Selling Jobs With Honesty ( A Radical Suggestion, I Know ...)

The best person to sell a new job to a candidate is the one who is actually doing the job right now. Selling by brochure, by company values, or by marketing material is simply less effective.

Instinctively we all agree with this, but how do we know it is true?. Surely there is value to selling the company hard, and creating some excitement about the position. Well, there is actual research to back the idea that an honest approach is the best approach.

The psychological concept that underlies this is Affective Forecasting. It says that we are generally very bad at predicting our future emotional states. We tend on average to overestimate how bad we would feel if something bad, like a job loss, were to actually happen, and also how good we would feel if something good happened, like getting a great job.

The same goes for the perception of the job at interview. Hiring managers with a candidate in front of them will often drag out the company brochure, go into selling mode, and deliver up the line about ‘People are our most important asset!’. They do this in the belief that it creates excitement, builds momentum, and sells the job to the candidate.

To an extent it does, but the affective forecasting notion turns this on its head. It says that selling-by-dream encourages the interviewee to simulate an imaginary world in which they are very successful on the job.

This kind of personal simulation is more than likely going to be highly inaccurate, not only because of our tendency to exaggerate the good, but also because the focus is entirely on a well-written brochure that sells the company hard. Expectations will be raised beyond the ability of the company to deliver, and the interviewer will have set the stage for the employee’s subsequent disappointment.

On the other hand, if someone in the company gives the candidate an accurate description of their future daily work, including all the challenges, they are much more likely buy into the real job because their imagination is not running freely. The description is based on the real world, and no fantasy element is involved.

It works well because the person, or manager, giving the description is likely to be similar to the candidate. If the candidate is a finance professional then the interviewer is going to be the Finance Manager. So the candidate is likely to feel that if interviewer likes the job, then he will too, because their values and business approaches are likely to be similar to each other. The same applies to hiring engineers, production staff, or marketing professionals.

The Downsides

In the case of outcomes that are very negative for us, affective forecasting is a good illustration of the idea that it is always darkest before the dawn

The doom and gloom in US and European markets has seeped into China, and a there is a growing unease in the working population. This unease is justified as export-dependent countries are going to be hammered in 2009. In low technology industries they already have.

Affective forecasting tells us that the gradual realization that China also faces an economic crisis will cause the population to overestimate its duration. They will slow, or stop, their spending, and extend the duration of the crisis. The fact that the information has been held back means that people in China are getting all the bad news in a more compressed time-frame. The shock is that much greater. The light at the end of the tunnel simply cannot be seen.

Clearly you have a recipe for lower company morale, and for most of us it’s here already.

The solution is a more honest, more detailed appraisal of the reality on the ground. China is in a better position than most countries, with huge financial reserves to spend on job-creating infrastructure. Companies here are necessarily in a better position too.

For overseas countries, the worst has already happened for many people, and for the rest of the population in those countries we can see that most of the elements of the solution are already in place; in the US anyway.

People overseas have already slowed spending, already lost their homes, already lost their jobs. They are hunkering down for tough times ahead. Meanwhile, governments around the world have lowered taxes, increased infrastructure spending, and lowered interest rates. Now we suffer through the next year as these measures take effect, and the slack in the economy is taken up.

Affective forecasting is useful for companies because it confirms that an honest appraisal of the current situation is the best way to maintain morale. More importantly, it implies that staff will suffer less if they know what it is that they should do to solve the company’s crisis ie. their personal contribution.

Tell your staff how it is, but be sure to tell them how the company plans to get out of the crisis, and what each person’s contribution will be.

This is the light at the end of the tunnel.

Views: 61

Comment by John G. Self on December 30, 2008 at 10:12am
Our Firm is involved in recruiting leadership teams for turnaround situations in addition to our normal search practice of C-suit and executive search. Rarely do we have the benefit of getting the person in the job to sell the job. Therefore we have had to rely on a more definitive Position Prospectus, which is a comprhensive anlysis of the position -- from selection criteria, hurdles to success and performance deliverables. We also detail about the organization's cultural profile and how decisions are made. We dig into the details and share the good, the bad and the ugly with the candidate, sometimes to the chagrin of the clients.

Why? Because our research shows that when candidates fail it is not because they lacked the experience or the credentials. The two most common reasons are cultural fit and/or lack of understandfing of what the "true" expectations were. The average retained firm will prepare a document that is 6 to 12 pages long, frequently double spaced. Those documents offer only the basic essentials and sometimes gloss over potentially nasty challenges for the incoming leader. Our Position Prospectuses average 24 pages, single spaced, and the longest – for a CEO search in a turnaround situation – was 68 pages.

Candidates love the detail. Leaders want to know what they are getting themselves in for. This is the perspective from a retained firm.
Comment by Shawn Lacagnina on January 3, 2009 at 8:37pm
Somewhere I read "Let your yes be yes and your no be no." Pretty sound message.

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