Rebellious Recruitment? Use a 'Scare Them Away' Letter!

Pim
Written by in Practices
- 4 min read

As you know, we're in business to make work more fun. Ideally, we could help all companies around the world to do that. But not today. Today, I'll share a practice that's simply not for everyone. This one, as you'll see, is exclusively for the bold and brave. If you belong to that group, read on. If you don't, stop reading.

Recruitment gone wild

Companies spend crazy amounts of time and money recruiting talent. The "war on talent" is on many CEO's minds.

But finding the right people is hard. 93% of CEOs feel they need better ways to attract and retain the right talent. Other data says 38% of companies struggle to fill open positions.

This challenge is real.

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Scare them away

You might be hoping for a powerful idea to overcome that challenge—a secret weapon for the awkwardly-named 'war on talent'. But I'll have to disappoint you. Instead of suggesting a solution, I'll share a practice that will make the challenge even bigger...

You're welcome.

During my vacation I read a recent book on self-management, called "Moose Heads On The Table" by Karin Tenelius and Lisa Gill. The book shares stories of implementing self-management in smaller companies. In one, they discuss a practice called the 'scare-them-away' letter. Here's an excerpt from the book:

"Everyone became responsible for recruitment and onboarding. I wasn't even asked to meet the applicants but I trusted the team implicitly to know what skills and mindset were essential in order to thrive in the working environment we had created. The team became extremely picky about who they felt was a good fit.

We even wrote a 'scare them away' letter for those considering a job before they accepted our offer:

For you to consider before accepting our job offer:

In a small company organized the way we are, the traditional employer-employee relationship is replaced with a partnership. This means that:

  • You cannot expect the same service, support and infrastructure as you would in a large organization. This means the things you miss might need to be initiated and created by you.
  • You are regarded as someone who is really important in terms of how our company is doing, not just as someone who comes in and does their job.
  • You will have more responsibility for the whole picture, and you will also be able to have a greater impact than in a larger organization.
  • You will feel a bit more insecure than you might in a larger organization. How the company is doing financially has a more direct correlation to your employment.
  • The owners will work together with you but they will not manage the company - you and your colleagues will.
  • You will be required to contribute and take initiative. You will have to adapt to the fact that not everything will be in place, taken care of or running perfectly.
  • To work in this way open and straightforward communication is essential. This is a strong part of our culture.

All of us have different needs and desires in our workplaces where we spend a great deal of our lives. It is worth considering yours - what do you want from your future workplace? From experience we know that it takes more to work in a small business versus a larger one with its resources and established systems. We ask you to think about this and see if you are match with us.

Stop the charade

As I said before, this is probably not for all organizations. But, on some level, this feels extremely powerful. Sure, you might miss out on those who hesitate after reading such a letter. And that's great! You don't waste weeks or months figuring out that expectations were utterly misaligned and there's not a good fit.

So many companies put up a charade during recruitment in the hope of attracting new people. But sooner or later the company's true character will reveal itself, with all the associated consequences. So why not be radically honest from the very start?

It's not just the right thing to do, it also reduces disappointments down the line—for both employer and employee.

What do you think of the 'scare them away' letter? Is it something you'd like to implement in your team or organization? Let me know in the comments.

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Replies (17)

Samantha Bedford

Samantha Bedford

Excellent idea. Too often I have experienced the expectation that the 'company' needs to do this or that for us, a kind of parent/ child passive relationship when of course the people are the company with many often empowered to simply try new ways of working, processes, etc. but they don't see it as their 'job'. Secondly, it's a much more transparent way to promote the company, for example 'here's where we want to be, here's the reality' during recruitment enables the candidate to be more bought in having seen the warts and all and play an active role in developing the culture.

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Julie

Julie

This is spot on. A few years ago I took on the role of Chief Exec of a small charity facing closure because its main funder decided it was no longer relevant as a service. Whilst I knew this before I took the job on it was a while before I recognised the true extent of the challenge working in a falling down building and demoralised team. So this letter would have been perfect to spell out the full challenges from day one and tackle it on all fronts, rather than discovering lots of new issues as weeks progressed.

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Marie-Therese

Marie-Therese

I really love it. A couple of years back I took over a role to build a team within a corporation. We had quite a difficult role to fill. The whole team would make their choices. In addition I was doing, what this letter did. The team member we chose said, she had never ever experience such a scare away interview process. She was the enhancement of the team we needed to be successful and we were. So even it was not the same situation, the approach was similar and it worked.

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Michelle Livesley

Michelle Livesley

Love the 'scare them away letter' approach! I have experienced the negative impact that can happen when a person joins a self-managing organisation with different expectations of systems, processes and support. The person I have in mind found our test and learn/ experimental approach quite stressful, so not a good fit either way. Now we explore this using our Values Based Recruitment approach and look for people with a growth mindset.

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Emma Ramsay

Emma Ramsay

I dont see this as 'scaring them away' but about being honest and transparent about what the role entails. The contract itself should also be built around this messaging and not a legalistic template that so often bears no resemblance to the agreement being reached - I've heard of employers apologising for the contract even as they produce it! Conflicting messages only lead to confusion, so this type of transparency has to be good news.

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David

David

Very nice approach! You can also call it the ‘this is a great but peculiar Company’ letter!

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Clemens

Clemens

Just love the idea, and how the letter is formulated. It tackles so many issues both employer and employee can relate to if they are honest. And it is powerful to make it visible, especially at such an early and important moment, "before marrying" so to speak.

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Pilar

Pilar

So do you know how successful are the companies that use this type of letters in recruiting the right talent? I really miss the part of the letter where it tells what's in it for the applicant, certainly much positive, so you can balance both sides.

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Marc

Marc

So do you know how successful are the companies that use this type of letters in recruiting the right talent? I really miss the part of the letter where it tells what's in it for the applicant, certainly much positive, so you can balance both sides.

Pilar

Good point : But, if you get the message, it also means that YOU find out by yourself what would be good for you in this approach : Self-management starts right there ;)

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Heather West

Heather West

This is a really interesting concept. Very refreshing. It’s time for organizations and people to be more real.

I wonder, though, how a “scare them away” response would be met? One that noted a candidate’s strengths and challenges in a similar way.

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