Recruiting’s Lack of Truth in Advertising

Is it time for a 'lemon law' in recruiting? Three years ago, I proposed this idea to spark a conversation about truth in advertising in recruitment marketing and employer branding.

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Mar 13, 2024

Three years ago, I wrote an article asking, “Do we need a ‘lemon Law’ in recruiting?

“While a work lemon law would be a challenge to enforce,” I said, “what if candidates could prove that what they were being sold in the recruiting process was not what the work environment was really like? What if we were legally bound to pay that candidate a year’s salary for inaccurate branding? Would this work? Maybe it would. Maybe we would spend more time painting an honest picture of the work and the team.”

I was hoping to start a bigger conversation about truth in advertising in recruitment marketing and employer branding. That didn’t happen. It feels like this industry is addicted to the status quo. Despite the problems created by how we recruit, we refuse to change.

Why do I believe this?

First, we have taken something relatively simple and complicated it beyond belief.

Second, we create and distribute friction in all the wrong places to “fix it” when honesty and differentiation would do the trick.

Third, there is no incentive to make things better.

Let’s dig deeper. When I first proposed the Lemon Law idea in 2021, it was tongue firmly in cheek, and it was for the three reasons listed above. Because I know nothing makes organizations change, not even financial implications.

Meanwhile, let’s talk about simplicity. I know our jobs are complex. Hiring has become incredibly difficult over the last several decades. Technology was supposed to make things easier, but it’s done the opposite. Our tech stacks are riddled with technical debt, with many systems running on 20-plus-year-old legacy code.

What was once a simple “help wanted” sign on a blacksmith and a hire from the neighbor kid who was interested in learning a skill is now workflow-laden requisition creation with layer upon layer of approval, a demand for hundreds of applications, and maybe a hire at the end of a few months.

Once we get that req approved, it goes out to billions of people with a job description that initially screens everyone in and no one out. It oversells, is generic, and reads like a list of impossible skill combinations. Essentially, your hiring manager wants to see hundreds of applications, so you make the post appealing to the masses…only to reject 99% of them.

This scenario has created screener questions, logins, and ATS hoops to jump through because we had too many bad applications. Instead of reflecting on our roles in TA in garnering too many bad applications, we made things more complicated for the candidate.

“Upload your resume and then copy and paste the contents of said resume” is not how you solve the problem of too many bad candidates. You should not be appealing to everyone but to the people who will be great in the job.

But there is no incentive to make things better.

If we did have a lemon law in recruiting, we would have to reflect on our role in the poor candidate experience and get crystal clear on exactly the skills and characteristics of the people who will thrive in roles.

We need more truth in advertising when it comes to jobs. We need to be more honest and transparent. We do not need to oversell. The truth is that we cannot keep doing things the way we keep doing them. We are in an unsustainable model.

But again, there are zero consequences for this. It will continue because we are addicted to the status quo.

When I posted the lemon-law question to my LinkedIn community, there were some really fab suggestions. Here are a couple of them:

Tisha Leslie points out that new-hire surveys can include the question, “My experience has matched my expectations,” to have data to inform marketing. Additionally, when a hiring manager sets up the interview loop, they can include the things to be honest and upfront about (brand realities!), or the recruiter can add this to the hiring brief/intake doc.

Leslie also says that if you want employees to leave Glassdoor reviews, encourage honesty vs. perfect reviews (which aren’t believable or helpful).

Allison Kruse says that in addition to Leslie’s question above about expectations, her company asks other questions such as: “Before joining, what were your perceptions of Baxter?” “Now that you are an employee, what are your perceptions of Baxter?”

If there is a mismatch, Kruse explains that they can “identify opportunities to guide recruiters and hiring teams to provide a candid description of our EVP for that particular team. Something’s off, and we will resolve it. We know it is much better for someone who isn’t going to thrive here to opt out early in the process to save everyone time and energy! And every person deserves honesty. We’re not selling gadgets and gizmos. These are people’s careers.”

It’s past time to change. We cannot afford to continue down this path.

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