We Forget to Ask Job Candidates: “What Are Your Expectations?”

When hiring new people, most agencies have adopted good interview practices, such as asking questions designed to probe for experience; how people handle stress or difficult situations; and how they relate to other people in teams, dealing with vendors or presenting to clients. But we often forget to ask one very important question:

“What are your expectations for this job?”

Even when we check all the boxes—pre-screening based on skills/abilities, resumé review, references, values alignment, portfolio, personality and IQ testing, team interviews, etc.—we can still hire a person who ends up leaving within six months or a year because the agency or job did not measure up to the new employee’s expectations.

When You Don’t Suit Each Other

I once hired a designer so our current designer could move to another position. The candidate was impressive—the right skills, plus a few we hadn’t thought about; a bright, perky personality; an interest in moving into our area; all the right markers, it seemed. After testing and a follow-up interview with a manager, we hired her.

Within a year, it became apparent that a) she gave a great interview, but wasn’t exactly the same person when working with her over time; and b) she had expectations for the job on which we failed to deliver.

She had worked in a fairly brutal retail design environment, churning out ads for a coupon clipper magazine. She craved a high-end design job with some autonomy to deliver her best work. What we offered was in-house design—a newsletter, corporate literature, some online ads and banners, a little direct mail—micro-managed by agency leaders.

Ultimately, she and her expectations were a bad fit for us, and she left to pursue options elsewhere (where, it seems, she is now quite happy).

Balancing Your, and Their, Expectations

A recent Harris Interactive survey found that 61 percent of employees reported aspects of a new job differed from expectations set during the hiring process. Forty percent cited employee morale as an area where expectations differed most from expectations. Thirty-nine percent cited job responsibilities; 37 percent cited hours they were expected to work; and 36 percent listed their boss’ personality as not aligned with their expectations.

How do you verify that employer and employee expectations align?

  • Write accurate job descriptions. Don’t advertise a job in glowing terms when it’s a grind every day. Don’t oversell the job during interviews.


  • Ask about their current job experience. How do they spend their workdays? What primary functions must they execute daily? Which functions do they enjoy or dislike?


  • How often do they work alone vs. with a team or collaborators? In which situation are they more comfortable working?


  • What is the culture like at their current workplace? What kind of culture do they hope to find? Be clear and honest about the “real” culture at your agency—not the one airily described on your website or pretended to in carefully selected Facebook posts.


  • Ask about personal goals. How might they expect an employer to support those goals (ongoing education, growth opportunities, promotions, etc.)?


  • Explain the job clearly and honestly. Ideally, have the candidate meet and talk with the person currently filling that position, and the people who interact with the position to be filled.


  • Review the job responsibilities and challenges with the candidate. Ask them to repeat back to you their understanding of the job.


  • Detail your expectations—what do you hope for in the person you hire?


  • Can you potentially deliver on their expectations? Discuss how flexible they can be, and assess their willingness to adapt their expectations to the actual job. Explain how you set goals and monitor performance, and how that factors into employees’ personal goals.


  • Have a good orientation plan, and bring new hires into the agency culture from day one. Establish check-in practices for new hires to follow up on how their expectations are, or are not being met.


Finding the right balance in expectations can make your next, or any, future hires more compatible and less risky. Asking the question allows you to expect the best results. 


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