The funny thing about recruiting and hiring is that no one really knows what to expect until that first day on the job. Sure, we might speculate, read some reviews, talk to those familiar with the organization and do our homework. But no matter how much preparation we put in, we’re bound to end up surprised — that goes for the employer as much as their new employee. 

Even after doing our due diligence as employers — completing round after round of interviews, calling references, passing the background check and tackling virtual job assessments — there’s still one more card to play in the talent-acquisition process: a “day in the life” for candidates.

An effective “day in the life” for candidates can help cut through the best face-forward pleasantries and allow potential employers and job seekers to get real with one another. Here’s the how and why. 

Do some decoding  

Anyone who’s ever applied for a job understands that there’s a bit of a game involved. Recruiters and hiring managers agonize over job descriptions before posting online, trying to nail down the requirements and responsibilities, while candidates learn that just sending in a resume and stock cover letter isn’t the best approach. Probing a little deeper, we come to see there’s a subtext to this work, one that’s working to describe the “day in the life” in so many words. 

On the employer side, an obvious example might be the need for a “motivated self-starter.” Translation: the new hire will receive little to no direction from management and needs to hit the ground running from day one on the job. Or, if the ideal candidate is asked to be “flexible,” you’re probably going to ask them to multitask in between lots of meetings. You’d think recruiters and hiring managers would be more candid about the day-to-day, yet we still talk as if 10% travel is more important to mention than 50% meetings. Go figure. 

On the flipside, some candidates may be tempted to exaggerate their skills and abilities to seem more desirable. No doubt you’ve met a few “natural leaders” who just “love to work.” Maybe they are and perhaps they do, but these clichés don’t exactly let the recruiter see what’s happening below the surface.

Helpful hint: Go into every interaction with eyes wide open. 

Promote hypertransparency 

Knowing what you know, it’s time to invite the candidate into the office. The idea here is to fast-forward beyond the awkward onboarding phase and invite them to participate in an average workday as if they are four or five months into the job. Once they arrive, show candidates to a functioning workstation with an email account already set up. Have team members drop by and say hello. Make sure their calendar for the day includes all of the day’s meetings, including any additional details you’re able to provide. Set the expectation that they’ll be a full participant, logged into the organization’s platforms and channels, ready to engage and interact with others throughout the day. 

Even taking this approach, there will be some lingering hesitation from the candidate. That’s fine, as long as you let them know that this exercise exists to benefit both sides. They’re evaluating the job, while the hiring team makes final determinations about the candidate. Add rigor to the process by creating a rubric for assessment and asking candidates to take note of what they observe, including what they would fix and how, as well as whether or not they want the job. Making these next steps abundantly clear should help inspire some action on their behalf, especially if the final interview is looming. 

Helpful hint: When this “day in the life” for candidates exercise is done right, it should change the questions the organization and candidate have about each other. 

Request radical candor 

Taking a candidate behind the scenes gives them a look at the job in question, boss, peers and, ultimately, the organization and its culture. Try as we might, those remain difficult to express on paper and during the initial recruiting process. By putting candidates in the office for a day and giving them access to almost everything they would have if hired, we peel back the veil and hope they’ll do the same. 

An effective “day in the life” positions the candidate as a mystery shopper or fly on the wall, able to see the organization at face value rather than from the trenches. In doing so, we take a significant risk, knowing full well that they might not like what they see — and that’s okay. What organization ever grew without the aid of feedback? The same goes for people. 

To pull off these programs, we need to set up the infrastructure, working with office managers and IT to build a desk to support visiting candidates. But we also need to prepare for criticism and rejection, offering the same to the candidates we meet. Sometimes the fit won’t be there. When this happens, we need to ask hard questions and determine whether it’s not a match at all or just not right now, or if there’s another position that might work better. Requesting radical candor requires being able to accept radical candor, and that’s perhaps the most challenging part of these experiences, especially for candidates.  

Helpful hint: See beyond the immediate by speaking freely and listening closely. 

When executed well, a “day in the life” for candidates offers an invaluable amount of information about organizations and their candidates. The key is to stop dancing around the table and put intent into action. So if you haven’t taken the plunge yet, why not give it a try?

William Tincup is the President of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. Find him on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Indeed.