How to Tell Candidates About the Downsides of a Job (and Why You Need to)

September 11, 2017

When you’re in hot pursuit of a new candidate, it's understandable to want to hold back (some) information. Short of telling any actual lies, you’re probably reluctant to reveal the absolute, entire, gory truth. Maybe the hiring manager is unusually tough, the workload is a ‘round the clock grind, or the candidate just isn’t the right fit.

But hey, it’s your job to sell the company and the role—and the last thing you want to do is scare the candidate away.

But the truth is that honesty, within reason, really is the better policy. So, how honest should you be? Below are a few considerations that can help you draw the line between giving candidates a TMI tell-all and serving up a heavily sugarcoated fantasy.

Remember that an unhappy employee isn’t a long-term employee

Brendan Browne, LinkedIn’s Head of Recruiting, admits one of his biggest rookie mistakes was pulling the wool over a candidate’s eyes. Under pressure to hire, he made an offer to someone he knew wasn’t going to be happy in the role. Months later, Brendan’s hunch came true, and he heard through the grapevine that the employee was unhappy. He never made that mistake again (read more below).

Sins of omission and little white lies might not seem all that big a deal when you need to make that hire. But they can badly erode a candidate’s trust and harm retention.

A browse through other Quora threads exhibit a lack of trust between candidates and recruiters. “Most of the lies will be (transparent) white lies,” said one user. “The company cares about work-life balance: you work for your life to make our balance sheet better,” said another.

When it comes to material lies, it’s best not to go there. A job seeker recently mentioned that she took a job because the company promised she could work from home once a week; this wasn’t true. The deception resulted in friction, distrust, and an eventual, and likely inevitable, departure.

The office is on its best behavior when candidates visit. But it’s important to question if what that good behavior is hiding would be of reasonable interest to a candidate. If yes, then think about how to present the information—reframing it in a way that might be more favorable to the role, but without altering the facts. Otherwise, you’ll have to start over, wasting company time and budget—and quickly damaging a hard-won employer brand.  

When answering candidates' questions, don’t deflect or delay

If the Quora threads tell us anything, it’s that trust isn’t a given. Recruiters bear the burden of earning it by providing information and answering questions in a straightforward way, without pivoting.

One job seeker I know asked a recruiter whether a role required weekend work. Instead of answering, the recruiter pivoted, pointing to the generous vacation policy. The candidate then did a little reading online, and found a review written by an employee that had relinquished multiple weekends at the office. Ultimately, the recruiter’s deflection was worse than a disclosure, because the candidate learned the truth anyway--and was turned off by the interviewer’s dishonesty.

As an interviewer, you’d be ticked off if the candidate deflected vital questions. It’s best to give them the same courtesy. Also, if you do deflect a question in an interview for whatever reason (e.g. because you didn’t know the answer), make sure to circle back before making your offer. Most candidates will be grateful that you were square with them, and it will go miles toward boosting your employer brand.

Unsell the role before the candidate takes the offer 

One approach is to take honesty to a whole new level and lay everything on the table. You can take this approach at any point: from a no-holds-barred job description to your first or final interaction with the candidate.

A brutally honest job posting will probably gain you fewer but more qualified candidates. Once you’re in touch, Brendan has pointed to “unselling” a job as a successful way to entice a candidate. Here’s an example of something he would say:

"This job is tough. It’s not for everyone. You’ll have to work really hard. Go out and do your research. Ask past employees what they liked and disliked, and figure out if the company fits your needs."

This approach, with its take-it-or-leave-it implications, shifts the responsibility for due diligence cleanly to your candidate. Because you’re not trying to ‘push’ anything, it gains rapid trust—and lets you off the hook for less-appealing job aspects you might have wondered whether or not to disclose.

The bond between employer and employee might not be sacred. But it’s still a bond, necessitating trust, honor, partnership, and integrity. Break it, and the impact will be sorely felt on both sides.

*Image by Bill Dimmick

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