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Reveal your true workplace culture—flaws and all—before hiring

April 27, 2015
By Lisa Dare

Does this sound familiar?

You’re hiring for an important position and come across a candidate with a great resume. But before hiring, you have to see if they’re a good fit for your team, so you interview to learn what the person is like, how he or she will operate in day-to-day situations and under pressure, and if their work rhythm syncs with your team’s.

But when it comes time to answering the candidate's questions about your own workplace, you give the interviewer’s version of “my biggest weakness is being a perfectionist,” acknowledging only universally desirable qualities.   

If finding the best candidate match for your position is important to you—and it should be—you need to be honest with potential hires about what your workplace is really like. In fact, your honesty should start before someone even applies for a position, in your job description and “join our team” boilerplate language.

What honesty means

A candid discussion of workplace culture, challenges and perks doesn't mean dishing out workplace gossip to your candidate. What it does include:

  • An accurate description of your office culture. Is it process-oriented or less structured? Demanding but full of opportunity, or secure and predictable?
  • A portrait of the type of worker who typically thrives in your environment.
  • A realistic picture of the job. Candidates—especially in-demand ones—are begging for more details in job descriptions. They want to know what their position means to company goals, what types of tasks they'll focus on, and what the team structure is like. 

Benefits of honesty

On the surface, it may appear that painting the rosiest possible picture of your organization makes sense. After all, you want your pick of candidates, so why risk scaring anyone away? It turns out there's very good reason to let some candidates remove themselves from the hiring process. According to CEB research, employers who focus on guiding candidates’ decisions about whether to apply—or not apply—end up with higher-quality applicants and hires. CEB concludes that targeting the best-fitting candidates instead of trying to appeal to all of them leads to the best outcomes.

A few additional benefits include: 

  • Improved team morale. Culture fit—how the employee will mesh with your organization’s values and other workers—is a huge part of why workers thrive or flounder. You can help avoid a poor-fitting candidate if you’re truly honest about your work culture.  
  • Reduced turnover. Need a reason a bit less squishy than morale? Turnover is a quantifiable dollars-and-cents case for making sure you’re getting the best-fitting workers. Candor helps you avoid needless turnover by letting candidates self-select out of the hiring process when your culture is not a good fit for their values, temperament or lifestyle. 
  • Enhanced credibility. When you reveal your true workplace culture—warts and all—people are more likely to believe the good parts.
  • More respect from candidates. The majority of your competitors brag about offering “competitive compensation” and “generous PTO,” as if professional employees don’t automatically expect vacation and a decent paycheck. You can stand out by dropping the fluffy language and offering more specific information.

When to proceed with caution

When your workplace culture is truly unique—but there are big downsides to the job or culture—you may want to exercise some discretion until the interview stage. While it’s very easy to convey the idea of “100-hour work weeks during crunch times,” it can be harder to communicate how inspiring, energizing or just plain fun your work environment is. In a case like that, you should absolutely give some hints of intense or unpredictable workloads in your job description, but save the really gory details until you've had time to meet and dazzle your candidates.  

Also, be careful that your personalized boilerplate or job description doesn't unintentionally steer away candidates who can bring new diversity to your company. Even the driest job descriptions can be loaded with unintentionally discriminatory or unwelcoming terms, but you should use special caution when using language that might give diverse candidates the sense they’d feel uncomfortable. For instance, if young people dominate your office, you can describe your exuberant culture without using the word “youthful,” which may suggest to older candidates that they need not apply.

Read more about attracting and retaining the best IT candidates

How to find out if IT candidates' skills match their resumes 

3 smart ways to keep top IT talent from leaving

Lisa Dare is a marketing writer for TEKsystems who enjoys learning about IT from some of the smartest folks in tech. She frequently blogs about IT career advice and the lighter side of technology, and on her off days loves to kayak and play with her toddler son.

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