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‘Should I Warn Job Candidates About How Bad My Company Is?’

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Dear Boss,

I’m currently wrapping up a job of many years. While my major reason for leaving is wanting to change professions, I’ve also been looking for the past year due to job dissatisfaction and problems with senior management. Honestly, I stuck around longer than I should have because I really enjoyed my team members and the flexible work schedule. 

My personal dissatisfaction with the job stems from the fact I absorbed the work of two people and was refused any help after speaking up. The problems with upper management are potentially more worrisome: The staff has not been paid on time for close to four years (although we have been since the pandemic started), we frequently don’t receive reimbursements for months at a time (at one point my co-worker was owed close to $2,000), and employees have had to fight for basic equipment to do their job (like laptops). 

I’m leaving on great terms despite my less-than-stellar experience. The company has posted my job description online and I’ve had people approach me for more details about the position, mostly acquaintances and people I have worked with previously.

How up-front can I be about the issues the position and the company have? I know it’s usually frowned upon to talk poorly about an employer, but I would feel guilty hiding this information from a potential replacement. For the record, despite all this, there are a couple of really fantastic benefits that I can talk about regarding the job, so it wouldn’t just be all doom and gloom!

Yes, speak up! There’s a way to do this that gets potential candidates the information they need without openly trashing your employer in a way that could cause problems for you if it got back to them.

But it’s important to give people an honest idea of what they’d be signing up for. That’s especially true when the applicants approaching you are people you know personally, since they probably have a higher expectation that you’ll be candid with them. After all, imagine if an acquaintance assured you a job was fine, and then after accepting it you found out they knew it was a nightmare — you’d rightly feel pretty upset with them.

It’s also important to find ways to be up-front with candidates you don’t know. You probably can’t speak quite as frankly with them, but you can still find ways to convey the essentials.

Somewhat counterintuitively, being honest isn’t just for the benefit of potential candidates; it’s good for your employer too (whether or not they’d see it that way). If your company hires people who later feel misled, those are employees who will end up demoralized and disengaged and who will try to leave sooner than they otherwise would. Truth in advertising really matters in hiring, on both sides, despite how few companies adhere to it in practice.

The key is in how you present it. There are some situations where things are so bad that you need to say some version of, “This is a hellscape, everyone is miserable, run for your life!” But in most cases, you can present a more balanced picture while still conveying the things you think people most need to hear. For example, in your case you might say something like this: “There are some good pieces and some less-good pieces. What I liked about the job was XYZ. That said, my workload has been high; I ended up absorbing the work of two other positions and, although I raised the issues it was causing, I wasn’t able to get assistance with that. There have also been issues with getting paid on time and getting equipment approved, and people are often frustrated with how long expense reimbursements take. I want to be up-front about those aspects so you can decide how much they’re likely to bother you.”

Try to say this over the phone or in-person if you can. Definitely don’t put it in writing to a stranger — or to anyone you don’t know well enough to be confident it won’t somehow make its way back to your company.

In your case, the problems are straightforward and objective — your workload was high, payments didn’t go out on time. With something more subjective, like a difficult boss, you might not want to say “Jane is a monster” to someone you don’t know well, but if you say “Jane can be hard for some people to work with,” there’s a subtext there that most people will pick up on.

And of course, if you’re talking to a friend, you can be much, much more candid.

But with people you don’t know well, the idea is that you’re giving enough info for them to realize that all is not rosy there, and to ask follow-up questions and otherwise do more digging on their own.

Now, you might read this and wonder, do you have an obligation not to expect people to read between the lines, an obligation to instead be completely open and direct? Honestly, I’d love it if I could tell you, “Don’t hold back! Share your full dissatisfaction with this job with anyone considering applying.” The reality, though, is that you can burn a bridge with your employer if it gets back to them that you did that, especially if they hear you’re airing all that with potential applicants you don’t even know. Whether it should burn a bridge is a different question, but if you’re dependent on them for references in the future, it’s something you’ve got to think about.

So that’s why we’re in “say it, but say it with some diplomacy” land.

Know, too, that even after hearing your experiences, people may choose to apply for the job anyway. Some will figure they need a job and can live with what you described (and some people are better at ignoring work problems than others). Some will figure they might as well apply and learn more as they go through the hiring process, as applying doesn’t commit them to accepting the job if it’s offered. And some are just overly optimistic and were going to apply no matter what you said.

But do find a way to flag the negatives. People deserve to hear those, especially people directly appealing to you for your insight.

Order Alison Green’s book Ask a Manager: Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and the Rest of Your Life at Work here. Got a question for her? Email Her advice column appears here every Tuesday.

‘Should I Warn Job Candidates About How Bad My Company Is?’