Stop Lying to Job Candidates About the Role

By Atta Tarki and Jeff Weiss
December 2, 2019

Too many hiring managers avoid telling candidates the truth about a job. Their logic is that if applicants find out how hard they will work or how boring the core of the job is, they will walk away. This is a mistake. To hire effectively, you have to be honest about what working at your firm is like and what it takes to be successful.

The interview process should be about finding a genuine fit. If a candidate doesn’t think he matches up with your company or the role, he is probably right. Having him decline the role will save you from wasting substantial time and resources on onboarding, training and starting to rely on a bad hire, who will probably leave prematurely anyway.

Furthermore, in the era of Glassdoor and LinkedIn, savvy candidates will research your company before interviewing. If you distort the truth by trying to project a purely positive image, they will know it.

Smart organizations instead use the interview to show that they can be transparent and that they expect the same candor from employees. This is an opportunity to set the tone for the relationship, so you want to model the right behavior. Be positive: Talk about why your happiest employees love working for you. But also be frank about the realities of your workplace and the job. Explain what some candidates may find tough, what motivates people to thrive in the role despite perceived downsides, and the key elements of your corporate culture, which could be a positive for some but not right for everyone.

We recommend that hiring managers ask questions designed to help candidates lower their guards and understand whether they would be happy in the role they’re applying for. Research shows that asking direct and blunt questions is the best way to elicit honest answers.

Vincent Szwajkowski, the chief marketing officer of ArcLight Cinemas, goes so far as to ask top candidates if they would like to conduct reference checks on him. If they accept, he introduces them to two of his past direct reports — typically including one person who didn’t work out — and encourages them to ask any questions they have. “I don’t want to lose a great candidate,” Szwajkowski told us, “but I’d really hate to have to refill this position in six months because the candidate didn’t like working for me.”

There are also steps you can take to help ensure candidates are honest with you. First, understand that you might have to work to get at the full truth. Second, let them know — respectfully — that you intend to pursue references. Finally, ask probing follow-up questions, ideally preceded by a softening statement that encourages honesty — for example, “I want to be certain that we are aligned. Are you sure that you would be OK with that aspect of the role?”

Neither organizations nor employees win when the wrong people are hired. Organizations should take the lead in promoting more truth in the hiring process.

Copyright 2019 Harvard Business School Publishing Corp. Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate.

Topics: Management

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