Realistic Job Preview

The primary method of realistic recruitment is the realistic job preview (RJP). The RJP is the presentation of realistic, often quite negative information about an organization to a job candidate. This information is given to job candidates during the selection process to help them make an informed job choice, should a job offer be made. Another realistic recruitment strategy is the use of certain recruitment sources (e.g., employee referrals) that communicate realistic information to job candidates while avoiding others that do not (e.g., newspaper ads). Finally, four selection methods that communicate realistic information to job candidates are briefly discussed here; their primary intended purpose is selection rather than recruitment.

The RJP contains accurate information about job duties, which can be obtained from interviews with subject-matter experts or from a formal job analysis. The RJP also contains information about an organization’s culture, which can be obtained from surveys, interviews with current employees, and exit interviews. There are four criteria for selecting information for the RJP: (a) It is important to most recruits; (b) it is not widely known outside the organization; (c) it is a reason that leads newcomers to quit; and (d) it is related to successful job performance after being hired. Because it is necessary to tailor the RJP to both the job and the organization, the RJP is not so much a specific technique but a general approach to recruitment. Furthermore, organizations may differ in the particular means used to present realistic information to job candidates; for example, organizations may use a brochure, a discussion during the job interview, or a video. Sometimes, a combination of these three specific techniques is used; combining the latter two is probably the best approach.

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One important purpose of the RJP is to increase the degree of fit between newcomers and the organizations they join. Two types of fit are affected: (a) the person-job fit and (b) the person-organization fit. Good person-job fit typically results in better newcomer performance and indirectly increases retention. Good person-organization fit typically results in reduced quitting and indirectly increases job performance. To the extent that an RJP affects candidates’ job choices, also known as self-selection, it can improve either or both types of fit.

The information in the RJP is communicated to job applicants before they enter the organization. Realistic information disseminated after organizational entry is defined as newcomer orientation, which is different from the RJP in several ways. The most important difference is that the primary purpose of newcomer orientation is to help new hires cope with both a new job and a new organizational culture. Thus, newcomer orientation teaches solutions to common newcomer adjustment problems during organizational entry. In contrast, the RJP presents adjustment problems without solutions, as one purpose of the RJP is to discourage job candidates who are likely to be misfits with the job or organizational culture.

For a long time, the RJP was thought to affect newcomer retention more than job performance, as reported in a 1985 review by Steve Premack and John Wanous. However, a 1998 review by Jean Phillips found a stronger effect of the RJP on job performance while affirming the same effect on the retention of new hires. As of this writing, the Phillips review is the most recent study available.

Some RJP methods are more effective than others. Specifically, the best RJP technique for hiring better performers is the video, in which recruits are shown a role model performing critical job duties successfully. Role models are an effective way to demonstrate the interpersonal and physical skills that are part of most entry-level jobs.

The best RJP method for increasing new hire retention is a two-way conversation between the job candidate and a job interviewer during the job interview. Explaining why this is the case is more complicated. There are four hypotheses. First, the information provided in the RJP helps job candidates choose more effectively among job offers. This process of self-selection is believed to increase person-organization fit. Furthermore, research on cognitive dissonance suggests that when job candidates feel free to accept or reject the job offer, they are more likely to be committed to the choice. Second, the RJP can “vaccinate” expectations against disappointment after organizational entry because the most dissatisfying job and organizational factors have already been anticipated. Third, the information in the RJP can help newcomers cope more effectively with the stress of being in a new environment, called “the work of worry” by Irving Janis. Finally, the RJP can enhance the perceived trustworthiness or supportiveness of the organization to job candidates, increasing their initial commitment to the organization. Support for any one of these hypotheses does not necessarily mean that others are refuted, however; all are viable explanations.

Several guidelines for designing and using the RJP can be derived from the reviews of Phillips and Wanous, which use sophisticated quantitative methods. First, self-selection should be explicitly encouraged. That is, job candidates should be advised to carefully consider whether to accept or reject a job offer. This is best done during the job interview, and this may be an important reason why it is the best method for increasing new hire retention. Second, the RJP message must be credible. Credibility can be achieved by using actual employees as communicators, whether in a video or a job interview. This may explain why using only a brochure is the least effective of all the methods. Third, the way that typical employees feel about the organization, not just sterile facts, must be part of the RJP. Again, employee feelings are best provided in a video or a job interview. Fourth, the balance between positive and negative information should closely match the realities of the job itself. This requires careful data collection and analysis before developing the RJP. Finally, the RJP should normally be done before rather than after hiring, but not so early that the information is ignored. (An exception might be to position the RJP at the end of executive recruitment, although there is no research on executives.)

Research continues to identify the boundaries of the RJP. First, if the retention rate for new hires is very low, the job is probably so undesirable that an RJP will have no effect on job survival. For example, one study of newly hired self-service gas station attendants revealed that not one of the 325 new hires lasted as long as nine months. In fact, many quit by the end of the first month. In organizations with very high retention, the RJP may not be able to improve on that already high level. Therefore, the RJP is probably most effective when the one-year job retention rate for newcomers is in the range of 50% to 80%. For an organization with a 50% job retention rate (for the first year after being hired), use of the RJP is estimated to increase job retention 56% to 59%.

Second, if the labor market has relatively few job openings, the RJP will have little effect on a job candidate’s job choice because the chance of obtaining multiple job offers is low. Furthermore, a very tight labor market means that new hires tend to stick with a job even if they would prefer to leave it. Third, the RJP appears to be more effective when job candidates have some previous job knowledge or work experience because they can better understand the information that is provided. Fourth, both Phillips and Wanous found that the RJP is more effective at increasing newcomer retention in business organizations than in the military. The primary reason for the difference in job survival rates is that there are restrictions on attrition from the military.

The impact of the RJP can be translated into dollar terms (utility analysis) by calculating the difference between the number of new hires needed without using RJP versus the number needed when using RJP. Consider an organization that wants to hire and retain 100 new employees. If the job retention rate for the first year is 50%, the organization will need to hire 200 new employees to retain the target goal of 100. If the RJP increases job retention 50% to 56%, the organization would have to hire only 178 people. If the RJP increases job retention 50% to 59%, the organization would have to hire only 169 new people. For fast-food chain restaurants (e.g., McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, Pizza Hut) that typically hire more than 100,000 newcomers corporation-wide at a cost of $300 to $400 per hire, the dollar savings in recruitment and hiring can be in the tens of millions of dollars.

The RJP may also be relevant for other aspects of human resource management. It could easily be used to prepare managers for international assignments. Although it is intuitively appealing, there is no rigorous research on this topic—a puzzling gap, as the cost of failure in international assignments for executives is far greater than the cost of lower-paying, entry-level jobs, which typify most studies of the RJP.

Realistic Recruiting Sources

Besides the RJP, there are other ways that realistic information can be communicated to job candidates. One recruitment strategy is to hire from sources that have higher job retention rates and higher job performance. A rigorous review of this research by Michael Zottoli and John Wanous found that inside sources (referrals by employees and rehires) had significantly better job retention rates than those from outside sources (newspaper ads and employment agencies). Furthermore, inside sources produced better job performers, although the effect on performance was less than that on retention. However, the effects of recruitment source on retention and performance are both significant. Their usefulness in dollar terms can be estimated in the same way as the RJP. Although there are fewer recruitment source studies (25) than RJP studies (40), there seems to be enough evidence that the results of recruitment source research can be taken seriously. Unfortunately, no study has yet examined organizations that combine the RJP with inside recruitment sources. Thus, the effect of combining these realistic recruitment methods is unknown at present.

Six hypotheses have been offered to explain the link between recruitment source, job survival, and job performance. First, inside recruits have more accurate information, which results in less disappointment among newcomers. Second, having accurate information enables job candidates to make better job choices. Third, inside recruits fit better with the organization because those who referred them know what it takes to succeed. Fourth, candidates from employment agencies or newspaper ads may know more about the full range of job possibilities and thus have higher turnover than candidates referred by other sources. Fifth, source differences may be the result of systematic differences in the types of candidates attracted from each source. Sixth, candidates referred by friends may be treated better by experienced employees and thus have higher retention than other new hires.

A second recruitment source strategy is to set up a company Web site that communicates realistic information to potential job candidates. Unfortunately, there is no rigorous research on real organizational Web sites as of this writing. Studies of students responding to fictitious Web sites are just now beginning to be published. However, the trustworthiness of research using college students reacting to fictitious Web sites has yet to be established.

The Web site of Texas Instruments (TI, www provides one example of how a Web site can be used for realistic recruitment. Job seekers are directed to a section in which a self-scored survey can be taken. The purpose of the survey is to assess both person-job fit (14 questions) and person-organization fit (18 questions), which TI refers to as “job content fit” and “work environment fit,” respectively. Job seekers are asked to rate certain items on a five-point scale ranging from strongly agree to strongly disagree. After responding to the 32 items, the job seeker is then given an overall score. The score is a simple dichotomy: The candidate either fits or does not fit in at TI. In addition to overall fit, the job seeker is also shown TI’s “best answer” to each of the questions. The company is careful to remind job seekers that TI’s best answers are not right or wrong—rather, they indicate TI’s best estimate of its typical work content and organizational culture. Unfortunately, the company does not indicate how these best answers were determined.

Realistic Selection Methods

Although RJP and recruitment sources are the two major concerns in realistic recruitment, there are four selection methods that may also communicate realistic information, complementing the use of the RJP and inside recruitment sources. These methods include (a) probationary employment, (b) structured job interviews (i.e., the situational interview and the behavior description interview), (c) work sample tests (both verbal and motor skills tests), and (d) assessment centers. Research on these four methods has focused on job performance rather than retention. Because these techniques are primarily selection rather than recruitment methods, a detailed analysis is beyond the scope of this entry. As predictors of job performance, however, their validity and utility are both fairly well established.


  1. Janis, I. L. (1958). Psychological stress: Psychoanalytic and behavioral studies of surgical patients. New York: Wiley.
  2. Meglino, B. M., DeNisi, A. S., & Ravlin, E. C. (1993). Effects of previous job exposure and subsequent job status on the functioning of a realistic job preview. Personnel Psychology, 46, 803-822.
  3. Phillips, J. M. (1998). Effects of realistic job previews on multiple organizational outcomes: A meta-analysis. Academy of Management Journal, 41, 673-690.
  4. Popovich, P., & Wanous, J. P. (1982). The realistic job preview as a persuasive communication. Academy of Management Review, 7, 570-578.
  5. Premack, S. L., & Wanous, J. P. (1985). A meta-analysis of realistic job preview experiments. Journal of Applied Psychology, 70, 706-719.
  6. Thornton, G. C. (1992). Assessment centers in human resource management. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
  7. Wanous, J. P. (1992). Organizational entry: Recruitment, selection, orientation, and socialization of newcomers (2nd ed.). Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
  8. Wanous, J. P., & Reichers, A. E. (2000). New employee orientation programs. Human Resource Management Review, 10, 435-451.
  9. Zottoli, M. A., & Wanous, J. P. (2000). Recruitment source research: Current status and future directions. Human Resource Management Review, 10, 353-382.

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