Article main image
Jun 30, 2022

The more I think about it, the more I come to the conclusion that the hiring process is more like a poker game than a grown-up conversation. It’s all there: Employers and candidates keep their cards close to their chests; everyone’s being careful to not reveal too much about their actual expectations or limitations; people are guarded for fear of raising a red flag. Both sides also do a game of bluff [“We have a very competitive compensation package,” and “I love working from the office,”]. All you’d need is a green, felt table, and the look would be complete.

But is this really what we should all be aiming for?

Dishonestly by omission might feel like a necessary evil, but the short-term win it gives can create long-term consequences. When the rose-tinting fades, the reality of pay, benefits, expectations, and work culture can trigger new hires to reevaluate their position. Indeed, missed expectations drive 80% of new employees to rationalize quitting a job within six months.

It’s a game where, it seems, everyone loses. The employee goes back on the job market disillusioned. Recruiters lose their commission. Meanwhile, dedicated employers struggle with under staffing lose productivity.

Surely it’s time to find a better game.

Honesty is the best policy

To my mind, employers need to rethink how they qualify prospective talent.

This starts with empowering hiring teams to be honest. Transparency has become something of a watchword in the current world of work, a world that places increasingly heavy emphasis on employee experience as a competitive advantage. Data shows 87 of employees expect transparency from a future employer, while 51% would consider jumping to an employer that was more transparent about pay. For employers scrambling for competitive advantage in a candidate’s market, transparency adds much but costs little.

Transparency must start with recruiters though.

While recruiters neither hire nor train candidates, they are the first touch point between employer and employee. They set the tone.

Recruiters can set a tone of trust by:

  • Taking an outbound approach to recruiting: This is where they take proactive steps to find talent that aligns with open jobs. They don’t string candidates along and keeping them “warm” while they wait for the right opportunity.
  • Being upfront about job conditions: This is where they promote an employer’s perks but are also transparent about potentially negative aspects like understaffed departments, internal friction, and looming acquisitions.
  • Being honest about expectations: This is where people don’t find out about shifts departmental focus or toxic cultures till after they’ve signed the contract.

Radical transparency

While honesty is the best policy, that doesn’t make it easy. It’s difficult to implement transparency when it rubs up against many professional and cultural norms, especially during the hiring process.

But it is doable. Here are a few tips:

* Transparency starts with culture: If you want to make transparency a leading virtue, create a company culture that encourages honesty. Recruiters, internal or external, often have their finger on an organization’s pulse. They have the scoop, and have a great position from which to have the kinds of candid conversations that win over best-fit talent. Hiring teams can also bring a gritty, in-the-trenches realism to later interviews. Having a “this is what it’s really like” frankness is a radical departure but it’s often a breath of fresh air for the wary candidate. It also gives the employer the opportunity to set the tone for a trusting relationship. People like those they can trust. For recruiters who fear repercussions about sharing too much information and being too open, HRDs need to break this culture and create a new one. Leaders can set an example by modeling honest conversations. Stage mock interviews and ask hard questions. Create internal discussions around transparency. Make organizational challenges an open conversation.

* Knowledge is power: If you want recruiters and hiring teams to be transparent, give them the resources they need to be-so. Recruiters and hiring teams need a detailed understanding of organizational best practices, company culture, team or department dynamics, compensation and benefits packages, as well as what kind of career development opportunities candidates can anticipate. They should also understand – and be at liberty to communicate – why there is an opening in the first place. Hiring managers need to make recruiters and hiring teams internal content and culture experts. This is especially important for outsourced recruiters who may not be as familiar with internal dynamics. In general, the more a recruiter knows, the better they’ll be able to evaluate a candidate’s fit. The more a candidate knows, the more comfortable they’ll be to commit.

* Make transparency a win condition: The only way to foster transparency is by making honesty pay. For example, staffing firms generally incentivize with commissions at the point of hire. Instead, evaluate and compensate recruiters six months after a candidate is placed, or based on candidate tenure or performance, shifting the focus from short-term gains to long-term sustainability. Incentivize hiring teams by pairing new-hire performance bonuses and anniversary awards with rewards and recognition for the staff who vetted them. At a broader organizational level, acknowledge team members who are willing to have difficult conversations about internal practices and culture. Follow up on eNPS reports and one-on-one meetings. Repay openness with openness.

Keeping it real

If radical transparency seems intimidating or overwhelming, that’s because it certainly can be both. It’s difficult to learn a new game. But, as the last several years have shown us, we all need to adapt or die.

The hard edge here is that if you and your team aren’t willing to acknowledge and work on what’s wrong with your organization, you can’t expect a new hire to reconcile it. No job is perfect, so own it.

Setting that tone and changing the game with radical transparency can have similarly radical internal and external impacts. Honesty about table stakes like job descriptions, pay rates, and working conditions create the room for more meaningful conversations about employee experience, company culture, and shifting expectations about individual and collective relationships to work.