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Painting a Realistic Job Preview

Q. I hired a new customer service manager six months ago. Unfortunately, she just quit saying that she just couldn’t stand the stress of having to deal with upset customers. That’s part of the job. Why did she take the job if she couldn’t handle this stress?

A. Perhaps she didn’t have a complete understanding of what the job entailed. A realistic job preview is a tool organizations use to convey both the positive and negative aspects of a job. For instance, when Polly worked in manufacturing, she used to take prospective hires into the plant to smell the odors, feel the heat or cold, and get a true picture of the working environment. She would have candidates load 20-pound boxes on pallets for 15 minutes. After which, she would explain to the candidates that their job would include stacking boxes for several hours each day. Applicants not interested in the position would self-select-out at that time.

It isn’t all about the negative. Giving a realistic job preview also includes explaining what is great about your organization, what makes you different or special and what benefits you offer. Our tiny organization has what we lovingly referred to as beer-Friday. On Fridays and the day before holidays, we often stop working early. We spend the last hour of the workweek chatting over our preferred adult beverage. This is indicative of our culture. The partners spend a lot of time talking with and teaching the associates, about business in general, and consulting in particular.

You are not alone in failing to provide an accurate job preview. We ran across an example of an associate minister who didn’t understand the true job requirements. The church had a strong senior minister who wanted things done in a particular way. The search committee should have explained to the prospective candidate that her job was to do what the senior pastor instructed. Not that she would have a collegial relationship and be a co-equal with autonomous responsibility for her areas of the church. The committee should have explained that this was a great church, financially strong, growing and healthy with an involved congregation because of the leadership of the senior pastor. The associate could learn a lot from this leadership. However, there should be no question as to who was in charge. Given this reality check, she might have declined the job offer or the relationship might have progressed differently.

In another example a bookkeeper felt that she had been deceived. During the interviewing process, the owner had described a situation that was quite different from reality. For instance, the books were in much worse shape than described, the office was a mess, there were no standard processes, and the owner had failed to mention the infighting, squabbling and disrespect among current employees. Prior to her first day on the job, she didn’t understand that she would be working in a basement at a table in a kitchen. Finally, the owner had given her the idea that she would be in charge of all things financial. In reality, he had a difficult time letting go of making all of the financial decisions. She left, in part, because her expectations had been shattered. She said that she might have taken the job for the challenge if she had known the truth. Unfortunately, she no longer trusted the owner to be honest and therefore couldn’t work for him.

Finally, a plumber had owned his own business for more than 20 years. He had been the boss. He and his wife had made all the decisions for their business. He sold the business because he was tired of the pressures and responsibilities that come with operating a small business. The plumber had expected that he would be able to run the plumbing division of the company to which he sold his business. He expected to have authority and autonomy without the risk and pressures that come with owning your own business. He didn’t have a realistic picture of what it would mean to report to a general manager and have to follow a strategy, rules, and processes set by others.

Once rested, his need to be the boss redeveloped. He began to balk at decisions made by the general manager, telling the plumbing crews that they should follow his orders instead. He became disruptive in meetings and subversive in his dealings with employees and customers. The plumber felt that the company had mislead him as to his role and responsibilities. In this situation, a realistic job preview might have uncovered information that would have squashed the sale. This would have been preferable for both parties. The maintenance company spent a lot of money for little value. The plumber now faces non-complete issues.

Owners, HR and hiring managers are often reticent to tell potential employees the negative aspects of jobs and organizations because they want to fill their open position and they don’t want to discourage prospective employees. However, in our experience, honesty is absolutely the best policy. Even if the employee stays with your organization after finding out the truth about working conditions, shattered expectations kill motivation. All jobs and organizations have warts. Don’t try to hide them. Instead, give a balanced profile—a realistic job preview. Tell the truth about the negatives. They will respect you for them.

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