It works both ways; why it pays to be honest when hiring

Sherryn Groch

You know to lookout for the dishonest job applicant – perhaps their CV doesn’t match their LinkedIn profile or you can’t quite bring yourself to believe that’s really Sir Richard Branson listed in their references. (And his accent is way off.)

But, on the other side of the interview table, just how honest are you being as an employer?

Hiring costs time, money and energy. While snapping up talent is important, retaining it is equally critical to a small business. A recent survey by recruiter Robert Half found a bad hire can drain thousands of dollars from a company’s bottom line – not to mention seriously impacting on morale.

That’s why, when it comes to selecting your next employee, it’s important to find the right fit – for everyone.

“Small businesses need to remember that they’re being interviewed too.”

Expect savvy candidates

“Small businesses need to remember that they’re being interviewed too,” says Michael Spiropoulos, founder and managing director of The Recruitment Alternative.

Too often, he says, employers try to “gild the lily”. They might offer a low wage while promising high commissions or gloss over the more tedious aspects of the role. But this dishonesty can be “dangerous”.

“Candidates aren’t dumb,” Spiropoulos says. “A lot of them will know you’re gilding the lily, and often they won’t apply or they’ll leave.”

In the tight space of a small business, the stakes are especially high. Anger and resentment over a perceived miscommunication during the hiring process can spread like smoke.

“If you’re employing say five people and one doesn’t work out, that’s 25 per cent of your workforce.”

Over at S2M digital recruitment, head of search, social and analytics Brett Dickinson agrees that being open about your company with candidates, “warts and all”, is always the best approach. 

“They’ll be talking about your brand, whatever the outcome,” he says. “And the last thing you want is for someone to come in and realise you’ve just had a huge turnover of staff and say ‘what the hell?’”

Understand what you’re after

Before you can be clear with your candidates, it’s important to sit down and work out your plan for the role. Review the current fair work legislation and define your expectations, your non-negotiables. Then, consider where you can compromise for the right person.

“A lot of the time employers are after a unicorn,” Dickinson says. “They can interview fifteen people before they realise that person doesn’t exist.”

He suggests using market research to get an idea of who’s out there – and, more importantly, what your competitors are paying.

If the job is unavoidably monotonous and you expect a high turnover, Spiropoulos recommends hiring two people part-time, rather than trying to dress up a full-time job.

“When Henry Ford introduced the production line…he found a way to build cars at half the price. Everyone just had one small job to do…but pretty soon his staff were making mistakes, quitting – they suddenly hated their jobs…You can’t expect someone to do one thing all day every day, they’re going to go stir crazy!”

“I always start off interviews by telling them all the bad things about my company, and if they’re still listening, then I tell them the good things.”

Spruik the positives but own up to the realities too

Now that you know what the job is, inside out, give it to them straight. Break down who they’ll be working with, what they’ll be doing and what kinds of targets or responsibilities they’ll need to meet. Avoid vague side-steps like “additional duties as requested” and be clear about your policies on things such as working from home or overtime.

“I always start off interviews by telling them all the bad things about my company, and if they’re still listening, then I tell them the good things,” Spiropoulos says. “That way, if things go wrong down the line – and they will – people think ‘well I knew what I was getting myself in for’ and our longevity goes up as a result of being really honest.”

Keep communication open

Of course, sometimes the duties of a job will shift.

“Small businesses are like corks floating in rough seas,” Spiropoulos says. “They’ll get tossed this way and that and they’ll design a job...but then things change. Say if an account falls through, the person they put on to do account management, they now want to become a lead generator.”

While this is “no one’s fault”, SMEs need to keep their expectations realistic.

“At the start of any business, the owner does everything, whether that’s IT, front of house, marketing, so they think they can bring someone in to do that too but the labour market doesn’t work like that.”

Bring the candidate in on what you’re creating right from the outset and let them decide whether or not to invest.

Hire the person not the CV

If nothing else, being brutally honest during your next hire will let you to size up each candidate directly beside the tasks involved – and so dramatically improve your chance of choosing the right person.

“Small businesses aren’t for everyone,” Dickinson says. “It’s a different mentality than a big corporate job. You’re looking for entrepreneurial types, the ones who you know you can put a bit more on their plate…so it’s about being able to spot that gleam in their eye, that hunger.”

Bring the candidate in on what you’re creating right from the outset and let them decide whether or not to invest.

“I sometimes say to small businesses, tell them the bad things but make a list of all the good things about your company too,” Spiropoulos says. “They’ll often surprise themselves!”

Sherryn Groch

Sherryn Groch is a freelance journalist based in Melbourne and has written for The Age, The Guardian Australia, ‎the ABC, Crikey and Broadsheet.