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How Do Set Clear Hiring Expectations

Ben Retourné

VP of Product at BlaBlaCar

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Problem

"Hiring in startups is all about setting clear expectations from the start. While managers mainly hire for a specific role, there are things that cannot always be specified in job descriptions or are constantly evolving. If this is not clearly communicated during the interview or in its immediate aftermath, people will at some point leave or be let go."

"Hiring in startups is all about setting clear expectations from the start."

The fact that there was a disconnect from the start between what you expect new hires to do and what they will do once they join, indicates a lack of clarity. Mismatches of this kind generate a lot of frustration. A new hire is not at ease, you are not at ease, and stakeholders who will notice misalignment will also not be at ease.

Actions taken

"To avoid the problem of misaligned expectations, I try to be explicit about the company mission and key objectives for an upcoming period before a new hire joins in. Whether this is communicated during the interview or in its immediate aftermath, it is taking place before their official start date. Many people told me that it is too early to bring up expectations before the person starts working, but in fact, I think it never is too early, and I will seize the earliest opportunity to set expectations right."

"I try to be explicit about the company mission and key objectives for an upcoming period before a new hire joins in."

One of the first questions I would ask a new hire would be, "What does success look like to them in three months. For example, if they join on September 1, what do they expect to achieve by December 1." I would create the document containing my own expectations and their answers and socialize it broadly across the organization. Everyone would get a chance to learn about those expectations and what the new hire will be doing. This is critically important because expectations of all people who would be interacting with the new hire should be aligned.

"What does success look like to them in three months."

This document also serves to guide the new person and help them self-evaluate their work. New hires are often overwhelmed by doubt: "Am I doing this right?" Having a clear path they should follow from day one is a key to their success. For example, the document may state that they should be working on four areas, each of which would have certain milestones. By checking those milestones, they can self-evaluate if they are on track in those four areas and, if yes, not worry too much.

"Having a clear path they should follow from day one is a key to their success."

One of the main challenges I face is how to frame what people shouldn’t be working on. Unlike things that one should be working on, things they shouldn’t be, are typically part of unspoken assumptions and unwritten truths. Yet, most misunderstandings are hidden in unwritten truths. Therefore I would always be explicit and have everything in writing: a new person will work on A, B, and C but not on D.

"Unlike things that one should be working on, things they shouldn’t be, are typically part of unspoken assumptions and unwritten truths."

Finally, communication is critical to managing expectations. Sometimes it takes to over-communicate, but over-communication triggers questions and feedback, and if anything was unclear, it would be clarified. Communication is all about repetition and preparation. It doesn’t involve only a new person, but other people who need to share documents, engage in conversation, answer questions, etc. An extra effort put into communication will no doubt be paid off in the long run.

Lessons learned

  • Be clear on what is expected from a new hire within the first three months. Those expectations should be tangible and verified by someone on your team in terms that those are feasible for one person to achieve. If you have vague or unrealistic expectations, that will leave a lot of room for interpretation. Leave too much room for interpretations, and you will have difficult discussions.
  • Involve other people. Expectations are about alignment: a new hire’s, yours, and everyone else who will be interacting with the new person. Make sure that everyone’s on the same page and that everything has a paper trail.
  • You can never over-communicate. You need to repeat every single thing at least three times to consider that as communicated. When it comes to expectations, it takes even more repetition.

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Ben Retourné

VP of Product at BlaBlaCar


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