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It seems most jobs that I've been exposed to come with a 3 month trial period, during which the employer decides whether the employee is doing good enough work, and is a good fit.

3 months seem like overkill to me, for most cases we've known much sooner whether someone wasn't a good fit.

How long does it take you, on average, to evaluate whether a newly hired programmer is both talented and a good fit for your team?

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It depends on the person. I have worked with people that were able to hide all sort of stuffs for 6 months. But for technical abilities, you will figure it out a lot faster. I'd say 4 to 6 weeks or a couple of iterations.

  • Technical abilities: 4 to 6 weeks

You really know someone when bad things happens. Behaviors change and real personality of someone is revealed. So you will have to wait longer. I have personaly observed that I can say I know someone after 6 months of work with him.

  • Non Technical abilities: 6 months

Because of that, I don't trust my short term judgment anymore. I've been very enthusiastic with people that with time turned out to be really evil, and was doubtful with others which are now my best friends.

That's why my hiring process is more like a trial & failure job with some strict upfront test on personality and less technical eliteness.

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Surely it must depend on the company and working environment? I work at a company with a 6-month trial period. Yes, I admit that's overkill, but 3 months doesn't seem so much. It makes sense to allow the employee enough time to get to grips with whatever internal software systems you are using. The best ones will shine and pick it up very quickly. As for the ones that don't, you could argue that 3 months was plenty of time and perhaps the company isn't "for them".

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Definitely depends on the environment. If you are a consulting company doing gov. work your new hire might be sitting on the bench waiting a clearance for a while. You can have them do make work on overhead but that won't necessarily be a good indicator of performance depending on skill sets/make work. –  Ken Henderson Feb 1 '11 at 15:41
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3 months seem like overkill to me

How do you like the maximum 6 months trial period in Germany permitted per-law? Virtually all companies take that maximum (at least I never heard of one which had it shorter). Some companies even actively abuse it by hiring people, forcing them into hard work then changing horses shortly before 6 months elapse.

In my opinion more than 1-2 months is an overkill. Adopting the Joel Spolsky's approach, if either party is not sure after a few weeks then better go separate ways.

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On the other hand, German law often makes it pretty difficult to get rid of an employee after that 6 months. –  user281377 Feb 1 '11 at 11:39
    
@ammoQ: Almost impossible unless company shuts down its operation or the employee really freaks out. Which is why some places resort to mobbing to force the person go on his own accord (with the loss of the social welfare naturally). –  user8685 Feb 1 '11 at 11:42
    
I didn't realize that the trial portion was enforced for 6 months - I thought only that law protection against firing kicked in after 6 mo. Are there any other consequences to a trial period, beyond protection against firing once it ends? –  blueberryfields Feb 1 '11 at 15:35
    
@blueberryfields: It's not enforced for 6 months it's the maximum allowed per law. The other thing that most if not all companies take this maximum. Law protection applies after the trial period is over. If it were 1 month then after 1 month. –  user8685 Feb 1 '11 at 15:40
    
blueberryfields: Also in certain cases work permits will only be issued for the duration of the trial period. If one is taken permanently it will be extended properly (usually for a year). Also banks (and sometimes landlords) would expect it to be over to grant you a credit or give you an apartment. –  user8685 Feb 1 '11 at 15:43
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4 Weeks at most. In many cases, deficiencies come out during the first couple of days. But I think some employers need a longer trial period because new employees go trough some training first, so their skills might not be put to the test until they get a real task for the first time, i.e. after they have completed the training.

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It all depends on the laws of the country you work in.

In the UK I often saw 3 month trial period. Though I never saw anybody let go of during the trial period.

In the US I have never seen a trial period. But the labor laws are less strict and thus it is easier to let people go (no notice required (not a lawyer see your state employment laws for more details)).

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So far it usually doesn't take more than a month before you have figured out whether a programmer is competent or not, some people are very good in interviews - seems to be a skill in itself but after a month when they have done their first assignment then all cards are on the table.

Three months sounds more like a convenience for the employer i.e. after one month they notice the guy sucks so they need two months to find a replacement.

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If your team performs peer reviews then you can usually tell whether you made a good hiring decision at the first review of the new hire's work.

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Depends upon how you are defining things, when it comes to technical skills it is pretty easy but when it comes to the "good fit" side of things, not so much.

In regards to technical skills, if you construct the interview(s) correctly then you should know if they are talented or bright enough that they are worth training up to speed. If you are doing a mixture of white board coding problems, design problems, and behavioral questions you should get a fairly good idea of the candidate's skills. Likewise, having a minor goof on a white board problem is not such a bit deal if they are able to work though it and if they make a mistake it might be a good thing as it can give you a chance to see how they react to feedback and work through problems.

In regards to the "good fit" side of things, quite simply it depends upon what you are defining as a good fit in the group. If you get the group's expectations out up front to the candidate then if they think they aren't a good fit they may filter themselves out of the position for you (some what dependent upon the economy though). But that said, it may take a long time to tell if someone is a good fit for the group as people tend to take some time to relax at the office and many behave differently at the office than they do at home.

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