Why lemonade is not refreshing

Companies are proud of their values, but there can be inequity in the way employees are treated, right from the initial stages of recruitment. The imbalance of information transfer, and ultimately power, between the organisation and a prospective employee, is accepted and remains unchallenged.

This is potentially a fundamental flaw in the mutual selection process undertaken by both parties. Nobel Prize winning economist George Akerlof once proffered that the quality of what is traded in a market can degrade in the presence of information asymmetry, resulting in a ‘market for lemons’. In the context of recruitment, two key areas highlighting this disparity in particular are evident.

Correcting the power imbalance

Firstly, why does an organisation have the right to undertake reference checks on a candidate yet he or she has no right to seek information (or at least not officially) about the suitability of the hiring manager as someone who can make a positive contribution to his or her career? Are applicants simply expected to trust and give respect without question?

Research about a prospective employer is an obvious line of inquiry for an applicant to undertake. Information at a company level is available on websites such as Glassdoor, Indeed, Seek, Linkedin and other forms of social media, along with a company’s website and annual reports (if listed). However, the accuracy of some sources is debatable and could be the subject of a separate article. 

My greater concern is around the absence of real information about the quality and calibre of the hiring manager and the leadership team. Candidates can of course use their judgement upon meeting the hiring manager, but there is inherent risk in relying on intuition alone.

Plus in reality, even with tact and diplomacy, I cannot imagine any interviewee overtly asking questions ‘to assess’ the hiring manager, who also happens to be conducting the interview, or even worse, to ask at a second or third interview someone even more senior in the reporting line as this could be easily misinterpreted as a sign of mistrust or an attempt to undermine.

Perhaps, you might say, there would be benefit via the sharing of HR metrics. Indicative data such as the retention rate of the hiring manager and their past success rate for advancing the careers of their team members may be useful but are never available to a job applicant. 

Unfortunately, there are also pitfalls in taking the ‘data-centric approach’ for both parties; even employers do not get total access to the candidate’s previous workplace data.  If such data were shared, issues of privacy may then come into play as personal and commercially sensitive information could possibly become public. Hence if data alone is not the solution, we come back to reliance on testimonials. In which case, as I previously asserted, the employer has the advantage through having the power to request and undertake these.     

Secondly, organisations readily subject applicants to psychological tests or other examinations targeting intelligence quotient, literacy and numeracy. Analysis reports are then produced to rate every facet of the applicant’s psyche, making presumptions about how well they will ‘fit in’. And presumably every employee will have been tested. Yet once again, if a job applicant has to open up their soul and be analysed and categorised to this extent, why are they not privy to the same assessment reports on the members of the leadership team and most importantly, the hiring manager?

The impact of bad hiring decisions

For those who are serious and passionate, managing one’s career is no different to running an organisation. My hypothesis is that every individual is a microcosmic version of an organisation and the importance of values alignment cannot be taken lightly. 

According to prominent chairman and board member Ian Cornell: “In my experience the hiring and induction of new employees that share similar values to the hiring company ensure a greater likelihood that the new team member remains motivated, makes a better contribution to the company and stays longer”.

We each have a mission, competencies and behaviours augmented by values which form the very fabric of our personal brand and the core business that is our career. And it is this productive collaboration and symbiosis of people which make an organisation. Understandably, an organisation also has a brand and culture made up of the shared assumptions, values and beliefs which characterise and drive its behaviours. Thus, it is possible to visualise a company as a complex, self-similar pattern across different scales, known as a ‘fractal’.

If we keep this concept in mind, wouldn’t it be fair and reasonable to expect that individuals, beginning at the stage of recruitment, should have opportunity to access deeper insights?

An organisation may argue that they have rights to assess and test any prospective candidate because:

1.        They are offering this individual an opportunity to build a career;

2.        This individual will gain income from being employed; and

3.        The cost and impact of a hiring mistake are high.

Yet in parallel to this, a good applicant will have similar and equally important considerations to make, for he or she will be dedicating time, energy, fervour and talent to a prospective employer. We all know that time at least is a finite resource in any person’s journey.

One could easily apply all of the three points above to an applicant who would be:

1.         Offering a prospective employer the chance to grow and benefit from their unique mix of personal qualities and professional competencies;

2.        Increasing or at least strengthening an employer’s ability to generate income; and

3.        Accepting the wrong job offer can be profoundly detrimental.

If anything, the unfavourable emotional and economic toll on an individual, if he or she is working for the wrong employer (or manager), is even more damaging than what an organisation would suffer.


Further to this, the individual may have to live with explaining this on their resume in the future, yet organisations are rarely held accountable for how they have treated the career of a person.

In the interest of both parties, the organisation and the job applicant need insight into each other’s brands, values, character and quality of thinking to seek coherence and fidelity.

Conclusion

I presume that in the event we find ourselves as an employer or an employee who is stuck with a ‘lemon’, we are meant to make lemonade. But surely in these circumstances, lemonade is not refreshing.

Advancements in the world today have meant greater openness in the availability of information. We applaud this in many arenas as progress and innovation. Yet the sharing of information between a prospective employer and a job applicant remains restricted by thinking and practices that are antiquated and designed to bolster the power of one side only. I understand that no person or employer is perfect, but at least in the words of the celebrated scientist Marie Curie: “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood”.

Fundamentally, information is key to not just building deeper understanding, but also ensuring alignment of values between a person and the greater corporate biome.

Without change to current hiring practices, the reality of power imbalance between the two parties in most recruitment scenarios seems inevitable; one is seeking, the other is providing. If a candidate wants a job where an employer has choice, he or she simply has to accept the process. 

Bearing in mind global trends of the future, selection and competition for jobs will not only be between people.  Technology, artificial intelligence (AI) and intelligence augmentation (IA) will foment change in the way we live and work.  For individuals, focus needs to be on maximising personal capabilities, adaptability and continuous learning.

As you can see the solution to the issue of imbalance of information that I pose is not black and white and easily resolved, but this does not mean that we should eschew efforts to achieve improvement and position Australia’s talent for the future. 

Hence, as an immediate action and final thought, I would like to ask everyone this: what may we do to alleviate that asymmetry of information in the recruitment phase to ensure better outcomes for all involved?

Maria Fok has corporate experience from ASX listed, government and global organisations and a passion for speaking and writing about how businesses may accelerate their progress, improve and innovate.

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