Successful recruitment centres on hiring the right people into the right roles—but that’s about more than skills matching. Ensuring candidate expectations match the reality of the job and culture is also vital, both to recruitment and HR—and ultimately, to organisational outcomes. Let's explore that. 

Why candidate expectations matter

Slowing recruitment activity and broad redundancies have meant candidate availability has increased while permanent vacancies have decreased, a new report warns. Ultimately, the experts suspect this could prompt a rise in candidates applying for unsuitable roles.

At the same time, the last few months have seen many recruitment teams beset by what People Management call an ‘apply anyways’ culture. This trend sees many organisations flooded with unqualified applicants, who either don’t realise or don’t care that their profile isn’t suitable for the role they’re applying for.

Setting better candidate expectations isn’t the only answer here, but it’s an important part. When an organisation sets accurate expectations for candidates and eventual new starters, it can have myriad benefits:

Reduce pressure on recruitment

If candidates have an accurate expectation of the role, they can better assess whether the application is worth their time or not. If potential applicants then rule themselves out, it can reduce the number of unqualified applications coming through. 

Screening high volumes of unqualified applications can be extremely time-consuming for recruiters and increase time-to-hire—which itself is a crucial metric to hiring successfully. One recent report found that 84% of recruiters are looking to improve time-to-hire, for instance.

The same report also cited that 98% of HR professionals have experienced burnout, so decreasing the unqualified application burden makes sense for many reasons.

Reduce early turnover

There’s a clear connection between early turnover and mismatched job expectations. For instance, one 2022 report found that 72% of jobseekers have found a new job isn’t what they expected—and 82% believed that justified leaving the position within six months.

According to the CIPD:

‘Employee turnover is often greater in the first six months of employment. This may be due to recruiters “over-selling” roles in the recruitment process and by failing to give new recruits an effective induction into the role and the organisation.’

Setting appropriate expectations—not just about the role but also your organisation—avoids this ‘over-selling’, and ensures new recruits are best placed to settle into the business and thrive.

Increase new hire productivity

Ensuring candidate expectations match the on-the-job reality is also critical to productivity, to ensure new hires are primed for a great start. More engaged employees are typically more productive.

Given that the UK’s productivity growth has underperformed most comparable economies since 2008, any measures tackling the productivity question could make good sense.

But don’t forget that expectations work both ways. Candidates must understand what’s expected of them from a performance perspective, just as recruiters must understand candidates' expectations from a job.

Strengthen organisational culture

The recruitment process is an opportunity for employers to showcase what makes the organisation stand out, as well as setting specific expectations about a job. This is an important part of employer branding and acts as a beacon, attracting candidates who’ll slot into your business and contribute positively to your culture.

How to set candidate expectations 

Setting authentic job expectations means letting candidates peek behind the curtain of your organisation. The more you can demystify the inner workings of the company, the better candidates know what to expect from the job, your culture, and your organisation as a whole.

Here are some ways to showcase your organisation, so candidates have realistic expectations—and also understand what’s expected from them.

Write differentiated job adverts

Job adverts are the main place where candidates learn what to expect from the job. Candidates might have a strong understanding of the type of job, but an effective job advert is an opportunity to move beyond general to explore this specific role. How does this customer service representative position differ from the other 30 they might have applied for?

Invest in your employer brand

Employer brand is a key differentiator between organisations. A strong employer brand tells candidates what to expect from your culture, people, and working environment.

Strong employer branding content is authentic—that is, what you say matches what you do. Could you incorporate employee-generated content that helps prospective candidates understand what a normal working day might feel like, for example?

Conduct telephone screening or video interviews

Adding telephone screening or video interviews into your recruitment process can help you better set—and understand—candidate expectations from a job, earlier.

This reduces the likelihood of pulling unsuitable candidates or candidates with mismatched job expectations through the recruitment process and into the business.

Include pre-employment assessment 

In 2020, 43% of businesses said they rely on CV screening alone to find their candidates for an interview shortlist and only around 35% use pre-employment assessment. Incorporating pre-employment assessment can help improve quality-of-hire by allowing recruiters to test candidates’ suitability for a role.

Also, pre-employment assessment can help establish candidates’ expectations about the job—for instance, with scenario-based tests that match the real-life experience of the job.

Consider your interview technique 

If the organisation struggles with new hires often having mismatched job expectations, it could point to issues at the interview stage—whether that’s recruiters, HR, or hiring managers.

Everyone who interviews isn’t only responsible for establishing candidate suitability for a role, but also for helping candidates understand whether a role is suitable for them. Asking about candidates’ expectations from a job is critical—and being honest if the organisation won’t or can’t meet those. 

Incorporate culture interviews 

Another fantastic way to help candidates better understand the job and the organisation they’re considering joining is adding culture interviews, which might feature team members, managers, and sometimes senior leaders.

The better candidates know the organisation, the lower the chance of mismatched expectations.

Onboard well

Onboarding is an opportunity to seamlessly induct new starters from the recruitment process into their new team and the organisation—but 1 in 3 HR professionals don’t believe their onboarding process is up to scratch.

Good onboarding extends beyond basic contract management to help new hires get settled and make sure they know what to expect (and what’s expected from them) over the coming weeks and months.

Robust onboarding could also help you address any emerging issues around unmet expectations head-on, before these issues spiral.

Matching expectations is critical to recruitment

Hiring the right people isn’t only about matching the right skills to the right jobs, although that’s an important chunk. It’s also about matching candidate expectations. A candidate might be perfect on paper but if they’re expecting something different from what you can offer, the match is unlikely to work out. 

Understanding applicants’ expectations from a job as well as helping them understand your expectations from them is an important part of successful recruitment. From employer branding to pre-employment assessment to onboarding, the tactics in this article can play a big part.