On Managing Expectations

Great Expectations by Sanithna Phansavanh
Life is full of expectations. And, if we’re not careful, they can get the very best of us.

It’s been said that “expectations are premeditated disappointments” and while Sam Walton is quoted as saying “High expectations is the key to everything”, another competing quote claims “Expectation is the root of all heartache.” (The Internet thinks this is by Shakespeare, but it’s not.)

In recruiting, we are constantly managing expectations:

  • Expectations from hiring managers who want and need the very best people
  • Expectations from candidates who want the jobs we’re offering and see no good reason not to get it (or why not to get the pay they’re asking for)
  • and expectations from ourselves (among others) to perform our craft with speed and efficiency yet at the very high bar of finding “top talent”

In each of these areas, the best recruiters I have seen have become experts at managing their own and others’ expectations.

Constantly, they are setting and resetting expectations.

In fact, it might be said that all the negative connotations out there about the craft of recruiting and headhunting likely boil down to a recruiter not adequately managing expectations on an item–knowingly or unknowingly–and then not having the courage or strength to make it right.

I read the fantastic book recently, Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson. It’s the second in a series still being written called The Stormlight Archive, and it’s really delightful reading.

Wit, a character in the books that seems to have some man-behind-the-curtain strings he’s pulling finishes book two with a rhetorical conversation he’s having with some plants and crab-like animals while waiting to meet someone.

“Expectation. That is the true soul of art. If you can give a man more than he expects, then he will laud you his entire life. If you can create an air of anticipation and feed it properly, you will succeed.

“Conversely, if you gain a reputation for being too good, too skilled . . . beware. The better art will be in their heads, and if you give them an ounce less than they imagined, suddenly you have failed. Suddenly you are useless. A man will find a single coin in the mud and talk about it for days, but when his inheritance comes and is accounted one percent less than he expected, then he will declare himself cheated.” – Wit, Words of Radiance

How many of us fall into such personal traps with our personal or professional lives? Have you felt cheated 1% and stewed on it for days (or years) and therefore lost the joy of the ninety-nine percent?

And yet, with our candidates, my personal philosophy is to carefully yet always honestly weave delicately the fabric that is a possible job offer. The tapestry can’t be spun all at once. Yet, if the image is woven in a way that is unclear or misses expectations, the deal will more-than-likely be off.

Never, ever tell a half-truth to your candidates about their positioning in the process or their overall skills compared to the job requirements or the competition. It sounds easier to tell them a pacifying lie to get them off your back or delay them, but being truthful about things is always the way to go.

However, remember your first job is to represent the company, too. Telling the truth and telling everything you know are not the same thing by a far measure.

So, here’s to trying hard to get it right. Keep setting and resetting expectations–for your candidates. Managers and yourself! Be truthful and honest to each of these stakeholders and the dividends will (eventually) show.

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Robert Merrill

Senior Technical Recruiter
I am a Husband, Dad, Recruitinator, Geek. Mormon. Smart-Alec. . Professionally, I am the Senior Manager of Talent Acquisition at Ancestry.com", the world's largest online family history resource. Check out our jobs! Since 2001, I have helped connect companies and talented professionals with a particular style of recruiting, interviewing, onboarding and retention that helps companies change their recruiting processes and capabilities forever. I believe that even small companies can do fantastic recruiting with the right tools and mindset.

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