Majority of New Hires Say Job Is Not What They Expected

Survey of 2,054 U.S. workers indicates new hires felt interviewers misled them

By Steve Bates May 28, 2013
Six in 10 American workers say they’ve found aspects of a new job different from what they expected, indicating they may have felt misled during the interview process.

Sixty-one percent of employees who participated in a Harris Interactive survey in March said aspects of a new job differed from expectations set during the hiring process. Employee morale was the most commonly cited aspect that turned out to be different from what new hires expected, followed by job responsibilities, work hours and the supervisor’s personality, according to the survey commissioned by California-based online careers community Glassdoor.

The survey did not indicate whether new employees believed that interviewers had deliberately misled them, but the results suggest a damaging disconnect between what job applicants expect and what they find on the job.

Academics, consultants and other experts say job interviewers bear some of the blame. “There is a lot of recruiter interviewing behavior that affects the disconnect,” said Richard Klimoski, Ph.D., a professor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., and a member of the SHRM Foundation’s board of directors. “There is an awful lot of selling going on.”

It can be part of human nature to exaggerate descriptions of working conditions, noted Robin Reshwan, founder of Alamo, Calif.-based career-advice firm Collegial Services. “There is a desire to make applicants like this role.”

It doesn’t help that communicating company culture can be difficult. “Culture changes almost day to day,” said Jay Floersch, a recruitment process outsourcing solutions architect at Aon, a consulting firm. He said recruiters and interviewers must communicate regularly with others in the organization so that they can give applicants an accurate picture of working conditions.

Sometimes in an interview it is beneficial to talk about how an organization can improve. But “people are hesitant to talk about their dirty laundry,” said Tresha Moreland, principal of HR C-Suite, an HR strategy business.

Suggested David Rock, author and co-founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute: “It might be helpful to say, ‘This is an incredibly boring place; nobody will talk to you for a month.’ There is some value in brutal honesty.”

Many interviewers deliberately mislead applicants about jobs, according to Donna Ballman, an author and employment law expert. “People show up to jobs that don’t exist or are totally different from what they were promised,” she said, adding that “there is potentially a fraud claim” against an organization for such behavior.

Applicant’s Responsibility

Even so, experts say, job applicants are partly responsible for the disconnect.

Every job seeker should ask an interviewer what a normal workday is like, for a description of the firm’s management style and the top reasons why employees leave the organization, and about how often people in the position are promoted, advised Steve Miranda, SPHR, GPHR, managing director of Cornell University’s Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies.

Like interviewers, employees “want to believe that this is a great opportunity that will be a great fit,” and they might fail to focus on signs of potential conflict, Zuckerman said.

The survey, conducted online March 20-23, 2013, polled 2,054 people age 18 and older. “Employees” were defined as individuals employed full time or part time and unemployed job seekers who had been employed previously.

More men (65 percent) than women (56 percent) said the new job did not meet expectations. The areas where they said expectations differed most were:

  • *Employee morale (40 percent).
  • *Job responsibilities (39 percent).
  • *Hours expected to work (37 percent).
  • *Boss’s personality (36 percent).
  • *Career advancement opportunities (27 percent).
  • *Senior leader competence (23 percent).
  • *Salary (22 percent).
  • *Company culture (22 percent).

Unmet Expectations Resonate

Part of the disconnect may be rooted in how our brains are wired. Neuroscience demonstrates that “even the tiniest unmet expectation really grabs our attention,” Rock said.

“When expectations are met, there’s a slight reward,” he said. “When they are missed—even in a small way—it’s a very significant threat. People experience a sense of danger, of foreboding. They tend to focus on the negative,” which, he said, curbs productivity, creativity and collaboration.

Improving the interviewing process “could be as simple as having candidates meet several people from the team,” suggested Amanda Lachapelle, Glassdoor’s HR director.

Reshwan urges interviewers to communicate how the new hire’s performance will be evaluated and the challenges that others in the position have faced. She says interviewers should ask applicants to “repeat back their understanding” of the job.

Zuckerman said he observes increased use of onboarding surveys that ask candidates to discuss their expectations before and immediately after starting a job. The goal is to catch and address disconnects early.

Miranda noted that most hiring is based on skills and experience, but most departures can be attributed to behavioral or cultural mismatches.

Once it becomes clear that an employee is unhappy with a job, there are only so many things that can be done to close the gap between expectations and reality.

“It’s hard to change things if you start out on the wrong foot,” said Zuckerman.

Steve Bates is a freelance journalist in the Washington, D.C., area and a former writer and editor for SHRM.

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