When most people apply for jobs, they expect the job description on job postings to match the position that will be filled. However, our recently published study examining startup hiring shows that this is not always the case. Sometimes the job someone is applying for isn’t the same job they were hired for in the end.
Jobs can evolve between the time a decision to hire someone is made and the actual hiring process itself. Hiring managers may change jobs, hire someone for a different job than they’re applying for, or stop looking for a job altogether. While this can be frustrating for job seekers, employers are doing it in response to workplace insecurities.
At a time when employers are struggling to find staff and many people are making career changes, knowing and understanding why this is happening is critical both for those looking for new jobs and those trying to fill some of the many jobs that have become vacant.
Why jobs change between secondment and recruitment
Join TNW in Valencia!
The heart of technology comes to the heart of the Mediterranean
For our startup hiring research, we interviewed more than 100 startup founders, managers and their employees, job seekers, and experts from the startup community. We analyzed the interviews to understand how and why jobs changed during this period and found two key patterns.
We found that some employers deliberately use the hiring process to understand their organization’s needs and define their new roles accordingly. In these cases, employers know they need to hire someone, but don’t yet have a clear idea of what that job will look like.
One startup in our study used the hiring process to define two new marketing functions. Instead of writing and posting a formal job description, the founders scoured their networks and brought in two marketing candidates for a non-traditional evaluation process.
The founders described their current marketing challenges and asked the applicants to present their solutions. Based on the presentations, they designed two different marketing positions around the skills of the two candidates.
Unplanned job changes
In other cases, changes to tasks are not part of a scheduled process. Hiring managers may start with clear descriptions of the positions they want to fill, fail to find candidates with the skills they are looking for, and end up redefining and reposting those positions.
One CEO we interviewed did so after receiving an overwhelming number of applications above the skill level required for a personal assistant job opening. He reassigned the office manager position, which required a higher qualification, and quickly filled it.
Some managers also change their mind about what they want during the hiring process.
One startup in our study identified problems in their sales position during the hiring process and eventually changed jobs after the applications came in. new job as a lead generator. He was promised that he would eventually move to the original sales job he had applied for.
Finally, managers sometimes stumble upon great candidates who fit different positions and fill those jobs instead. One startup in our study went to a job fair hoping to find a mid-level developer, and ended up hiring an entry-level developer and a marketing director.
Positive and negative effects
We found that this evolution of job descriptions during the hiring process can have mixed implications for both the hiring organizations themselves and new hires.
Some changes, such as removing and reposting jobs, can lead to positive consequences, such as more stable jobs and incumbent employees staying in the organization. It can enable the organizations to learn, create a better organizational structure and even undertake new work.
This finding is consistent with past research that found changes in job descriptions can enable organizations to adapt to different situations by developing structures and strategies appropriate to the circumstances.
However, we noted that most of the other types of job changes in our study had negative consequences, such as job instability, prolonged conflict over job territory, incumbent departure, and job dissolution.
For example, the aforementioned applicant who was offered a different job than the one he applied for ran into a conflict with the sales director, and his job never progressed into the full-cycle sales job he was promised upon hiring. He was gone within a year and his position was not fulfilled.
This finding is consistent with past research who found that changing jobs around individual job holders can lead to bias, nepotism, low morale, and unwanted and unpredictable power struggles.
The dynamic nature of job descriptions can lead to inequality in the recruitment process, as not all applicants understand that jobs can change between secondment and hiring. Those who do understand have a distinct advantage over those who don’t, as they know they should apply even if their preferences and qualifications don’t match the job posting. This knowledge may tie in with individual demographics.
This can be particularly bad for women and members of other underrepresented groups who are less comfortable applying for jobs where they do not meet the listed qualifications. Previous evidence has shown that women often apply for jobs for which they are already well qualified while men apply for the jobs they want to be qualified for.
It is also possible that women are less likely than men to apply with the expectation that jobs will evolve to suit their skills and preferences. If more women know about the results of our research, this could lead to more applications for jobs that seem to be outside their field.