kick in until 90 days, but that only diffuses the issue and does not solve the problem.


We all know that absent a contract, people are employed "at will".  Any thoughts on a creative way of handling this thorny issue would be appreciated. 


Views: 153

Comment by Marcia Tiemeyer on April 6, 2011 at 12:12pm

Paul,  A 90 day probationary period is relatively standard.  It might not be discussed in the interview as such, but I think that everyone understands that there is a period in which the employee is on trial as to how well they fit in to the company culture and do the job.   Unless your client has had a very bad experience and because of it they are making the 90 day trial period an issue during the interview, I really don't see it as a problem.  The way I always look at it with candidates, is that it is a trial period for both the employee and the employer.  It works both ways.  If the employee doesn't feel like working for the company is a good fit for him, he has a way out without it being a termination or looking like he is job hopping.



Comment by Evan Mignogna on April 6, 2011 at 12:39pm
@Sandra - "Like".  This consultative approach is exactly how you should approach the situation, or any similar situation in communicating between different perspectives in achieving a mutually beneficial outcome even if you don't fully agree.  Great way for the candidate to sell themselves, and their ability to assimilate the firm into the U.S. way of doing business.
Comment by Sandra McCartt on April 6, 2011 at 1:27pm
The candidate who will be able to do this job effectively will be able to effectively influence the group he will be working for or he should not accept the job.  Otherwise they would just send someone from their country to be the COO so the need for a U. S. Candidate has already been recognized.  Now find the candidate who is experienced working with foreign companies to be able to make that transition for them.
Comment by Evan Mignogna on April 6, 2011 at 1:55pm
The other interesting thing is, for someone of that caliber (whether passive or active), the position is going to have to represent something meaningful.  If it is meaningful, it's worth the risk.  And risk for most U.S. chief executives is mitigated by the golden parachute that has only become more and more prevalent (despite some inherent conflicts of interest, relative comp issues, etc).  So if they are that talented, confident, and have a parachute, what is the risk in the "trial period" anyways?  It seems almost moot.  Sounds like what should be important in this negotiation are clear goals and expectations, especially given the cultural disparity in how business is done.  I'm not familiar, but it would be interesting to hear similar stories of U.S. firms trying to accomplish the same thing in Asia on their home business turf.
Comment by Sandra McCartt on April 6, 2011 at 2:42pm


It may be ridiculous to us but when things are done differenty in a different culture it's a matter of breeching that divide.  A lot of candidates who have worked for a foreign entity are well aware of the different ways business is done.  As a for instance.  I work with a fellow in the UK who is the financial representative of one of the Saudi Sheiks who has extensive investments in the U. S.  I asked my contact about employement contracts for U. S. employees.  He indicated that we could put something together that would be workable but he would need to educate his employer because with some of the Saudi interests when you work for them the understanding is for life.  It would of course not be that way in the U. S. but it was his job to make something cohesive work for a U. S. employee. 


When we throw a fit and tell foreign companies that their way of doing business is ridiculous we cut off the communication.  Yes we do need to educate them but sometimes the experienced candidate can do a better of job of it than the recruiter.  Sometimes the recruiter can do if they are willing to give examples of other foreign companies and how they have adjusted their way of doing business to U. S. laws, rules regs and customes.

Comment by Valentino Martinez on April 6, 2011 at 2:54pm


Sandra’s example suggests the way to go—finding those professionals, at that level, who can swim in shark infested waters will survive.

Rather than trying to get the hiring entity to soften their paranoia—I would highlight it as that kind of job to new prospects.  I would also  revisit and probe deeper into why this job is pressing the “trial period” in such an upfront manner.  Who was recently hired and fired, and why? I would want to know where the alligators are in the water in this company; and on this job—getting to speak to past incumbents would be golden.  Getting this info to share with any new prospects would be going in the right direction.  You may also get insights into probable management style issues that work against any new hire in this challenging role that can be shared with this client.

Turbulent times compound the challenges all employers face in surviving in their industries.  There are professionals--we've all met them along the long and winding road who are up for the challenge.  In this scenario the ideal candidate will be highly qualified and aggressively looking for their next big challenge.  I would also focus on the type of candidate(s) who has little to lose and everything to gain if they succeed past the probationary period and beyond.  In this economy—there are many senior level COO candidates…biting at the bit to get back on the horse.
Comment by Paul S. Gumbinner on April 6, 2011 at 3:09pm

There are several of you who have probably never dealt with the Asians.  They do things differently.  If the home country dictates something one can try to educate the people here, but they are not Europeans and cannot go back to their overseas bosses and educate them.  It just doesn't happen that way.  Sandra's response is the one that makes the most sense to me at this point.


The Asian cultures have a different way of operating than we westerners.  You can educate a Saudi, you can educate a Dane or a Lithuanian.  You can educate a Japanese, Korean, Chinese businessman, and they will say yes, but it does not mean yes.  Have any of you ever gone for dinner with a group of Japanese business men when the chairman is around and all his minions take a drink each time he takes one?  We simply do not do business that way and it would be an insult to try to tell an Asian that they are not doing it our way.


Valentino's comment is correct in that we have to try to find candidate's who are self-assured and willing to take the risk.  We all know that employees are almost always "at will" even with a contract.  However, the best candidates may be working or successfully consulting and, with a probationary period hanging over their head, may not be willing to give up what they have, especially given the tenuous nature o the economy.  I would hate to limit the candidate pool to just those who are out of work.

That is why I posted this and asked the question.  It is a complicated and thorny issue.


Comment by Sandra McCartt on April 6, 2011 at 3:41pm

Of course it's our job but sometimes when we work with clients they put it out there the way they do it , we tell them that it's out of the norm for the way things are done but if the feeling is that we work for them we can't always make that point with a frontal discussion. 

As another example.  I worked a CFO position for a new client in India last year.  When they sent the job description it was a whale of job description asking for international experience , MBA and on and on.  Then came the salary range.  It was about 90K less than what i knew it would take to get those qualifications.  After several discussions with their VP of HR it ended up with "see what you can find that fit the qualifications and let us see it.  I did and sent salary ranges along with several resumes.  It took them talking with several candidates to actually internalize that what i was telling them was a fact of life.   It was not that they didn't believe me but the disparity of salary ranges for accountants between the US and India in their industry was a monster so it was difficult for them to accept.   I was upfront with the candidates they spoke with as to what they wanted and what they wanted to pay.  Several of the candidates were more than happy to speak with them to let them know their background, salary ranges and what they did.  It was fine for me to say so and although they believed me it made the process work better to have them actually speak with candidates who fit the job description and hear it from them.


Then the question was do we want to up the salary or lower the requirements?  We went both directions and hit something that was workable for everybody. 


I am not arguing with you Morgan.  The only thing i took exception to was your comment of not embarassing yourself or the candidate but insisting that the client take our word for a difference.  Sometimes that is doable and sometimes in my experience it takes a collaboration between the candidate the recruiter and the client to get it where it needs to be. 


  All i am saying here is that sometimes just working through the process is the learning experience for everyone not just talking about it and saying , "This is the way it is here, so do it this way or you are not going to find anybody."  Sometimes leading the client the direction you know they need to go has worked better for me than just laying it out there and telling them  they have to do it our way.  I think sometimes we all learn more effectively by coming to a conclusion ourselves  with a little help from  our recruiter rather than just expert advice. 


But i'm a soft sell :)

Comment by Sandra McCartt on April 6, 2011 at 3:53pm
Oh Paul, i had to laugh at the description of the dinner.  I have been there done that and the things i was coached on were that i would go nuts waiting for somebody to say something and to keep my mouth shut during the periods of silence while people were thinking.  If somebody nods in what seems like agreement it means nothing other than they have heard you.  Nothing will be decided so don't try and close anything.  The decision and or answer will come later.  Above all as a woman be sure you are respectful of the senior member of the group and do not be insulted if he speakes to one of his more junior staff who then speak to you.  Speak back to them and do not ignore them and speak directly to the senior member.  That's the way they do it and anything else would be rude whether you think so or that is the way we do it here or not.  Most Americans go nuts with periods of silence in a business converstion but don't force it.  they already think we are a bunch of barbarians so don't reinforce that impression.
Comment by Juanito on April 6, 2011 at 11:35pm

The recommendation of the 90 Probationary Period is so standard I am sure that will not cause any issues.  I would tell the candidate that you take you direction from them and ask them in there current role or previous companies where a probationary was standard.


I recruit "C" level on a regular basis and there are many more factors that kind stop a deal than just 90 day period.


I wish the best of luk with your search and I look forward to hearing the results.


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