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Realistic Job Preview: Unrealistic Expectations?

Conversations about realistic job previews are on the rise. In the past six months, I have had an unusually high number of discussions with corporate talent leaders about methods to help the candidate make a more informed decision. I have even conducted a few video interviews for this blog on the topic. Why this interest in realistic job preview? Talent teams want to address a problem realistic job preview will not solve – to stop unqualified candidates from applying, to prevent the flood of resume spam, to reduce the flow of applicants. Realistic job preview (RJP), while an essential tool in the recruiting process, will not reverse the deluge of applicants the sourcing engines have created.

Let me define so I can be realistic in offering my opinions here. Realistic Job Preview is a balanced exploration and overview of what happens on a day-to-day basis in a given job. It will present the challenges, frustrations, demands. It will offer the satisfiers, rewards, and motivators. It is a practical approach to show the job for what it is. This story can often be told in a three to five minutes video.

I made a Boat Hand job preview while at Disney to use in my presentation on Pre-employment Testing in the Experience Economy. It is very realistic but unbalanced. It only shows the repetitive and menial aspects of the job.

Many examples of job preview on career sites are equally unbalanced, showing only the glamour, the sunshine, the positive. I call this hype, not help. Most jobs just are not made that way; they have balance, so should the preview. However, even if your realistic job preview has balance, it won’t stop many people from applying.

 Barriers to Realistic Job Preview Impact

There are many reasons a realistic job preview will not make a meaningful dent in candidate flow. Maybe your company has been actively working on one or more of initiatives like these:

  • Efforts to become an employer of choice
  • Being recognized as a great place to work
  • Incentive-based referral programs
  • Marketing driven employment branding
  • Corporate citizenship and sustainability reputations

The list goes on, and on. A five-minute video will be challenged to counteract the momentum of attraction and the prospect of a job at one of the best places to work. People come to your site because you have captured a share of mind for their career aspirations, they feel they can offer you their best, they want a job, no, a career!

Corporations have invested heavily in building and projecting messages into the talent pools that attract the masses in the hope of finding the ONE. I call it blinded by star gazing. While staring at the hopeful STAR in the sky, the entire Milky Way was pouring into the top of the candidate funnel. The funnel gets clogged. A galaxy of applicants, (who, by the way, all think they are STARS) get neglected and sucked into the ATS black hole and maybe lose some of their glow from the candidate experience. Recruiting crumbles under the weight. A cry of help beams forth from the edge of the recruiting universe – STOP (the flow of unqualified candidates) PLEASE!

Someone suggests: Maybe if we tell them more accurate information about the job, and what it is like to work here, fewer people will apply. In particular, we hope it will stop those who don’t want this type of work, those who don’t have what it takes to be successful, and those who don’t fit our culture. Great concept, but it does not work very well. The two biggest reasons realistic job preview does not get much drop-off in applicant flow are a disregard for the “R” in REALISTIC job preview and the corporate marketing ego.

No Appetite and Hungry Candidates

Most companies do not have an appetite for being realistic. Here are a few real examples.

A firm had more than 70% turnover in new sales representatives in the fourth month. Many factors contribute to this, but unrealistic communications about expectations were at the core. When we came back with the script for the realistic job preview, the editorial pen struck out most of the REALISTIC message. The executives said they could not put that message out on the street. No one would want to apply.

A prominent company has over 20 testimonials on their career site that would make just about anyone who reads them wants to APPLY NOW. I have spoken with their recruiters, trainers and experienced performers. Not one of the testimonials is realistic, and by that, I mean balanced, in the information provided. Truthful? Yes indeed. This is not about deception, but the compelling success stories lack a clear line of sight to the effort it takes to achieve the success described in each scenario.

Mutual Decision Making

The fatal flaw in pursuing Realistic Job Previews is the assumption that it will impact the recruiting process in a meaningful way. Make no doubt; I am a proponent of using the principles of realistic job previews. However, it is the company that is in the decision seat. A realistic job preview is a one-way information exchange that educates the candidate. The recruiter gets no data to differentiate among those candidates left in the pipeline.

The former Ohio State University professor and Realistic Job Preview researcher Dr. John Wanous identified that indeed a realistic job preview was a useful tool to help a candidate self-select out of consideration. However, it was impacting less than 10% of candidates on the entry level, simple jobs. One of the clients is achieving similar results with a more complicated job. Realistic job previews can help a small percentage of candidates with their career choices.

Alternatively, and more valued was the realistic job preview’s impact on helping with retention. After weeks or months on the job, when the tough days show up, the new hires react with: “You told me this was part of the job, there is no bait and switch here, I will stick it through to better days.”

Realistic job previews tells you something about those who dropped off. It shows you nothing about those who remain, those who are still being drawn in by your employment brand and career prospects.

To help recruiters with their choices, the hiring decisions they make, you need to gather more useful information from candidates, better candidate data. That is the role of pre-employment assessments. Also, simulations for the pre-employment evaluation collect more data about an individual that just about any other means of candidate evaluation. That will be the topic of another article.