Realistic job previews can boost retention

Companies can purchase myriad assessments to test whether job applicants are qualified to do a job and how well. But you can’t buy a test to measure whether they will enjoy doing it enough to stay, said Richard Finnegan, CEO of C-Suite Analytics, during the 2012 Talent Management Conference & Exposition held April 30 to May 2.

Finnegan said that the only effective way to determine candidates’ staying power is to present them with realistic job previews that “smack their senses.”

“Realistic job previews are representations of jobs that show their attractive and less attractive parts,” said Finnegan, who is the author of the book "Rethinking Retention in Good Times and Bad" (Davies-Black; 2010). “The trick is to determine how we develop job experiences that smack their senses of smell, sight, hearing, touch and taste instead of job descriptions.”

Candidates can be exposed to many job attributes in realistic job previews, noted Finnegan, including:

• Amount of standing, sitting, heavy lifting;
• Use of equipment and technology;
• Extent of customer interaction;
• Speed, pace and volume of work;
• Starting and future pay levels, benefits and learning opportunities;
• Working environments (e.g., wet or dry conditions, hot or cold); and
• Schedule demands and potential flexibility.

Employers “must display the highest reasons for [the job’s] turnover, bluntly, and they should encourage some otherwise qualified applicants to drop out or show you indications of concern so you don’t hire them,” he said. “After walking through a realistic job preview, candidates who are wrong for the job should say, ‘There is no way in the world I’m going to do this.’ ”

Seven steps to success

Finnegan walked through several industry examples of job previews to describe a seven-step flow chart that companies can follow to create effective, realistic job previews.

First, learn the grittiest job aspects from the subject matter experts -- the employees who do the jobs. Next, research reasons why employees quit or get terminated. But, he cautioned, “think beyond just the high-turnover jobs,” which often are “not a company’s high-cost jobs.”

Identify the best presentation methods that impact the senses, then develop realistic job previews with clear instructions and scripted messages. Also, design follow-up interview questions and a discussion guide that can be used by interviewers to learn candidates’ real reactions to the preview.

“When you ask candidates the follow-up questions, key in on the nonverbal cues that reveal their true job impression,” he said. “If you can’t do this, you are relying on them to screen themselves out rather than the company screening them out.”

Finally, track the percentage of applicants screened out by job previews.

“You should know your turnover rates,” Finnegan said. Realistic job previews are instant turnover-cutters, so credit yourself with having saved your company turnover costs each time a candidate you would have hired drops out, he advised.

Theresa Minton-Eversole is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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