What Does the Applicant Expect from the Organization?

Asking the right questions during the interview process

By Matthew W. Burr, SHRM-SCP October 15, 2020
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What Does the Applicant Expect from the Organization?

​On the third day of class at the college where I teach Principles of Management to freshmen and Organizational Behavior to juniors and seniors, I asked my students this: "What do you expect from me as the professor? What are your expectations of me throughout the semester?" I have never asked any of my classes these questions, but I was not surprised by some of the answers: fairness, consistency, open communication, accountability, utilizing my network for internships and jobs. 

As I reflected on the exchange, I thought: Why aren't organizations and applicants asking similarly simple questions during the interview process? The information is critical to the recruitment and retention of top talent. Are we fearful of the answers? Would we know how to respond? Below are a few thoughts from an applicant's perspective.

  • A positive organizational culture. Every applicant wants to be welcomed into an organization that is open to new ideas, is willing to evolve and creates a friendly work environment. Is there a perfect organizational culture? Not from what I have experienced. There is always room for improvement. But be honest about your organization's environment. Talk about the positive and address the challenges posed by the negative. Honesty is the best policy here; it only takes a few weeks at an organization for someone to realize that the culture is toxic or the place is a mess. Soon they'll start to look for jobs elsewhere. In approaching questions and answers on organizational culture, the SHRM competencies of Communication, Relationship Management and Leadership & Navigation will be most effective.
  • Consistency and fairness. This topic requires another straightforward conversation. Focus on how the organization effectively addresses employee questions, issues and concerns. HR should hold the organization accountable for consistency and fairness up and down the chain of command. In order to build a positive culture, the organization must be consistent and fair throughout; there is no other option.
  • A realistic job preview. State the realistic expectations and accountabilities for a position. If a job calls for travel 50 percent or more of the time, for instance, be honest about it; there would be no reason to say that travel is 10 percent. If there's no transparency about something like that, I can promise you that the job will turn over, over and over again. HR should know open positions well enough to offer honest and impactful realistic job previews of them. If your organization is looking for someone to drive change in a position, however, talk about that expectation, challenging applicants to think differently if they are selected for the role. Simple, direct, honest communication is the only valid approach.
  • Current events. The COVID-19 crisis presents an opportunity for great conversation. Ask applicants what they did, what they learned or what new skills they developed during the pandemic.

Understanding what an applicant expects of an organization can be transformational. Do not be afraid to ask the right questions—the answers can make all the difference.

Matthew W. Burr, SHRM-SCP, owner of Burr Consulting LLC in Elmira, N.Y., and co-owner of Labor Love LLC, is an HR consultant, an assistant professor at Elmira College, and an on-call mediator and fact-finder for the New York State Public Employment Relations Board. He holds master's degrees in business administration and in human resources & industrial relations, and a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt.

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