For the employer, the pressure is on to find the “best talent,” but it’s flat-out hard to tell who’s the best during interviews. Even then, there’s the risk that those “best” people won’t like our culture and leave quite quickly, and that’s expensive for the organization.
On the candidate side, you’re trying to make a big decision about where you’re going to work for potentially a long time, yet you have very little information to go on about what it’s truly like to work there.
It’s a big decision, yet neither side really seems to have the information they need to make a good decision. Why is that?
Because, in short, the hiring process is fundamentally dishonest. I don’t mean recruiters and candidates are lying outright, though obviously that does happen. I mean the entire system is built on the premise that neither side in the process is going to speak the whole truth.
On the employee side, I obviously want the job, so it is in my interest to present a picture of myself that best matches what the employer wants to see. Notice that I’m not presenting the picture of myself that reflects my own greatest strengths, potential or aspirations in an authentic way — instead, I am telling the employer what they want to hear. It is in my interest to do so.
And on the employer side, I’m in the middle of a “war” for talent, so I’m not about to tell the whole truth of what it’s like to work here. I’ll stress how great our culture is, and share our cool core values (Integrity! Excellence! Fun! Work-life-balance!). To get the best talent to say yes, I’m going to present an attractive picture, even if that means leaving out a lot. It is in my interest to do so.
It is in all of our interests to not speak the truth. And we’re frustrated with the process. Imagine that.
So how do we break this pattern? I’ve seen some movement on getting more truth from the candidates, and it’s based on changing the process to be more about showing, rather than telling. Taking personality or other assessments to get a sense of how someone will fit inside an organization is one step, and I’m seeing more companies introduce behavior-based components to the hiring process, even paying people to work for a day or a few months before they are hired full-time. Actions speak louder than words.
But what are we doing on the employer side? Why are we not working harder to present a more holistic and authentic picture of what it’s like to work at our organizations? The short answer here is kind of depressing: Because most employers don’t even know what their culture is. They know what their recruiting collateral says their culture is, and they know about all of their effort to create a culture the literature says you should have, but they don’t know what it’s really like to work there. They don’t know the actual genetic code that determines what employees will, in fact, experience when they work there.
Figuring that out is just the first step.
You also have to start connecting your authentic culture to what drives your success. For example, let’s say you dig into your culture and realize yours is a fairly hierarchical place. Running things up the chain and getting approval and not messing in other department’s areas are all highly valued inside your culture. This might concern you when it comes to hiring — after all, command and control is clearly “old school” in today’s environment, and culture cool kids like Zappos are instituting systems of self-management, like Holacracy.
Maybe you need to hide your command-and-control culture in the hiring process, right? Well, here’s the catch: What if the way you emphasize hierarchy actually drives your success in your unique environment? If you got clear on that, it would be smarter for you to actually emphasize the hierarchical nature of your culture. Then, you could attract the people who want that, people who know they will thrive in that environment. Suddenly, you’re hiring people who naturally connect to what you already know drives your success. That’s cultural fit, and it’s pretty powerful.
But it starts with knowing what is, and then connecting that to what drives your success — two steps most organizations today are ignoring — just not the ones who are winning the war for talent.