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

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)



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.


Hi Pilar, I can't speak about other companies, but the letter in this example is only given to people before they accept the offer of a job. So candidates have already made it to the interview stage having read and talked about the positives, as well as the challenges. It's a final clarification of what they're signing up to and helps to 'scare away' anyone who realises they're not up to the challenge. The colleagues at this company found that too many people applied thinking it would be a walk in the park, free-for-all kind of company, not realising just how much responsibility they were signing up for in reality. So it was designed to avoid wasting people's time, on both sides, and only have people join who really understood the good and bad, light and dark of self-management. And at least at this company, it worked very well!

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I really like the sentiment but I'd cover this during the interview process rather than in a letter - its a great conversation starter and way to see what a person is like when you are face to face with them

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Sharon Green

Sharon Green

I led a recruitment drive for one of my clients, a growing start up, and part of the marketing was to be very open, honest and transparent with our recruitment partners and prospective new joiners on the positives and potential downsides for joining the company. It was hard for the recruiters not to embellish and oversell, they just can't help it a lot of the time, but together we managed to have a higher hit rate and stick rate.

Marketing can be your friend as long as it's honest and matches the experience when people join, otherwise it can be viewed as spin, window dressing or BS.

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Christina Venzin

Christina Venzin

Great! And it‘s not „scaring“ at all, I think: If you expect your future employee to be honest and work with an open and straightforward communication, so should you as an employer! By means of the letter you don‘t only talk about beeing straightforward, you live it.

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Monika Hejduk

Monika Hejduk

Why do you call it "scare them away"-Label? It is just a crystal clear description of the frame of work and kind of rules, that one might encounter. And nothing more. Please do not believe, that this scares people away. :)

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Why do you call it "scare them away"-Label? It is just a crystal clear description of the frame of work and kind of rules, that one might encounter. And nothing more. Please do not believe, that this scares people away. :)

Monika Hejduk

Hi Monika, I recently spoke to Jennie at the company this article is referring to and she said this:
"The second people hear there are no traditional bosses, they think it's a kind of anarchy where you can do whatever you want. It's everything but that! In a sense it's harder because you have so many people that can question you for your decisions or why you don't achieve results and so on. We realised that there were lots of people were never going to put in the kind of effort that was needed for them to act as responsible adults... So we created this letter to scare those people away. And it worked, because after they had the first interview and read the letter, many of them realised: "Oh no, this is not what I thought."

So they called it that because it was designed to literally scare away anyone before they accepted the offer that had any illusions this was going to be an easy ride (especially as they are in the telemarketing industry). And scare them away it did! The success of their recruitment went up after this.

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If the letter complements an offer including a significant equity stake, making the newly hired "partner" actually a Partner, then I think this is great!

If not, then you may as well just combine it with some other ridiculous corporate statements. Try adding a couple of these too:
"Welcome to our family!"
"We care about what's best for YOU!"
"We can't wait for you to join us in making the world a better place through canonical data models to communicate between endpoints!”

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