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I'm interviewing candidates to work in our company. They ask about the outlook of the company.

I have some premonition about the direction the company is going, but to candidates I only talk about positive sides and tell them that company is going strong and will keep going strong.

However I can't get rid of the feeling that I'm basically lying to them. On the other hand I feel it would be unprofessional to let my personal feelings affect the interview process, especially given that the goal is to get them on board.

What should I tell candidates when the ask me about outlook of the company if I'm unsure?

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Hi, great question, I edited it slightly to focus it a bit and clean up the formatting some! –  enderland Aug 14 at 15:07
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How good are you at euphamisms? –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Aug 14 at 15:10
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Maybe you should tell your employer "the whole truth" about you being uncomfortable doing interviews. –  jcm Aug 16 at 6:34

9 Answers 9

In an interview like this, you need to stick to facts. Since it is only a premonition, you can't really say anything publicly about the company as this could be construed as slander.

You could cautiously share the "facts" that are giving you a bad feeling if that makes you feel better, but be careful how you say it. You should also still include all the upbeat things going on as well as what about the company makes you like working there etc.

It could get back to HR if the candidate says "I am turning down the job down because Windows2018 said the company was in trouble".

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Good suggestion. Remember, interviews go 2 ways. You are interviewing the candidate, but the candidate is also interviewing the company. Honesty based on the facts is always the best policy. –  Mike Van Trufflebutt Aug 14 at 15:32
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I imagine this also depends on whether this is a publicly held company, right? If it's publicly held, then you risk disclosing information that could affect the stock price in an illegal manner. –  Joe Aug 14 at 20:24
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..."I am turning down the job because <a computer from the future> said the company was in trouble". Hi, welcome to psychiatric ward 42.. –  Izkata Aug 16 at 22:28

If it's a factor that could possibly make them quit then yes, you should tell them. If not, well, no company is perfect.

If you don't tell them the negative sides then someone else might, possibly months later when they're a crucial part of the company, it could lead to employees leaving when you could have avoided hiring them in the first place.

Same goes for employees who are looking for a job, if they hide something from the employer there's a great chance that the employer will find out, resulting in god knows what.

Honesty can even make up for the negative things going on, since it makes the employees feel that you care about what's going on and are willing to work on problems instead of avoiding them.

Edit

If you're afraid that the topic is way over the line then you should simply discuss it with your closest manager, let him decide whether he wants to potentially lose employees in the future or state sensitive facts during interviews.

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You make good points about not wanting to lose someone when they're more important, but being completely honest could be very dangerous. As Bill Leaper points out, it would not be good if it somehow got back to HR or your manager that you were badmouthing the company at an interview. –  David K Aug 14 at 15:23
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+1 for discussing this with management. If you get a direct question, you should not lie, but you can refuse to answer, or say you do not known. –  sleske Aug 15 at 7:56

It depends - is the company in dire straits?

If it's profitable & you're just not a fan of the company you work for you can try "The company pushes it's staff very hard to achieve it's ends and so as I'm sure you can imagine we have good times and bad times so we're really looking for someone who can handle a difficult situation and can cope well with street... etc etc"

If the company's not profitable and is sinking try "our staff are currently working hard to market and promote new services/products and so we're expecting some difficult times ahead so we're looking for someone who can..."

Absolutely don't lie to them - of course - but make it clear it's going to be difficult without exposing them to your personal feelings. As an interviewer you're talking on behalf of the company.

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Can anyone really be sure one way or the other? Nothing lasts forever. Do you intend to continue to work for the company? Are you actively looking for a new job? If you have reasons to leave soon, then maybe you are being a little shady.

Tell them all the positive things and what your impression is of the strength of the company (that is your job), and if you have any solid reasons why there may be some concern, mention a few of those. It will give you some credibility. I had an interview and was told up front that their industry was going through a tough time.

Everyone can't expect to go into the workplace thinking every piece of information is open. There are some regulations about privacy especially if there is a potential purchase in the works. If that leaks, it could negatively impact the sale. Not all financial information can be in the open.

Ignore the gossip and hearsay. You don't know for certain nor should you be expected to know.

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If you feel that way, and interviewing, you are being dishonest with your manager or whoever at the company put you in an interviewing role. You should not be interviewing for a company you can't honestly promote, but this is a side issue. The core issue is that, while worrying about being honest to the candidate, you are ignoring that the company manager thinks you believe in the company, has enough confidence in you to place you in that role, and yet you are hiding your views from him/her and letting them make the mistake of choosing you to do interviews which they may not have chosen to if they knew "the whole truth" about you.

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Premonition? No, just keep it with you as a feeling of yours. In a professional environment one must deal with facts only.

First when you are a recruiter (I inferred from your question), you are supposed to tell candidates, about the role and company, what you are told by the company and that is it. But if you still feel there is more to tell, use hard facts or probably a good report on company finances or customers that you know of. Leave more research of the company business and direction to the candidate, if they feel, they can decide.

Other than that, Nothing. Consider this, a good candidate does not take the offer because you said something negative about the company, and later your estimates come out to be wrong and company does great. This is a loss to all, you, the candidate and the company. Another scenario, if company does as you guessed, and is overtaken by another big company, employees will still get benefit, may be a bit later though. In this case, still making candidate skip an offer is not a good idea.

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"you are a recruiter" – I wouldn't be quite sure, I've never been interviewed by a recruiter. Screening, yes, but interviews are generally done by the people from the department you're gonna work in. –  vartec Aug 14 at 16:20

I think the best approach to this is to answer the question in terms of the facts that are known to you. It sounds as if you don't have all of the information that you would need to have a clear picture into the company's finances and prospects, so there is no reason to play amateur financial analyst.

A good answer would be something along the lines of "I don't have a clear view into the company's finances, but things seem to be going well at present."

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I assume you are an interviewing officer not a recruiter. As an interviewer, it is not in your purview to talk on these matters. You can refer the candidate to the recruiter, or the signatory on the offer letter, who might be having latest and authentic information on the subject.

Even if you are recruiter or HR guy, at least in your official capacity, you are not expected to paint the company in negative light based on some rumors. I expect the candidate to use his/her own intuition, employ his own resources or contacts to find the truth. If there is some meat in the rumors which you might be having then it will not be too hard for the candidate to get to know about this either via some ex employee or current employee or the market. But it is rather weird on candidate's part to ask such questions and expect authentic answer on boardroom secrets. As someone already pointed out, the current situation may be just an observation or speculation and the things may drastically change in company's favor in the coming months.

My typical answer to such questions would be, "I can not comment on such matters, please take it up with the recruiter while signing the contract if you succeed in this round."

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I don't understand how you expect a job candidate at interview to magically divine inner secrets of the company's performance. You also have become obsessed with the notion that they are only "rumours", whereas this was never stated in the question. Anyway, if I were told "I cannot comment on such matters [..]" I would find this a very peculiar answer, and certainly give second thought to applying to the firm. I would also not trust a recruiter to know anything about the situation whatsoever, nor tell me the truth if somehow they did know. –  Lightness Races in Orbit Aug 16 at 13:42

Short answer: you don't tell people "the whole truth" as you see it. You definitely leave out things that are confidential, and things that are pure personal speculation with no particular grounding in evidence. Just because someone asks a question doesn't mean you must say everything in your brain ;-)

Depending on the company, you might also leave out things that are true and relevant and public, but that require some care in order to avoid the bad things eclipsing the good things. This is PR/spin/sales/presentation/tactful/sneaky, but whatever you call it you will in most jobs have to do it to some extent some of the time. So find out from your company what you need to do, then either do it or refuse to do it as conscience dictates.

Long answer:

If you're routinely being asked a question that you're unsure how to answer, then you should consult with whoever has authority over your interviewing activities, how it should be answered.

When you're interviewing, you represent the company. The company has an official position as to what its prospects are, and what challenges/threats it faces. This is what you present when you're representing the company, and you should find out how far you can go in honestly presenting the downsides without straying away from what the company is happy to be discussed publicly and into embarrassing or confidential information.

If the company truly is relentlessly optimistic, it doesn't admit any potential challenges to its progress or threats to its business model, then frankly just repeat that to the candidates. The smart ones will realise for themselves your company is dumb, the dumb ones will fit right in ;-) More likely you can talk about some of the downsides, you just don't know yet which ones and in what ways.

I have some premonition about the direction the company is going

An interviewee isn't really entitled to ask for or receive your personal opinion. Things are friendlier when there's a polite fiction that they do get that, but if it comes down to a choice between removing the words "in my personal opinion" from what you say, or discussing embarrassing/confidential company information with an interviewee, then in a case of any doubt whatsoever you should remove the words.

If you think that the company is growing too fast, or that it's pursuing customer X when it should focus on Y, or some other mistake that will end in doom, then that's your personal opinion. Despite this opinion, senior management makes those decisions and you go along with them for as long as you work for the company. There may or may not be an appropriate forum within the company for you to air your alternative strategy, but "at every opportunity including interviews" certainly isn't it ;-)

If you feel that the company's official position is unrealistic to the point that they're asking you to lie, then again you need to speak to people within the company to work out in what sense the thing you're expected to say, is true. If they can't convince you that the company is basically honest (albeit not forthcoming with bad news), then you have a problem with the company, not just with interviewing. It would be the same in any situation where you're in effect being asked to comment on the company using your inside knowledge. If really pressed, the short answer is that you won't give a personal assessment. You could point out that while you won't disclose your personal assessment, it's sufficiently positive that you choose to work for the company! Of course, if you can't represent the company without (as you see it) lying, then that ultimately might limit what roles you can take within the company. At the extreme, either the company can't let you speak to outsiders or it can't let you work for it at all, so it's really quite important to make absolutely sure of any doubts you have in what you're saying.

Note that there may be things that would put off a specific candidate, but aren't generally embarrassing to the company. For example if a start-up company is expecting to exit via acquisition in 2-5 years, and a particular candidate has been treated horribly in previous acquisitions, then that might put them off even though the company's prospects are objectively excellent. You need to be absolutely certain of your role in the hiring process before you get into this stuff with a candidate. It might be someone else's job to address candidates' concerns (in this example: to go through with them what would likely happen in an acquisition), which they don't get a chance to do if the "bad" news comes from you.

Finally, be aware that there's a completely alternative approach, which is that it's perfectly fine to lie and that you should do so. Shockingly, not everyone in the business world is honest, and sometimes not even everyone on your side is honest. It sounds like you're not happy with that, but be prepared to deal with people in your company who do feel that way (or anyway who appear to feel that way, because what they're saying flat contradicts your assessment of the situation). And deal with them without just outright calling them liars and starting a massive fight that won't end well for anyone.

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