Find the right fit up front: Set employee expectations at the job interview

I see the tides turning. Leaders in organizations are having conversations about Gen Y. Not just complaining about them; rather trying to get a handle on the issues that have become a new reality in organizations. They’re grappling.

I recently spoke at a conference in Madison. As we were talking about the evolution of the work environments and the overall quality of life that Gen Ys are seeking, someone in the front of the room said, “I think about all of the times that I worked all day, went home at 6 p.m., had dinner with my family, spent time with my kids and then went back to the office until midnight or one o’clock in the morning. I just can’t seem to get the people who work for me to understand that this is what we need to do to take care of our customers and our commitments. They have to realize that if they want to get ahead in this industry, this is what is required of them.”

Someone on the other side of the room responded by simply saying, “Maybe they don’t want to.”


While the emerging workforce is willing to work hard (and, yes, there are many examples of this), this doesn’t mean that they’re interested in consistent 70-hour work weeks or in working till midnight as a standard way of life. In some instances, they’re reflecting on what they observed in their parents, and they’re saying, “Yeah, I’m not interested in that. Life is just not all about work as the central focus.”

Someone else in the room shared the following scenario: “I recently interviewed two candidates. One of them was more like me (aka baby boomer), and one had more of the tendencies of the Gen Ys. Which one should I hire?”

It’s a rather intriguing question, one that you may have grappled with. And, it depends. What are the things that are most important to you? What kind of environment do you have? What do you embrace? As a quick side note, I work with a leader in a Milwaukee-area organization, and she works in a 40-hour work week company. This company does not WANT anyone to work more than 40 hours. Believe it or not, some people do not fair well in this environment, as they want to work more than this. Whether you are a 40-hour work week kind of place or a 70-hour work week kind of place, the key is that the people you’re talking with are informed, and that they get to tell you before you hire them if what you expect resonates with them.

If we go back to which candidate to hire, I would simply suggest that you be clear about what you expect (in terms of performance, conduct and timeliness/attendance/reliability). Go down your list one by one, and allow your candidate time to respond to each of the expectations that are important to you. Then give them the opportunity to share anything else about their expectations. This level of thoroughness will give you a clearer idea of who the better candidate is.

Along these same lines, during a recent workshop that I was facilitating on the topic of employee engagement, the leaders in the room were talking about expectations….particularly, high expectations. Someone in the room had a revelation. She said, “We hire people, and THEN I sit down with them and tell them what my expectations are. It seems like I should be doing this during the interview process.”


Let’s go back to the first situation mentioned. If this leader views an expectation of the job to include working late at night, establish this expectation prior to a job acceptance. “One of the things I’d like you to know about me as a leader is that I expect my people to be willing to come in late at night, after spending the evening with your family (or friends), to advance projects that are on a tight deadline. Does this work for you? If they say, yes, you’re good. If they say no, then this isn’t your person. And this isn’t the job for them. And leaders have to be willing to not turn a blind eye or to compromise what they know to be important to them.

Leadership will always involve the contemplation of multiple issues. Be careful about equating commitment with the working of long hours. And, if you have not taken the time to create your list of clear expectations that you have of the people who work with you, it’s time to do your part.

Aleta Norris is a co-founding partner of Brookfield-based Impact Consulting Group LLC and Living As A Leader, a leadership training, coaching and consulting firm. Send her your Generation Y questions at or visit for more information.

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