Job Candidates lie. Employers lie. It’s a wonder anyone ever finds a job that suits them.
I’ve previously discussed lying by potential hires in a post titled “Why Job Candidates Lie.” Today I want to take up the subject of the company’s misrepresentations during the recruiting process, and give you some advice for how to deal with them.
Why do they do it?
In my experience, employers are cleverer in their deceptions than the candidates – most of them committing sins of omission, rather than delivering outright untruths. The prevailing attitude seems to be one of caveat emptor – it’s your responsibility to dig up the dirt. Don’t expect the company to volunteer anything that doesn’t cast them in the best light.
Suppose, for example, that your new prospective boss – we’ll call him Fred – has a horrible temper and is known to scream at his subordinates on a regular basis. Think anyone will volunteer that information during the interview process?
In fact, even if you ask probing questions on the subject (such as: What is Fred’s management style? Or even: Does Fred lose his temper?), you’re likely to get a tepid, misleading response.
“Fred is a brilliant, insightful manager, but sometimes he can be a little… challenging. You’ll learn a lot from him if you accept the position.” Yeah, I can almost hear the words. And you can bet you’ll learn a lot, starting with how to avoid the jerk.
About all you can glean from that answer is that there might something about Fred you won’t like. The nature and magnitude of Fred’s defects, however, will likely remain undiscovered until you join up.
If you ask Fred the same question, you’re likely to only learn how self-aware he is (or isn’t, which is the more common situation). Unfortunately, that knowledge is still likely to come only after the fact.
Whenever you hear that someone is “complicated,” “challenging,” “brilliant but…” or similar descriptions, you can bet there’s a major problem of some kind. Asking additional, probing questions during the interview, however, isn’t likely to get you far.
Should one give up on the employer just because you turn up this kind of red flag? Possibly, but if you do, you might be discarding a perfectly acceptable employer over a suspicion that was ill-founded. Maybe “a little… challenging” means Fred is a stickler for the rules. Or maybe it means he goes in his office and cries daily.
Maybe you can live with that.
Why do employers engage in this game? Because they want the best candidates. Even if they don’t love their new job. Even if they won’t stick around forever. Even if they don’t deserve the candidate. It isn’t in the company’s interests to volunteer anything that might scare away a potentially great new hire.
Getting one thing right
When changing jobs, employees usually have the thing(s) they disliked the most in their last position firmly front and center in their minds when they go into interviews.
The candidates – fixated as they are on this singular issue – can usually manage to avoid the same pitfall with their new employer.
When leaving one job, I desperately wanted to avoid harsh, confrontational review meetings. I found an employer that didn’t have them. Unfortunately, my new boss gave virtually no direct feedback, which I also grew to deeply dislike. In a sense, I traded one set of undesirable characteristics for another.
The same thing happened when I left that job, trading the lack of feedback for micromanagement and decision flip-flops.
Running the traps
The point is: The candidate is likely to only be able to detect a limited number of negative characteristics during the interview process. What you will hate in the new position is likely well known and understood within the company, but unless you are making a determined effort to uncover those behaviors, norms, and practices, you probably won’t be successful.
Fortunately, there is a ready source of information that you can tap into, one that can directly give you “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” Former employees.
I’ve often considered how I would react if a candidate asked to see my company’s references. While employers regularly demand a list of people to vouch for the candidate, they seem to think the candidate has to figure out the company based solely on what the company wants to tell them.
Wouldn’t it be cool if we could demand the same kind of references from our prospective employers?
I’m not going to hold my breath on that one. But you can find your own references – through social media and other contacts.
Former employees are your best source of information. I can count a few instances where I’ve been contacted by candidates about one of my previous employers, but far too few for this to be common practice. Since I now owe nothing to the company, I am generally willing to provide details on how things work at the company and what to expect. Sometimes I even knew the styles and personalities of the individuals the candidate is going to work around.
At least those potential employees went into the job (assuming they still accepted the offer) with their eyes wide open.
Finding former employees is relatively easy these days. You can start with your contacts on LinkedIn – asking them if they know anyone that worked for Company X. Usually, you can find someone that will offer an introduction. If you can’t find anyone this way, do a search on LinkedIn and make a blind approach. It may feel a little awkward, but it is definitely worth it.
Which brings me to another point – Get yourself on LinkedIn and other social media sites. Maintaining your connection to people is likely to pay off at some point, and even if it doesn’t being on social media still puts you in a position to help others. Take the time, create a profile, and connect to your current and former associates.
Once you’ve found a contact, you can ask them to help you find others. Ideally, you want to talk to people that have been in the job for which you are interviewing, or people that have worked directly for your new boss (these are your most likely points of vulnerability when accepting the new position). Ask open-ended questions like: What made you the most uncomfortable in this job? What did you like least about the boss?
Then listen carefully to the answers and decide if you can stomach what is revealed.
Potential employers regularly omit and skirt facts that are critical to your decision to join their organization. While it isn’t always easy, you need to conduct your own independent investigation into the firm by tapping into sources that are no longer under their direct influence. Only by doing this will you have adequate information to decide if the job is right for you. Anything less is a roll of the dice, and has a high potential to simply trade one set of undesirable characteristics for another. 1.2
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- Fast, Good, or Cheap – Pick Two
- They Don’t Call it “The Bleeding Edge” for Nothing
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Non-Fiction: NAVIGATING CORPORATE POLITICS
This is the cover of PURSUING OTHER OPPORTUNITIES, released in April, 2014. This story marks the return of LEVERAGE characters Mark Carson and Cathy Chin, now going by the name of Matt and Sandy Lively and on the run from the FBI. The pair are working for a remote British Columbia lodge specializing in Corporate adventure/retreats for senior executives. When the Redhouse Consulting retreat goes horribly wrong, Matt finds himself pursuing kidnappers through the wilderness, while Sandy simultaneously tries to fend off an inquisitive police detective and an aggressive lodge owner.
My novels are based on extensions of 27 years of personal experience as a senior manager in public corporations