Job Interview

What Does a 'Realistic Job Preview' Entail?

What Does a 'Realistic Job Preview' Entail?
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An associate minister we knew was fired after only two years on the job. Reason: She and the senior pastor at that church had never been on the same page. The associate had been told that she would be in charge of the youth program. However, the senior pastor countermanded most of the associate’s decisions, causing hard feelings and a struggle for power. 

Related: 10 Toxic Words You Must Not Say in a Job Interview

A bookkeeper we also knew quit after only three weeks on the job. She said that the company’s culture and her working conditions had not been what she expected.

A plumber at a business we're acquainted with sold that business to a maintenance company and became an employee. But after his yearlong contract expired, he resigned. He had thought running the plumbing division would be akin to running the company.

All three situations have two things in common. First, these employees were hiring mistakes that cost their small organizations money and heartache. And, second, the organizations could have prevented these bad hires with a realistic job preview.

What's that mean? A realistic job preview implies a tool that organizations can use to convey both the positive and negative aspects of a job. For instance, when one of us -- Polly -- used to work in manufacturing, she would take prospective hires into the plant to smell the odors and experience the heat or cold to get a true picture of the working environment. She would have candidates load 20-pound boxes on pallets for 15 minutes, to experience that task, too. Afterward, she would explain to the candidates that the job entailed stacking boxes for several hours each day. Applicants uninterested in that kind of work would self-select-out at that time.

Of course a realistic interview isn’t all about the negative. A job preview also includes explaining what is great about your organization, what makes you different or special and what benefits you offer. Our own tiny organization has what we lovingly refer to as "Beer Friday." On Fridays and the days before holidays, we stop work early. We then spend the last hours of the work week 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 about consulting in particular. And that teaching can continue over beer, because that's how our culture operates.

In the above examples, the associate minister we describe didn’t understand the true job requirements. This church had a strong senior minister who wanted things done in a particular way. The search committee should have explained to the candidate that her job would be doing what the senior pastor instructed -- that the two would not have a collegial relationship and be co-equals.

The committee members should have explained that theirs was a great church, financially strong, growing and healthy, with an involved congregation because of the leadership of the senior pastor. The associate could have learned a lot from this leadership. However, there would be no question as to who was in charge. Given that reality check, the relationship might have progressed differently.

The bookkeeper, meanwhile, felt that she had been deceived. During the interview process, the owner described a situation that was quite different from the actual one. For instance, the books were in much worse shape than the owner had 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.

Related: The One Question That Makes or Breaks a Job Interview

Prior to her first day on the job, the new bookkeeper also 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, however, the owner had a difficult time letting go of making all the decisions. The bookkeeper left, in part, because her expectations had been shattered. She said that she might have taken the job just for the challenge had she known the truth. Unfortunately, however, she no longer trusted the owner to be honest and therefore couldn’t work for him.

The plumber had a very different story: He had owned his business for more than 20 years; he had been the boss. He and his wife had made all the decisions for their business.

Eventually, though, he sold the business because, he said, he was "tired."He was tired of the pressures and responsibilities that come with operating a small business. And he expected that he could continue to run the plumbing division of this company. He expected to have that much authority without the risk and pressures associated with running the entire business.

The trouble was, he didn’t have a realistic picture of what it would mean to report to a general manager and follow a strategy, rules and processes set by others. Once his energies returned, his need to be the boss reemerged. He began to balk at decisions 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 both employees and customers. The plumber felt that the company had misled him as to his role and responsibilities. In this situation, a realistic job preview might have uncovered information that would have quashed the sale. This would have been preferable for both parties. The maintenance company had spent a lot of money in return for little value. The plumber was stymied because of a noncompete clause in his contract.

Overall, owners, HR and hiring managers are often reticent about telling potential employees the various negative aspects of their jobs and organizations. However, in our experience, honesty is absolutely the best policy.

Even if the employee stays with your organization, shattered expectations can kill his or her motivation. All jobs and organizations have warts; don’t try to hide them.

Related: To Ace a Job Interview, Master This Type of Pitch

Instead, give a balanced profile -- a realistic job preview. Tell the truth about the negatives. Your candidate will respect you for your honesty and make the right decision for both of you.