It was exciting. I was looking for a new job, and I started having conversations with an executive at a successful company. We talked about how the organization was growing, and that led to discussions about how I might fit into their workforce.
Given my experience and unique background, he said that I could start out by learning the business for a while. Then, I’d be quickly promoted into a senior-level role in which I’d be able to use my expertise.
It sounded like a wonderful opportunity, so I uprooted my life and my family, moved to the city where the company is located and started work.
This was how a conversation I had recently with a friend began. We hadn’t seen each other in quite a while, so we spent time catching up. This particular friend has a very interesting background and a track record of success in tough jobs. Naturally, I was curious to hear more about how his recent job transition was going.
He went on.
After the first week, I could tell I’d made a serious mistake. I was being treated like an entry-level employee, and it became apparent that the CEO hadn’t told anyone about his plan for my career path—the one he had promised to me.
The other employees viewed me with some suspicion, it seemed, and no one was willing to reach out proactively to help me get oriented.
After pushing on for a few months, I knew it was time to move on. So I did.
What my friend experienced is a bit of an extreme example of a contract breach. Now, it wasn’t a violation of a written contract, but it was a clear, disturbing violation of a psychological contract.
This is important because it’s a great way to make sure that your new employees quit shortly after they start.
Let’s start from the beginning.
From the earliest stages of the recruiting process, people form an idea of what it might be like to work in your organization. They begin to form a perception about the terms and conditions of potential employment, and those perceptions become clearer as they interact with recruiters, hiring managers and others in the organization.
In my friend’s case, he had a clear idea about what his new job would look like. And those perceptions were formed based upon conversations with a leader at the very top of the organization. So he trusted those perceptions.
And he was let down. Hard.
His psychological contract—the terms and conditions pertaining to what he expected his job to entail—was violated. And that, from his account, felt like a betrayal. It led to him withdrawing from the organization quickly, culminating with his resignation.
This story is tragic for two reasons.
First, it’s not uncommon. Most people have examples of times in which they were told one thing about the job during the recruitment phase and experienced something rather different once they were hired. It doesn’t feel good.
Second, it’s mostly preventable. The key is to infuse the recruiting process with a realistic job preview. That is, it’s important to ensure that a job candidate understands what the job will actually entail—both the good and the bad. That way, the people you hire will have a higher probability of forming an accurate psychological contract, one that’s not as likely to be shattered post-hire.
Sometimes, recruiters and executives shy away from sharing information or experiences that may suggest anything other than “puppies and rainbows” to candidates regarding job opportunities. It’s even, I think, somewhat natural for people to talk more about the positive aspects of their job or organization when recruiting others because we want to see ourselves and the choices we made in our careers in a positive light.
But job candidates, if hired, will certainly find out the bad parts of the organization or the job itself. If they’ve had at least some experience in the workforce, they’re even likely to expect it. No job is perfectly joyful all of the time.
My hope, therefore, is that people talking with potential and actual job candidates consider strongly the concept of the realistic job preview. If they do, they’re likely to hire people who will perform well and stick around. If they don’t, they’re likely to hire people who will have their hopes and dreams either smashed quickly (like in the case of my friend) or slowly but surely eroded away.
For job seekers, be careful. Seek and value the realistic job preview. When discussing potential opportunities with a friend, ask him or her to play the devil’s advocate and try to point out what might not be so great about what you’re considering. And keep in mind that no job is perfect.
The bottom line is that no one likes to be deceived.
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