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Should You Warn Potential Employees?

Should You Warn Potential Employees?

Alison Green | Ask A Manager

A reader writes:

I’m finally coming to the end of my contract at an incredibly poisonous company, and I’ve been tasked to replace myself. We don’t have an HR department, and my own boss just split suddenly, leaving behind massive amounts of debt, so the parent company has tasked me to do this.

My question is, how can I explain the reality of the workplace to a new hire? I know you’re never supposed to speak negatively about past employers in professional circles, but I’d feel wrong bringing someone into this company with blinders on. The problems range from intense understaffing to interpersonal problems and poor management, which is leading most of the existing team, like myself, to leave in the next few months as our contracts end. I’ve already tried to stress the benefits by targeting new grads, as the work itself is interesting and a great opportunity for someone fresh out of school, but I worry that in a years time whoever replaces me will be cursing me, the same way I cursed the manager who lied to me about the company when I was hired.

How can I explain the huge negatives in a professional manner? I’ve already encountered questions, as trying to explain the full job description and range of tasks makes it clear that this job encompasses the work of five people, on a junior person’s salary. I’m worried if I can’t figure out how to explain the job in a way that doesn’t make it seem undoable, I’ll never find anyone to take my place, and once I do, how will I sleep at night knowing I brought some fresh-faced new employee into such a toxic situation?

You’re right to want to share the negatives with your top candidates. I’m a big believer in “truth in advertising” when hiring, both because it’s the right thing to do and because you want people to self-select out before they’re hired if those negatives are deal-breakers to them.

I was recently hiring for a position that came with a range of negatives, and I talked to all my finalists about them. (There’s no reason to get into that before you have finalists; I’d keep it on more of a need-to-know basis.) Everyone thanked me profusely for being candid, and every single one noted how unusual it was to find honest explanations of a job’s downsides in the hiring process, even though every job has downsides. And here’s what happened afterwards: One candidate emailed me the next day, thanked me for being candid, and said she’d realized that it wasn’t for her. Everyone else said they were still interested (with a couple saying they were more interested, because they appreciated being leveled with and knowing there wouldn’t be surprises).

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