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Both employees and employers need to be prepared for rapidly evolving expectations

You finally land your dream job.

The posting described your qualifications so well it might as well have had your name on it.

But when you arrive on day one, it feels like the ground has shifted beneath your feet. The dream job has evaporated, and in its place is one you never saw coming – and never wanted.

Sara Mahabadi

Sara Mahabadi

Lisa Cohen

Lisa Cohen

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Especially at startups, it’s very common for a position to change between posting and hiring, according to a new study co-authored by Sara Mahabadi, with the University of Alberta’s Alberta School of Business.

“We had examples of people being hired after a couple of months and the job was completely different,” says Mahabadi, who published the study in Organization Science with Lisa Cohen of McGill University.

“So they ended up disappointed and exited the organization. These are consequences both parties want to avoid as much as they can.”

On the flip side, job seekers who lacked some qualifications in the posted description were hired after all, as employers were impressed with their strengths, she says.

“Many managers and entrepreneurs use this hiring process as a way to figure out the needs of the organization. Through that process, they might figure out that you’re actually the perfect candidate.”

Mahabadi and Cohen examined 51 small startup organizations in their first three years with 30 workers or less. They interviewed more than 100 employees, job seekers, founders and hiring managers, as well as various experts including former successful entrepreneurs and venture capitalists.

They argued that because processes are less routine and more susceptible to change in startups, they could see more examples of job evolution. Their data analysis shows that during hiring, some jobs had tasks added or removed; other jobs were abandoned, replaced or moved, and in some cases, jobs were reposted.

The evolution between posting a position and hiring someone tended to follow one of two pathways: In the first, job descriptions changed as employers figured out what they wanted in an employee. In the second, jobs changed in response to unanticipated circumstances.

“But contrary to common conceptions, the job evolution is not the product of managers who lack experience or use lax hiring practices,” says Mahabadi.

“It’s just that there are factors they didn’t anticipate, or things changed as they started interviewing and getting to know more about what their organizations want.”

Sometimes managers know what they want but can’t find candidates who fit the description, so they end up reposting the position with a revised description.

In one case, a CEO was overwhelmed with applicants above the required skill level for a personal assistant, says Mahabadi, so he reposted the position looking for an office manager and quickly filled it.

The key takeaway from their study, say Mahabadi and Cohen, is that both employers and job applicants need to be prepared for inevitable evolution in the hiring process.

Losing employees, especially after valuable time spent training, isn’t what any organization wants, they say. Neither do employers want to set up conditions for conflict if a new hire feels deceived.

The authors say it’s a good idea for job seekers to apply for positions even if they don’t have everything asked for. In the end, it might turn out that what you bring is exactly what they need – they just didn’t know it yet.

Women and members of under-represented groups can be at a particular disadvantage, says Mahabadi, because they are less comfortable applying for jobs without all of the stated qualifications.

Other studies have shown that “women tend to apply for the jobs they are already well qualified for, while men apply to the jobs they aspire to be qualified for,” says Mahabadi.

“Often when women read the job description, they think, ‘I have 80 percent, but I don’t have the other 20 percent,’ so they don’t apply and don’t give themselves a chance.

“If more women were aware of the results from our study, it could encourage them to apply for jobs that do not necessarily match their qualifications.”

Though the study’s findings apply mainly to startups, Mahabadi says larger organizations are now “talking about the same things,” especially in the wake of COVID. The hiring landscape is undergoing transformation, combining new jobs, new skills and a labour force with revised expectations.

“These results are pretty much generalizable to a wider population of organizations,” says Mahabadi.

| By Geoff McMaster

Geoff McMaster is a reporter with the University of Alberta’s Folio online magazine. The University of Alberta is a Troy Media Editorial Content Provider Partner.

The opinions expressed by our columnists and contributors are theirs alone and do not inherently or expressly reflect the views of our publication.

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