The Realistic Job Preview Explained: 5 Tips to Do it Right

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The Realistic Job Preview Explained: 5 Tips to Do it Right

The realistic job preview is a standard in recruiting and selection. It is a great tool to increase the quality of applications; it ensures a fit between the person and the role and between the person and the organization, and it helps to retain employees longer. In this article, you will learn everything you need to know about the realistic job preview: its benefits and drawbacks, how to create one, and we give some excellent examples that you simply have to see!

What is a realistic job preview? A definition
Realistic job preview – benefits and drawbacks
How to create a realistic job preview?
Realistic job preview best practices
Realistic job preview examples
Before you go

What is a realistic job preview? A definition

A realistic job preview (RJP) is the presentation of both positive and negative information about the job and the organization to prospective applicants. This is aimed at showing a realistic picture of the job and organization to applicants.

Recruitment is always a two-way street. Most of the time, however, organizations ask applicants a thousand questions so usually there is little time remaining to inform the candidate. The realistic job preview is a tool to inform the candidate about the job and the organization – both in terms of upsides and downsides.

There is a well-known joke about an HR manager arriving at the pearly gates where St. Peter welcomes her. Before she can make the choice between the elevator to heaven or the one to hell, she has to try each of them for a day. Heaven turns out to be lovely but quite boring – while hell seems fun, with golf courses, a country club where she ate lobster, all her friends were there as was an infinite number of different drinks and cocktails.

So when St. Peter asks her to make her choice, she opts for the elevator to hell without any hesitation.

However, as soon as the doors of the elevator open, she finds herself standing in a desolate wasteland covered in garbage and filth. She sees her friends dressed in rags, picking up rubbish and putting it in old bags. The Devil approaches her and put his arm around her.

“I don’t understand,”nthe HR Manager stutters, “Yesterday I was here, and there was a golf course, a country club, we ate lobster, and we danced and had a wonderfully happy time. Now all there’s just a dirty wasteland of garbage and all my friends look miserable.”

The Devil looked at her and smiled. “Yesterday we were recruiting you, today you’re staff.”

This example illustrates the exact opposite of the realistic job preview. The goal of the RJP is to have the expectations of the candidate match the reality of the situation. The idea is to avoid disappointment when the candidate joins the organization. So if there is a match, this leads to a number of positive results.

Realistic job preview – benefits and drawbacks

Of course, the realistic job preview also has some drawbacks. As we saw in the example of the HR manager arriving in hell, she would have never opted to go there in the first place if she had gotten a realistic preview.

Similarly, the number of applicants will drop when a realistic job preview is presented.

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This is also what the science shows. A meta-analysis that analyzed 21 realistic job preview experiments, showed that RJPs tend to lower initial job expectations. This leads to self-selection, where candidates who don’t like the downsides of the job are less likely to apply, leading to a drop in the number of candidates.

At the same time, the realistic job preview has a number of key benefits.

  • Increasing self-selection. While reducing the number of applicants, the quality of the applicants will increase. This means that people will be more informed about the job and more motivated to start the job as there is a better fit between the person and the job. This is likely caused by lower expectations, one of the proven effects of being exposed to an RJP.
  • Improved candidate experience. Investing time in applying for a job that will not match is a big downer while gaining a deeper understanding of a job you like will only make candidates more excited. As such, the RJP is likely to have a positive impact on the candidate experience.
  • Commitment to the organization. Research shows that people who have had a realistic job preview are more committed to the organization. This is because they know what is happening, have a better understanding of the cultural values of the organization, and the issues that employees run into.
  • Job satisfaction. This one is more obvious – when expectations match reality, people will be more satisfied. Employees who have had a realistic job preview have better-matched expectations about their work – and about the organization – and as a result, will be more satisfied with their work.
  • Higher performance. Similarly, because of higher satisfaction, commitment to the organization, and alignment with the responsibilities of the job, employees are more likely to perform better.
  • Lower employee attrition. Because the expectations of the job and day-to-day reality are aligned, employee attrition decreases. This is especially relevant for first-year attrition. Because employee onboarding is expensive, the RJP is a great way to reduce the number of bad hires (i.e. employees who quit shortly after being hired or underperform and stay).

So, although the realistic job preview is likely to reduce the number of applicants, their quality will be higher and once they join the company their value to the organization (productivity & intention to stay) will also be higher. Also, on the human side: providing a realistic preview of the job is also likely to increase the candidate experience.

While using a realistic job preview in your recruitment process will probably decrease the number of applicants, it will increase their quality.

How to create a realistic job preview?

A realistic job preview consists of multiple elements. We will list all seven of them below and explain them one by one using examples.

  1. Organizational vision. The vision represents where the company wants to go. Aligning all employees with the organizational vision is crucial in reaching it. An article in The Guardian a few years ago noted that the problem for tobacco companies was that they couldn’t attract staff. Specifically, Phillip Morris International (PMI), a tobacco company, reported “We may be unable to attract and retain the best global talent”. This is one of the reasons why the company has now stated that it wants to create a smoke-free future.
  2. Organizational mission. The mission is about the company’s objectives and how it plans to reach them. Where the vision is about the long-term, the mission is about the short-term activities that help the organization advance.
  3. Job description. Probably the most important part of the realistic job preview is the job description itself. Painting a realistic picture of the job and its responsibilities is crucial in retaining employees. We will give an example later on.
  4. Rewards and benefits. The compensation and benefits structure of an organization is another key area to be featured in the job preview. A fair overview of total rewards, including compensation, types of employee benefits but also work-life balance, development opportunities and recognition is key. If a role involves a lot of low-visibility maintenance with little appreciation but that will be noticed when things go wrong, it is good to communicate that it may not be the most rewarding job – but that the compensation is excellent. Some people will simply fit better than others with this kind of job.
  5. Promotion system. Here again, showcasing potential career rewards also prevents disappointments down the line. If someone is ambitious, they may not be a good fit for a stable job with little promotional opportunities.
  6. Training opportunities. Similarly, if a job provides a rich array of training, this should be featured. Some jobs are challenging but don’t provide much formal training. This can be attractive for an autodidact since they may hate a formalized job with mandatory formal training.
  7. Development opportunities. Similar to the previous, when a job provides opportunities for learning that’s great – but if not, it should also be communicated. Some people are happy in a stable, stagnant job while others will already be looking for a way out within a few months.

Communicating these factors before someone accepts the job will significantly impact their satisfaction, performance, and the intention to quit after joining the company.

realistic job review
A video can be a great way to give candidates a virtual tour of their future work environment.
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5 Realistic job preview best practices

Let’s now dive into some realistic job preview best practices. These are about the RJP form, what to focus on, and where to use them.

  1. Make it compelling. This may sound obvious, but the means of delivery greatly impacts the effectiveness. A study compared a video job preview with a written booklet. The video had a clear positive effect while a written job preview had a slight negative effect. The key message here is to make it compelling for the applicant.
  2. A typical day. Add a ‘day in the job’ section on your job vacancies. A description of what a typical day (or two) will look like, including the good things and the bad or boring things, goes a long way. The more detail you give, the more people can imagine being in the role – making them more excited while turning off potential mismatches. We will add an example of this later.
  3. Focus on culture fit. Another realistic job preview best practice is to not only focus on the job. Focusing on culture is just as important. Every company culture has distinguishing characteristics that will attract some and repel others. Featuring these is a great way to filter candidates. If you have a hard-working culture and are not looking for a nine-to-five mentality, this should be featured clearly in the job vacancy and in other moments during the recruitment process.
  4. Employee interviews. Another great way is to feature interviews with current employees. They can share the specifics of the job, relevant department, and the company culture. They will be able to articulate the pros and cons very well.
  5. Multiple RJPs. A realistic job preview is not a single point of contact. You can integrate it into different phases of your talent acquisition process. Examples include a ‘day in the job’ section in the job advert, but also a video message on your company culture for the career website, and honest information about the specifics of the role from the hiring manager during the interview process.
    Pre-employment assessment tools can also include a realistic job preview module. Candidates are presented with several real-life, on-the-job situations in which they have to respond and act as if they were already doing the job. This gives applicants a very real taste of what the job is actually like.

There’s a lot more that can be said regarding the realistic job preview. For more information, you can check out this paper with a list of ten tough choices when it comes to creating a realistic job preview.

Realistic job preview examples

Let’s wrap up this guide by going over three realistic job preview examples.

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1. Kansas Child Welfare

When it comes to realistic job preview examples, the following video creates a great template. Although it is a little bit lengthy and slow-paced, it provides a great overview of the role of Child Welfare workers.

What I especially like is that different people, both men and women from different backgrounds explain their work through all layers of the organization. The interviews are sincere and sometimes sad but at the same time very powerful. Both good and bad things are included, like being perceived as ‘taking babies’, or the occasional hostility from parents.

This video is a great example of providing a nuanced job preview that is very helpful for applicants.


2. Hiring at AIHR

At AIHR, we have been applying realistic job preview in our vacancy texts since our founding. However, we learned that the more detail we put in these ‘on a typical day’ sections, the more questions applicants have and the more enthusiastic they are. We do this for full-time and part-time positions, but also for freelance positions.

We now cover at least a full day and feature our weekly work structure (team standup, company standup, monthly drinks, and so on). We also emphasize our core values, indicating that the role will involve a lot of hard work but also celebration of joint success.

In terms of drawbacks, we do communicate that the role requires flexibility, moving fast, and managing a team – but also answering basic student questions, going through feedback, and other more operational tasks.

Do note that this section is 350 words, which is longer than some job openings I’ve seen! However, we do see that people take the time to read it and make up their minds if there’s a match or not.

3. Waste Management

At Waste Management, they’ve created a great ‘on a typical day’ video. Antoine, one of the company’s drivers, takes you on a mini journey through his day talking straight; as a driver, you start as early as 3 or 4 am, working 10 to 12 hour days. You’re the public face of Waste Management which comes with a big responsibility in terms of safety. As Antoine puts it: ‘If you’re not into safety, this is not the company for you.’

What I like about this video is that apart from showing people what a typical day looks like in a very honest manner, it also clearly presents the company’s values and mission. Once I finished watching it, I felt that I had a good understanding of both the job and the company culture.

The Waste Management video pretty much ticks al off the best practices boxes we mentioned above: it’s compelling and it shows a typical day on the job as well as the company culture from an employee perspective.


Before you go

Including a realistic job preview in your recruitment process should be a no-brainer. Candidates will know better what to expect from the job and the company which will greatly benefit both them and the organization. What’s your experience with realistic job previews, what formats do you use? Share your experience in the comments!


What is a realistic job preview?

A realistic job preview (RJP) is the presentation of both positive and negative information about the job and the organization to prospective applicants. It aims to show a realistic picture of the job and organization to applicants.

What are the benefits of a realistic job preview?

Benefits of using a realistic job preview include increasing self-selection, an improved candidate experience, more commitment to the organization, higher job satisfaction and performance, and lower attrition.

What are realistic job preview best practices?

Best practices for realistic job previews are to make them compelling, show a typical day on the job, share honest employee interviews, and focus on culture fit.

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