Do We Need a “Lemon Law” in Recruiting?

I remember when I bought my dream car. Seriously. It was amazing. I was so happy and proud of myself. It’s what I always wanted, at least for the most part. I am more of a two-seater, but as a new-enough mom, that wasn’t going to fly. 

So, more accurately: I remember when I bought my dream car brand. It felt like landing an amazing job at your dream brand company and knowing that you had achieved something. 

About three months later, the car started having problems. Like, major problems. Like the engine-would-just-stop problems. So for the next nine months, the car was in the shop all the time. It was clear that it was a lemon. 

Oddly enough, this experience came on the heels of me quitting my job at a well-regarded company. I left because I was moving. (And I do love moving. I’ve moved more than 7,500 miles with my husband in my adult life. I like to see new things. One of our moves took us back to Columbus, Ohio. From Seattle. You heard that right. I moved from Seattle to Columbus. Judge away.) To move with relative ease, you need to find a job in the new city. 

And that is how my perfect candidate experience started. 

I started my search by researching best places to work in my new location, and a specific employer kept coming up. So I went to its careers website. It was simple, content-rich, and easy to navigate. I also reached out to people on LinkedIn and talked to them about the company and what it was like to work there. 

What’s more, the application was simple, and the response I got was friendly. The recruiter helped prep me for the in-person interview, which was a seven-hour marathon, but it was well-organized and orchestrated, and people were kind. There were plenty of breaks and each interviewer asked if I needed anything before I started. It was also clear that every single person had obviously read my resume, my LinkedIn profile. As a result, they asked really great questions — and actually listened to my answers.

The offer was spot on, relocation was generous, and my first day and subsequent onboarding were well-planned and elegantly done. 

Nine months later, I quit.

Similar to my car, I noticed things were not right in the first three months. What they sold me in the candidate experience was not my employee experience. Not. At. All. 

Now, I had been in recruitment marketing for about 10 years leading up to this perfect candidate experience. So I felt like an idiot because I felt like I should’ve known better. I felt like I didn’t ask the right questions when I did my digging, and maybe I didn’t. Honestly, I was embarrassed that my B.S. meter wasn’t off the charts. I also knew that leaving after nine months had consequences — namely, being labeled a job-hopper. 

And now, I will get on my soapbox for a moment: Up until this move, I had moved jobs every few years and felt that another short stint at a company would come with additional stigma. That’s because I know that we frown on job-hoppers. I know we think they can’t commit. We view them as less than, as people who will always jump for a better opportunity. We view them as impetuous and rash. We think they’re disloyal. Frankly, we judge. 

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And I know it’s our job to judge in many respects. But when it comes to job-hoppers, we may not be looking at the full picture. There are a litany of reasons why people leave jobs quickly, not all of them a ding on candidates. “Job-hoppers” is a terrible term, one that we have created to label people who could be in high demand, or people who have been assigned a bad manager from the start, or people who discover that the candidate experience and the employee experience do not line up.

I would argue that we created job-hoppers by creating bad candidate or employee experiences. When we undervalue our talent, they leave. If we undervalue them early, they leave early. And when they do, we potentially poison the well with the “job-hopper” label.

Here’s the problem our field has created: over-promising in the candidate experience and under-delivering in the employee experience — and then deciding that it was the candidate/employee who should pay the price by labeling them a job-hopper. This is absolutely unfair. It is also absolutely why candidates do not trust us. 

With my car, I at least got my money back. I could walk away from it despite the inconvenience of losing only some time. But in the job world, my reputation as a job-seeker took a hit. I was now viewed as a job-hopper. I would get a lot of questions about why I was at my role for only nine months? To which I would respond that the company was not a culture fit.

Of course, in the world of work, there is no Lemon Law. But maybe there should be. 

While a work Lemon Law would be a challenge to enforce, 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. 

Is my tongue firmly planted in my cheek? Yes, 100%. But the point remains: We need to be more honest. We need to be more clear. We need to be more transparent. Because when someone leaves, it’s expensive to the company and the employee’s reputation. 

Tracey Parsons: At every intersection of the talent revolution, she seized opportunities to push innovation and be the change agent. She is the president at Parsons Strategic Consulting, a consultancy at the intersection of employer brand, recruitment marketing, and systems to create delight for talent and brands. She has extensive experience in talent strategy, social recruiting, and marketing, thought leadership, brand development, and consulting at companies like SmashFly, TMP Worldwide, and her own startup, CredHive. She’s also been a contributing writer at ERE, SmashFly, Work it Daily, and Social Media Explorer.

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