Management Tactic #61: The Worst-Case Scenario Test

I had a great conversation today with one of the higher-ups in HR at a nearby university. He told me a really interesting story that I thought I’d share with you. This will be particularly interesting if you’re in a hiring position or might ever be interested in relocating for a job.

The HR guy I spoke to today used to work at a large company in Minneapolis. Every summer the company would usher in about 200 new interns to learn about the company and let the company learn about them so they could offer a few of them a job after they graduated.

The interns experienced Minneapolis during the best season of the year. Summer in the Twin Cities is a joy. Not too hot, low humidity, few bugs–it’s a great city in the summer.

So at the end of the summer, the company would offer some of the interns jobs for the following May. These were people that the company wanted to keep around for years to come. They made it very clear that they wanted these applicants, and they even wined and dined them a bit.

A few months would pass, and all applicants who had accepted the offer were flown back up to Minneapolis for a short leadership summit. And not just the applicants–the HR guy I spoke with said that he invited any other decision makers connected to the applicants–girlfriends, boyfriends, husbands, wives, parents, etc. They all gathered up in Minneapolis in the dead of winter, a time when no one wants to go outside. Minneapolis is dreadful that time of year, and the HR guy I talked to knew it.

Thus he would take them horseback riding.

You can imagine the line of college seniors and their significant others, cold to the bone, their frostbitten thighs bouncing against the horses’ backs as they trundled through the snow. The idyllic summers were long forgotten as the harsh reality of Minnesota winters set in.

After everyone returned home and had a few days to chat with their loved ones about the experience, the HR guy would call them and give them the opportunity to opt out of their contract. It had cost the company a little extra money to fly them all up to Minnesota, but they would save so much money in the long run if even just one or two candidates realized that they didn’t have the thick skin required to live in Minnesota year round. Instead of taking the time and expense to train them and have them learn the ins and outs of the company, only to get depressed and quit when the winter hit, they showed the candidates a worst-case scenario to minimize a lot of suffering on both sides.

This is somewhat similar to the Zappos method I discussed a long time ago, and I think it’s valuable advice to heed. Be honest with your job candidates (and honest with yourself if you are the job candidate) about the worst aspects of the job or environment. If you can’t handle the worst-case scenario, then you probably shouldn’t work there.

What do you think?

13 thoughts on “Management Tactic #61: The Worst-Case Scenario Test”

  1. While I agree with the rationale here, I think it’s probably not completely feasible for everyone or every company to job seek/recruit this way. I assume this company was Target, yes?, a company that has the means to support such wining and dining and testing of one’s limits environmentally. Certainly you’d agree it is a rare thing for a company to extend offers like that to a potential employee and any other person closely affected, and to even have the capacity to do so. If an individual and family/sig other/parents/etc. have the luxury of time,money and effort to explore a potential option this way, fantastic. They should. I just don’t think most people can.

    It definitely made me think of Zappos also.

    Lastly, I think it may be a little different if the candidate is only there as a guest (visiting temporarily the worst case scenario) versus already a full-fledged employee (who has, is reliant upon, and enjoys a paycheck, benefits, etc. working in their favor). One may be more willing to endure worst case scenarios when not given the choice to opt out ahead of time, or once the reality of all a job provides sinks in. It’s really easy to experience awful situations and rationalize that something better will come along based on absolutely nothing at all, just the idea that you think life has to have something more to offer.

    • Karen–To reply to your two comments…well, you have some good points. It’s about resources (and horses). You’re right that some people may rationalize the fact that they have a job against any other factors. However, I’ve hired a number of people at my current job (permanent employees and seasonal interns), and I definitely wish I could have given some past applicants the worst-case scenarios before hiring, because I truly don’t think they would have signed on for the job. That would have saved everyone a lot of trouble.

  2. I lived in Minnesota for four years, and everything deep or meaningful that I learned there, I learned from the weather. I firmly believe we can’t truly experience life unless there’s opposition. Joy and sorrow, love and loss, idyllic summers and harsh narsty winters that last 9 freaking months. And the more stark the contrast, the more fully it’s appreciated.
    Why does a person love their job? Because it feels rewarding. Why does it feel rewarding? Because it pushes them to think, struggle, and grow into something bigger. Why does a person appreciate success? Because failure was a possibility.
    In other words, that HR guy is brilliant. The people that can handle the worst-case-scenario are the very same people who can fully appreciate the best-case-scenario.
    (…and people who appreciate how good they’ve got it tend to whine a lot less and work a lot more)

    • Sarah–Interesting. So you ascribe to my tearjerker theory: You can’t enjoy the sweet without the bitter. And maybe there are some people who simply can’t get past the bitter to get to the sweet, and you wouldn’t want to hire them anyway.

      I considered going to school in Minnesota (Macalaster), but I visited during the winter, and that was a small factor in me not going there.

  3. Wait, wait, wait. I also forgot the obvious here. Who goes horseback riding in Minnesota in the winter???? And if one does, only to amuse the HR department of a company attempting to push limits, who actually resides in Minneapolis in winter months and thinks, “Hmm, what should I do today? I know! Go horseback riding!” It’s an extreme. An unrealistic extreme. Anyone who lives in Minnesota when it’s that F’ing cold will likely not be participating in outdoor activities like that unless they really, REALLY want to. Point made, Target recruiter, but is it any different from the disadvantages one faces who is about to take a job in NYC, Boston, Chicago???

  4. I believe all that except the “few bugs” part. MN has more bugs (all mosquitoes) than any place I’ve lived, including here near the edge of the rain forest.

  5. That’s like wining and dining someone on two dates (holding umbrellas, and opening doors) and then going on a third date to McDonads after not showering for three days! “Well, you see what I have to offer at my best. But just so you know, I can be a slob sometimes too. It’s part of who I am. If you don’t think you’re in for the long hall, enjoy your McNuggets and hit the road tootse.”

      • This brings up an interesting point. With dating/people, I would argue that if you know someone well enough and care about them, you are more willing to accept (and still care about them during) their worst. It’s in vows, right? So maybe a third date is a little too soon to be pulling out the McDonald’s and bad hygiene card and expecting anything other than displeasure from the other person.

        But then it made me think of the Minneapolis/job hunt scenario. I think the same could apply. Maybe harsh weather seems like a lot to endure at first, but perhaps the place offers other, more attractive things that cause a “Pros” column to ultimately outweigh a “Negatives” column. It’s the big picture (and obviously one’s personal preferences, priorities, and tolerances).

        • Well, the McDonald’s situation is a bit exaggerated…the point is that I think it’s okay to show your true self very early on, even if that means showing parts of yourself that you’re not particularly proud of.


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