Injecting Radical Transparency Into the Hiring Process

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Jun 1, 2022

The hiring process is more like a poker game than a grown-up conversation. It’s all there: Employers and candidates keep their cards close to their chests, they’re careful not to reveal too much about their actual expectations or limitations, and people are guarded for fear of raising a red flag. Both sides also do a game of bluff (“We have a very competitive compensation package” and “I love working from the office”). All you’d need is a green felt table and the look would be complete.

But is this really what we should all be aiming for?

Dishonestly by omission might feel like a necessary evil, but the short-term win it gives can create long-term consequences. When the rose-tinting fades, the reality of pay, benefits, expectations, and work culture can trigger new hires to reevaluate their position. Indeed, missed expectations drive 80% of new employees to rationalize quitting a job within six months.

It’s a game where it seems everyone loses. Employees go back on the job market disillusioned. Recruiters lose their commission. Meanwhile, employers struggle with understaffing and lose productivity.

Surely, it’s time to find a better game.

Honesty Is the Best Policy

Employers need to rethink how they qualify prospective talent. This starts with empowering hiring teams to be honest. 

Transparency has become something of a watchword in the current world of work, a world that places increasingly heavy emphasis on employee experience as a competitive advantage. Data shows 87% of employees expect transparency from a future employer, while 51% would consider jumping to an employer that was more transparent about pay. For employers scrambling for competitive advantage in a candidate’s market, transparency adds much but costs little.

Transparency must start with recruiters though.

While recruiters neither hire nor train candidates, they are the first touchpoint between employer and employee. They set the tone. And so to set a tone a trust, it’s important to:

  • Take an outbound approach to recruiting. This entails taking proactive steps to find talent that aligns with open jobs — rather than stringing candidates along and keeping them “warm” while they wait for the right opportunity.
  • Be upfront about job conditions. Promote an employer’s perks but also be transparent about potentially negative aspects like understaffed departments, internal friction, and looming acquisitions.
  • Be honest about expectations. No new hire should have to find out about shifts in departmental focus or toxic cultures till after they’ve signed the contract.

Radical Transparency

Honesty is the best policy, but it can be difficult to implement transparency when it rubs up against many professional and cultural norms, especially during the hiring process. But it is doable. Here are a few tips:

Transparency starts with culture. If you want to make transparency a leading virtue, create a company culture that encourages honesty. Recruiters often have their finger on an organization’s pulse. They have the scoop, and they have a great position from which to have the kinds of candid conversations that win over best-fit talent. 

Hiring teams can also bring a gritty, in-the-trenches realism to later interviews. Having a “this is what it’s really like” frankness may be a radical departure from the status quo, but it’s often a breath of fresh air for the wary candidate. It also gives the employer the opportunity to set the tone for a trusting relationship. People like those they can trust. 

Sure, some recruiters will fear repercussions about sharing too much information and being too open — which is why it’s up to leaders to set an example by modeling honest conversations. Stage mock interviews and ask hard questions. Create internal discussions around transparency. Make organizational challenges an open conversation.

Knowledge is power. If you want recruiters and hiring teams to be transparent, give them the resources they need to be so. Recruiters and hiring teams need a detailed understanding of organizational best practices, company culture, team or department dynamics, compensation and benefits packages, as well as what kind of career development opportunities candidates can anticipate. They should also understand — and be at liberty to communicate — why there is an opening in the first place. 

Essentially, recruiters must become culture experts, and many will need content and resources to make that happen. This is especially important for outsourced recruiters who may not be as familiar with internal dynamics. 

In general, the more a recruiter knows, the better they’ll be able to evaluate a candidate’s fit. The more a candidate knows, the more comfortable they’ll be to commit.

Operationalize transparency. The only way to foster transparency is by making honesty pay. For example, staffing firms generally incentivize with commissions at the point of hire. Instead, evaluate and compensate recruiters six months after a candidate is placed, or based on candidate tenure or performance, shifting the focus from short-term gains to long-term sustainability. 

Incentivize hiring teams by pairing new-hire performance bonuses and anniversary awards with rewards and recognition for the staff who vetted them. At a broader organizational level, acknowledge team members who are willing to have difficult conversations about internal practices and culture. Follow up on eNPS reports and one-on-one meetings. Repay openness with more openness.

Keeping It Real

If radical transparency seems intimidating or overwhelming, that’s because it certainly can be both. It’s difficult to learn a new game. But as the last several years have shown us, we all need to adapt or die.

The hard edge here is that if you and your team aren’t willing to acknowledge and work on what’s wrong with your organization, you can’t expect a new hire to reconcile it. No job is perfect, so own it.

Setting that tone and changing the game with radical transparency can have similarly radical internal and external impacts. Honesty about table stakes like job descriptions, pay rates, and working conditions create the room for more meaningful conversations about employee experience, company culture, and shifting expectations about individual and collective relationships to work.

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