Accepting a job offer is a big life decision – one that candidates are increasingly getting wrong.
Picture this: you start a new role that matches your skill set, but the nature of the work doesn’t exactly enthral you. A couple of weeks in, you hear back about another job you applied for in a sector more aligned to your interests, offering more seniority and higher remuneration. What do you do?
Kelly*, a digital editor, found herself in this situation last year. She had accepted a role with a small agency and was charged with creating content of a technical nature – not exactly her speciality. When a larger, more prominent design publication finally got back to her after she applied a month previously, she was torn.
The other role was in consumer publishing – an area of the industry that Kelly always wanted to end up in – and it not only offered more money, but more opportunity for career growth.
“I applied for the first role over a month before I decided to put in an application for the other one. I didn’t hear back from [role A] for over a month, so assumed I didn’t get the job, whereas [role B] responded literally the day after I sent my resume across,” says Kelly.
When she accepted role A, her plan was to stay in the position for a couple of years, learn and then move on. In the end, she left the agency and took the job at the design publication.
Kelly is certainly not alone, according to recent research by Gartner. Its Decisive Candidate report indicates that more than one in three employees (35 per cent) experienced some regret in their decision to join a company. This has increased by 11 per cent over a decade.
Too many options
Aaron McEwan, senior director and advisory leader at Gartner, says a key reason behind this is the digitising of processes in recruitment. “Candidates are no longer looking for jobs; they’re surfing for jobs,” he says. “There are so many places to apply: company career pages, all the different jobs sites, and talent communities.
“Because they don’t have to put in as much effort, candidates are applying for more roles. They’re not thinking through whether the job or the company aligns to their values and interests.”
The flatness of wage growth is also influencing candidate behaviour. Given that it’s often the fastest (and sometimes the only) way to achieve a pay rise, people are willing to explore opportunities they might not have previously. But therein lies the problem, says McEwan.
According to Gartner research, compensation is typically less valuable to employees than work-life balance, location and respect. “Most candidates have no intention of following through with these applications. If they do, it’s likely they are shopping around for more money, but they care less about compensation than other things.”
When you factor in that, from an employer branding perspective, there’s a tendency to over-represent the positives and under-represent the negatives, regrettable decisions are unavoidable.
From the recruiter’s mouth
Jay Munro, insights strategist at Indeed, says regret can happen when candidates are not aware of the right opportunities.
In a recent Indeed report Munro authored, Job Hunters: The Complete Guide 2018, it was found that almost all candidates (90 per cent, or 3.7 million Australians) don’t know what they’re searching for when job hunting.
“It doesn’t help that there are some really odd job titles out there. My official title, for example, is product evangelist,” says Munro. “When I first started in recruitment, we were using terms like ‘ninja’, ‘guru’ and ‘rockstar’ – no-one is going to type those into a search. We’re still using jargon that doesn’t really mean anything or illustrate what the job is about. The language may have evolved, but it hasn’t caught up with candidate searching behaviours.”
Timing is also a factor, says Munro. When you’re offered a role, you can feel pressure to accept then and there, lest you miss out on the opportunity. “You can’t tell an employer you need to wait another week or two because you’re interviewing for another job – which can lead to these last-minute, pressured decisions.”
Timing played a big part in Kelly’s acceptance of a role that wasn’t the best fit. And look how that turned out.
When regret sets in
The Gartner report indicates one third of those who experience candidate regret plan to leave the role within 12 months. McEwan says that while some candidates experience regret right after taking a job, the feeling tends to manifest at around the six to nine-month stage.
Perhaps that’s because during the probationary period you learn new things, people are nice to you and there’s generally a bit of leeway in terms of performance appraisal. But after this period, you have a clearer understanding of the company’s culture. It’s at this stage that employees can come to realise the limitations in advancement prospects and the quality of the organisation’s management. The former is the number one reason why employees leave a company, and the latter is second.
When an employee is after a bigger paycheck, they usually experience regret earlier, as soon as they realise that the extra money doesn’t make up for all the negatives.
Ruby Lee, a career coach and founder of rubylee.co, says that when something is wrong, there’s usually a gut feeling. Lee, who has a background in recruitment and co-authored the Indeed report, says the new employee “might stay on to make sure it’s not just that fear element of being in a new team, when trusted former colleagues are no longer around”.
“But those employees tend to leave within three to six months. They may seek out another role in the company where the macro team culture is different.”
Lee once found herself in the wrong role in the early stages of her career. She stuck it out for 12 months – determined to learn, feel challenged and pick up the skill set she was there for in the first place.
“The next time I went into a job interview, I was more researched. I took the time to stop and ask myself about whether it was the right job for me, and I also bounced ideas off my network.”
Breaking the cycle
McEwan has advice for organisations looking to avoid candidate regret. “The brand message that’s sent out to the market should be designed to help candidates make a decision before they commit – so it’s for the right reasons, in the right company and at the right time.”
McEwan says smart organisations shape their brand message – not to appeal to everyone, but to the right candidates. He cites Netflix as an example, where the organisation states outright that if it’s career development you’re after, you’re knocking on the wrong door. They are only after high-performing employees.
Munro seconds the need for transparency, having come from a background in temp recruitment, where hasty decisions are part and parcel of the job.
“Sometimes we’d place a candidate, and they would call and say they weren’t coming back the next day. It was hard, but we worked to prevent it by being transparent about everything – the type of company, the expectations and what they would actually be doing day-to-day.”
He also suggests creating ‘performance profiles’ rather than ‘job ads’.
“If you have standout contributors in the business doing a job that you’re hiring for, draw up a performance profile of this individual’s work, taking into account the value they bring to the organisation that helps them outperform their peers. It might be a skill they have developed through work in a completely different industry or job function.”
Lee recommends introducing the candidate not only their prospective manager, but to the people at the next level of seniority or the overarching executives. This allows a top-down understanding of the organisation.
For a better culture-fit assessment, says Lee, inviting the candidate to lunch or coffee with the team is beneficial for both parties, so they can figure out what it might be like to work with each other. The wider team is usually most adept at answering detailed questions about the day-to-day aspects of a role. Everyone has a different perspective, so it’s important to meet as many people as possible.
But should regret arise, always approach it with empathy, says Lee. “Put yourself in their shoes – can you do anything to help, are there other elements involved?”
Kelly offers some sage advice to others who find themselves in her position: “With job security being what it is, I think it’s always worth trying to hit at least that one-year mark and learn everything you can. But of course, if you gotta go, you gotta go.”
This article originally appeared in the December/January 2019 edition of HRM magazine.
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