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Is sugar coating the same as lying?

As a talent specialist, I have encountered many honest and equally dishonest candidates in my ten-plus years of sourcing talent. I have, on many occasions, gasped at some of the answers candidates have given me when asking them their reasons for leaving.

When these answers pop up, if the candidate in front of me is the perfect fit for the company, I am confronted with a decision I have to take. Do I rewrite their experience into a truth that is less harsh than the one that was told to me? Or do I not submit them as a possible candidate?

This has always led me to the following questions:

  • How honest should one be in an interview?
  • Is it lying if you change the brutal truth to a sugar-coated version of events?

To get to the real answers, one has to understand the role a talent specialist plays in both the company and the candidate’s lives.

As a talent specialist, it is crucial that the person I introduce to the company is a 100% job, culture, and company fit. It is my responsibility to know what type of person will fit in well with the company as well as who would not fit in with them.

 Furthermore, it is my duty to make sure that candidates who are ultimately employed by my client are well researched and that there aren’t any unsuspecting skeletons falling out of any closets once they are employed.

I need to ensure that the reasons for my candidate leaving their previous positions are not (as far as possible) present at the company I am introducing them to.

Some of these reasons can easily be identified and avoided if it has been a problem for a candidate before, for example

  • Working under challenging environmental conditions (some candidates prefer working in air-conditioning, wall to wall carpeted offices)
  • Working with an autocratic manager (this is very easily identifiable, not all people can work for someone who is autocratic)
  • Being overworked and underpaid (in companies with a streamlined staff component, this may happen, this type of environment is thriving for some, yet others need to know they are responsible for one specific task and that task only)
  • Too much travelling (always ascertain if the position requires travel, the extend of it and if your candidate is willing to travel the amount that is planned)
  • Travel distance to and from work (Fuel is expensive. Always ask the candidate where they live, how would they get to work and if they are planning to move any time soon. Companies are not responsible for fuel price hikes, and far less for employees moving into quieter neighbourhoods)

My responsibility towards my candidate is to be honest, and upfront with them about what to expect at the company they may be joining. They need to be aware of any personality clashes they may experience or work-related cultures which may not be to their “liking.”

                These may include:

  • A single parent may not be too keen to work regular overtime or attend regular office gatherings after hours; if your client is someone who advocates this, tell that to your candidate. I have had a candidate who told me they were “worked out” because they did not attend all the office parties.
  • A manager who is not at the office regularly and doesn’t offer step-by-step guidance on completing tasks (some people work better with someone “holding” their hand, if a manager does not provide guidance, they may feel lost and without a purpose)
  • For social butterflies, an office where they will be the only person present and not interact with other people may be highly detrimental to some people; they may become depressed, anxious and look for another job.
  • A company that genuinely cares about the “whole” person may be too much for a private person. Tell your candidate about this if it may be something they will not be comfortable with.

I, therefore, have an equal responsibility towards my client as well as my candidate.

This brings me to the question: ”How honest should one then be?”

I can write volumes on the most interesting/honest reasons for people leaving their jobs (if only I had the time)

My feeling is that as a talent specialist, you need to make your candidate feel secure enough to be completely honest with you and then coach them in the more appropriate thing to say when asked why they left the company they worked for.

It is still acceptable to tell the talent specialist that you cannot work with someone who constantly swears at you or that you have been looked over in the company for promotion while the younger, leaner, less skilled young ladies were promoted without any substance to the promotions.

I would say, yes!

Your talent specialist should have the experience to ascertain whether these reasons were

  1. Valid (from your stance)
  2. Credible (again from your stance)
  3. Re-occurring throughout your work history (a candidate who constantly resigns due to victimisation may be the problem and not the company)

And then decide if they are going to put you forward for the position. Once the answer is yes, the talent specialist should present these reasons into professional and recognisable reasons for the candidate to have left employment. These reasons should be explained to the candidate as well so that they are aware of how to approach this answer; the candidate will be encouraged to be honest but to use the correct terminology in the interview.

Some of the examples that I have had over years that could simply not be put into a sugar-coated version would be the young man who had an affair with the boss’s wife (the boss being his uncle); he was subsequently physically chased away by his uncle to never return.

 The female candidate who had so many personal problems at each company she worked for that it became clear that she is a male magnet… Or the insecure young lady who job-hopped due to being victimised everywhere she worked. Only upon checking references we found out that she wasn’t too keen on doing any work that required effort.

In the talent sourcing arena, there are certain universally acceptable terms, such as – career advancement (rather than – it was a dead-end job), career opportunity (rather than – I was tired of doing the same thing over and over again) , unfavorable working conditions (rather than- working too long hours, babysitting the owner’s children), appointment conditions not met (rather than – they broke their promises) and the list goes on.

It remains the Talent specialist’s responsibility to have clear and honest communication with both the candidate and the company to ensure that the best fit is made for all parties. This may include changing the words used by a candidate but not distorting the circumstance to which it refers to.

Article by: Juanita Swart

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