If you haven’t lived in a cave for the past several years, you’ve noticed how many pie-in-the-sky job descriptions have popped up since the financial crisis of 2008.
The good news is, the economy has gotten a lot stronger, but many employers continue asking for the moon, to the frustration of perfectly qualified professionals.
Here’s our list of five types of unrealistic expectations, why they’re ultimately hurting the employers and how job seekers can avoid them.
Unrealistic Expectation #1: The perfect, ideal candidate that fits your company like a glove
Just because a company has dreamed up its rockstar marketing executive / programmer / salesperson / executive assistant, doesn’t mean multiple copies of him or her are going to pour into their inbox the minute they publish a job post.
Some employers have much to gain by relaxing their mile-long list of requirements and expectations, and instead, work in some room to find the skilled and experienced person who can be passionate about working with their team to become the aforementioned “rockstar”
Alexandra Levit from the Career Advisory Board warns that hiring managers who reject “candidate after candidate for what amount to trivial reasons,” risk alienating or burning out existing employees who are having to pick up the work of the not-yet-hired coworker. Not to mention shrinking the pool of talent to choose from to a small puddle.
Unrealistic Expectation #2: Technical writers should know how to code and other cross-overs
Let’s not fool ourselves: cramming the skill sets of more than one person into one job description tells the world that a company is really just trying to save money. Or that their budget isn’t healthy enough to hire two people. Either way, cross-over hires will likely become burnt out very quickly.
It’s simple. Technical writers should not be expected to perform the work of programmers. Sales associates are not personal assistants. Let graphic designers design— they shouldn’t be expected to code web pages, proofread text, or crunch numbers.
Hiring managers who blend jobs are only shooting themselves in not one, but two feet. They’re automatically closing the door on some brilliant people who are not interested in diluting their talents in tasks they never trained for.
In the end, they will only get the equivalent of two half-baked cakes instead of a single delicious chocolate mousse.
Unrealistic Expectation #3: “Self-starter,” “penetrate the market” and other buzzword clichés
The various vague and clichéd phrases often listed in job descriptions don’t increase the chances of anyone finding outstanding talent.
The argument can be made that anyone actively looking for a job is a “self-starter”—though it is doubtful they’ve got their mother standing over their shoulder watching over their job search! Plus, how can a candidate know what hiring managers really mean by these phrases, how it all relates to the job and the company, and how they should interpret it in the context of their particular skills and experience?
Rather than wrapping your brains around what a cliché might possibly mean, many job seekers—and especially the more skilled and experienced—will simply move on.
Kelly Shea-Bradley, marketing director for Health Net, says the phrase “hit the ground running” in particular is “a silly expectation. It doesn’t matter who you are or what your experience has been—every new job has some learning curve, whether it’s culture, process, or people.”
In short, avoid cliché phrases.
These kind of job descriptions typically draw too many people whose resumes are equally vague and clichéd. Hiring managers are left to sift through a pool of candidates who don’t have the actual skills they were looking for in the first place. Aim for the more specific and clear job description. These are written by hiring managers who actually know what they want in a candidate.
Unrealistic Expectation #4: “We want the best, we want it fast, and we want it cheap!”
This is the rule of three in the business world: whether you’re talking about a product, a service, or a person, you simply cannot have it all.
Typically, hiring managers can get 2 out of the 3: if they go for fast and cheap, quality suffers. If they opt for good and fast, it’ll cost them. Hiring managers need to be realistic and honest with their hiring team when crafting any given job description— they need to note what they can afford, how much training and support they can provide, and what level of experience and knowledge is actually necessary.
The best professionals out there do not work for peanuts. These days, if hiring managers don’t snap them up and pay them what they’re worth, another company will. Hiring managers have the responsibility to not lose out or drive away those potential nuggets of gold. If their budget really can’t bring in the top players, they need to reinvest in the next generation.
Unrealistic Expectation #5: Phantom posts
What’s a phantom post? Forbes describes it as a job posting intentionally written to discourage outsiders from applying so that a favored insider can be easily hired. Unethical? Absolutely. Unrealistic? Especially that—it’s intentionally written to be unrealistic. Does it shrink the talent pool? Yes, and that’s the point!
The owner of a direct marketing firm in Illinois came across a post at a college that ran continuing education and executive education programs. The post listed fluency in Portuguese as one of the requirements despite the fact that all of the programs were taught in English and never involve companies from Brazil or Portugal. “If the hiring decision-makers have already picked an insider or an outside favorite,” he tells us, “and the college just needs to appear open to other candidates, a requirement the favored candidate meets is added to the posting, knowing it will exclude candidates who are otherwise qualified.”
While there is no way to really avoid this kind of phantom post, it is best to ask questions and get feedback on the interview process when all is said and done. While this procedure is bad HR karma, it can be unavoidable. Gaining feedback helps so that it is not a complete waste of your time in the end.
Every hiring manager wants the dream candidate. Who can blame them? Be smart! Watch out for these common pitfalls, focus on what is really important and avoid wasting your time by trying to meet someone’s unicorn wish list.
By avoiding these five mistakes, you can streamline your process and still find your dream job.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not of The HR Gazette or its team members.