The primary method in realistic recruitment is the realistic job preview (RJP). The RJP is the presentation of realistic—often quite negative—information about an organization to a job candidate. It is given to job candidates during the selection process to help them make an informed job choice, should a job offer be made. A second realistic recruitment strategy is to use certain recruitment sources (e.g., employee referrals), which communicate realistic information to job candidates while avoiding others that do not (e.g., newspaper ads). Finally, four selection methods that also communicate realistic information to job candidates are briefly mentioned, because their primary intended purpose is for selection rather than recruitment.
The Realistic Job Preview (RJP)
An RJP contains accurate information about job duties, which can be obtained from interviews with “subject matter experts” or from a formal job analysis. The RJP also contains information about an organization’s culture, which can be obtained from surveys, interviews with current employees, and exit interviews. There are four criteria for selecting the specific information to include in the RJP: (1) it is important to most recruits, (2) it is not widely known outside the organization, (3) it is a reason that leads newcomers to quit, and (4) it is related to successful job performance after being hired. Because of the need to tailor make the RJP, based on both job and organizational information, it is not really a specific technique. Rather, it is a general approach to recruitment, or “philosophy,” as some might say. Furthermore, organizations often differ on the particular means for presenting realistic information to job candidates, for example, (1) a brochure, (2) a discussion during the job interview, or (3) a video. Combinations of these three specific techniques are sometimes used. Combining the latter two is probably the best approach, as discussed below.
One important purpose of the RJP is to increase the degree of fit between newcomers and the organizations they join. There are two types of fit affected: (1) person-job fit and (2) person-organization fit. Good person-job fit typically results in better newcomer performance, as well as indirectly on increasing retention. Good person-organization fit typically results in reduced quitting, as well as indirectly on increasing job performance. To the extent that an RJP affects job choices by candidates, also known as self-selection, it can improve either or both types of fit.
RJP information is communicated to job applicants prior to organizational entry. Realistic information that is disseminated after organizational entry has been defined as newcomer orientation, which is different from the RJP in several ways. The most important difference is that the primary purpose of newcomer orientation is to help new hires cope with both a new job and a new organizational culture. Thus, newcomer orientation teaches solutions to common newcomer adjustment problems during organizational entry. In contrast, the RJP presents the adjustment problems without the solutions. This is because one purpose of the RJP is to discourage job candidates who are likely to be misfits with the job and/or organizational culture.
For a long time, the RJP was thought to affect newcomer retention more so than job performance, as reported in a 1985 review by Steve Premack and John Wanous. However, a 1998 review by Jean Phillips found a stronger effect of the RJP on job performance than Premack and Wanous did, while reaffirming the same effect of the RJP on retention of new hires. As of this writing, the Phillips review is the most recent one that is available.
Some RJP methods are better than others. Specifically, the best RJP technique for hiring better performers is a video. The best RJP method to increase new hire retention is a two-way conversation between a job candidate and a job interviewer during a job interview.
The main explanation for a video RJP increasing the performance of new hires is that recruits are shown a role model performing critical job duties successfully. Role models are an effective way to demonstrate both interpersonal and physical skills that are part of most entry-level jobs.
Explaining why RJPs increase new hire retention, however, has been more complicated. There are four different hypotheses. First, the information provided in an RJP helps job candidates choose more effectively among job offers. This process of self-selection is believed to increase person-organization fit, as mentioned earlier. Furthermore, to the extent that job candidates feel free to accept or reject the job offer, the more likely they are to be committed to the choice itself, as suggested by decades of research on cognitive dissonance. Second, the RJP can “vaccinate” expectations against disappointment after organizational entry, because the most dissatisfying job and organizational factors have already been anticipated. Third, the information in an RJP can help newcomers cope more effectively with the stress of being in a new environment, originally called “the work of worry” by Irving Janis. Finally, an RJP can enhance the perceived trustworthiness or supportiveness of the organization to job candidates, thus increasing their initial commitment to the organization. Support for any one of these hypotheses does not necessarily mean that others are refuted, however. All can be viable explanations.
Several guidelines for designing and using the RJP can be derived from the two reviews, using sophisticated quantitative methods, that Phillips and Wanous have done. First, self-selection should be explicitly encouraged. That is, job candidates should be advised to carefully consider whether to accept or reject a job offer. This can be done best during the job interview, which may be an important reason why it is the best method for increasing new hire retention. Second, the RJP “message” must be credible. Credibility can be achieved by using actual employees as communicators, whether in a video and/or a job interview. This may explain why using only a brochure is the least effective of all methods. Third, how typical employees feel about the organization, not just sterile facts, must be part of an RJP. Again, employee feelings can be best provided in a video and/or a job interview. Fourth, the balance between positive and negative information should closely match the realities of the job itself. This requires careful data collection and analysis before developing an RJP. Finally, the RJP should normally be done before, rather than after, hiring, but not so early that the information is ignored. (An exception might be to position the RJP at the end of executive recruitment, although there has been no research on executives.)
Research continues to identify the boundaries for the RJP.
- First, if the retention rate for new hires is very low, the job is probably so undesirable that an RJP will have no effect on job survival. For example, one study of newly hired self-service gas station attendants revealed that not 1 of the 325 new hires lasted as long as nine months. In fact, many quit by the end of the first month. In organizations with very high retention, the RJP may not be able to improve on that already high level. Because of this, the RJP is probably most effective when the one-year job retention rate for newcomers is in the 50 percent to 80 percent range. Estimates for using the RJP to increase job retention for an organization with a 50 percent job retention rate (for the first year after being hired) range from increasing it up to 56 percent to increasing it up to 59 percent.
- Second, if the relevant labor market has relatively few job openings, the RJP will have little effect on a job candidate’s job choice, because the chance of obtaining multiple job offers is low. Furthermore, a very tight labor market means that new hires tend to stick with a job even if they would prefer to leave it.
- Third, the RJP appears to be more effective when job candidates have some previous job knowledge or work experience, because they can better understand the information that is provided.
- Fourth, both Phillips and Wanous found that the RJP increases newcomer retention more so in business organizations than in the military. The primary reason for this difference in job survival rates is that there are restrictions on attrition from the military.
Translating the impact of the RJP into dollar terms (utility analysis) can be done by calculating the difference between the number of new hires needed without using an RJP versus the number needed when using one. Consider an organization that wants to hire and retain 100 new employees. If the job retention rate for the first year is 50 percent, the organization will need to hire 200 in order to retain the target goal of 100. If the RJP increases job retention from 50 percent up to 56 percent, it would mean hiring only 178 people. If the RJP increases job retention from 50 percent up to 59 percent, the organization would have to hire only 169 new people. For a fast-food chain of restaurants (e.g., McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, Pizza Hut) that typically hires over 100,000 newcomers corporation-wide at a cost of $300 to $400 per hire, the dollar savings in recruitment and hiring can be in the tens of millions of dollars.
The RJP may also be relevant for other aspects of human resource management. They could easily be used for preparing managers for international assignments. Although intuitively appealing, there has been no rigorous research on this topic, which is puzzling because the costs of failures in international assignments for executives is far greater than for lower paying, entry-level jobs that typify most studies of the RJP.
Realistic Recruiting Sources
Besides the RJP, there are other ways that realistic information can be communicated to job candidates. One recruitment strategy is to hire from those sources that have higher job retention rates and higher job performance. A rigorous review of this research by Michael Zottoli and Wanous found that inside sources (referrals by employees and rehires) had significantly better job retention rates than those from outside sources (newspaper ads and employment agencies). Furthermore, inside sources produced better job performers, although their effect on performance was less than on retention. However, the effect of recruitment source on retention and performance are both significant. Their usefulness in dollar terms can be estimated in the same way as for the RJP. Although the number of recruitment source studies (25) is less than those of the RJP (40), there seem to be enough studies so that the results of recruitment source research should be taken seriously now. Unfortunately, no study has yet examined an organization that combines the RJP with inside recruitment sources. Thus, the effect of combining both of these realistic recruitment methods is unknown at present.
Six hypotheses have been offered to explain the link between recruitment source, on the one hand, and job survival and job performance, on the other. Some of these are identical to those concerning the RJP. First, inside recruits have more accurate information, which results in less disappointment among newcomers. Second, having accurate information enables job candidates to make better job choices. Third, inside recruits fit better with the organization because those who referred them know what it takes to be both successful and not to quit. Fourth, those from employment agencies or newspaper ads may know more about the full range of job possibilities and thus have higher turnover than those from other sources because of this greater knowledge. Fifth, source differences might be the result of systematic differences in the types of people from each source. Sixth, those referred by friends might be treated better by experienced employees and thus, have higher retention than other new hires.
A second recruitment source strategy is to set up a company Web site that communicates realistic information to potential job candidates. Unfortunately, there is no rigorous research on real organizational Web sites as of this writing. Studies of students responding to fictitious Web sites are just now beginning to be published. However, the trustworthiness of research using college students reacting to fictitious Web sites has yet to be established.
The Texas Instruments (TI) Web site (http://www.ti.com/) is an example of how a Web site might be used for realistic recruitment. Job seekers are directed to a section where a self-scored survey can be taken. The purpose of the survey is to assess both person-job fit (14 questions) and person-organization fit (18 questions), which TI refers to as “job content fit” and “work environment fit” respectively. Job seekers are asked to rate certain items on a 5-point scale (Strongly Agree, Agree, Neutral, Disagree, Strongly Disagree). After responding to the 32 items, the job seeker is then given an overall score. The score shown is a simple dichotomy: You fit or you do not fit at TI. In addition to overall fit, the job seeker is also shown TI’s “best answer” to each of the questions right next to one’s own answer. TI is careful to remind job seekers that the TI best answers are not “right vs. wrong.” Rather, they indicate TI’s best estimate of its typical work content and typical organizational culture. Unfortunately, how these “best answers” were determined is not provided.
Realistic Selection Methods
Although the RJP and recruitment sources are the two major topics in realistic recruitment, there are four selection methods that may also communicate realistic information, thus complementing both the RJP and the use of inside recruitment sources. These include (1) probationary employment, (2) “structured job interviews” (i.e., the situational interview and the behavior description interview), (3) work sample tests (both verbal and motor skills tests), and (4) assessment centers. Research on these four has concerned job performance rather than retention. Because these are primarily selection methods, rather than recruitment methods, detailed analysis of them is beyond the scope of this entry. As predictors of job performance, however, their validity and utility are both fairly well established.
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