Empathy in Recruitment and How We Can Rethink Hiring

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Empathy in Recruitment and How We Can Rethink Hiring

We’ve heard many of the same words and phrases repeated over and over again this last year and a half. New normal. In these uncertain times. Social distancing. Unprecedented. Doomscrolling. The list goes on. But from this period of sustained upheaval, we’ve also seen that what worked in the “before times” might not serve us on the other side of the pandemic – and one concept turned practice that keeps coming up is empathy. 

While not a wholly new idea, empathy in the workplace, and more specifically, in recruitment, remains foreign to many employers – and their employees. A recent Time magazine article explained, “Outside of the office, empathy means trying to understand and share the feelings or experiences of someone else. Empathy is different from sympathy, which is more one-directional: you feel sad for what someone else is going through, but you have little understanding of what it feels like. Because empathy is predicated on experience, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to cultivate. At best, it’s expanded sympathy; at worst, it’s trying to force connections between wildly different experiences.”

Reflecting on this, it’s clear that while experiences are apt to differ, there is overlap, and that’s especially true in today’s workforce – whether gainfully employed or looking for work. With this in mind, we see an opportunity to learn from this realization and improve our collective circumstances, starting with how we hire. Here’s how: 

  1. See both sides - Laura Mazzullo of East Side Staffing, a boutique recruitment firm that specializes in placing HR professionals, encourages hiring managers to remember what it’s like to be a candidate, writing, “Can you remember how you felt? The nerves, hoping you were liked? The jitters, hoping you liked them? The work you put into updating your resume, your LinkedIn profile, your interviewing skills. Do you remember the emotions of it all? Can you turn those memories into empathy?” Noting that no one candidate is flawless, Mazzullo advocates for staying humble throughout the hiring process, consciously aware of what it’s like to be on the other side of the table. 
  2. Be open, honest, and transparent – Ten years of candidate experience benchmark research shows that communication is crucial – and not just for basic updates. Yes, candidates want to know where they stand, and you should definitely set those expectations, but more than that, job seekers want to feel recognized for who they are and what they bring to the table. It’s a lot of work to look for a job, and as the search wears on, candidates sometimes start to feel fatigued or even defeated. Personalized exchanges help showcase your company culture and employer brand, promote authenticity and put candidates at ease. The more you can share upfront, the better. 
  3. Elevate compassion and kindness – Likewise, while it’s possible to automate the recruitment process from end to end, empathy requires a human touch. Given the pressure candidates face, it’s up to recruiters to make them feel comfortable and provide accommodations as necessary. If someone is 15 minutes late, it could be because their babysitter didn’t show up on time, or their transportation fell through. They might have flubbed their interview because they were having a bad day or got tripped up and lost their confidence. Use technology to streamline time-consuming tasks like screening and scheduling to give recruiters more time to review resumes and interviews, collaborate with decision-makers, and connect with candidates one-on-one. 
  4. Give and receive feedback – No one gets into recruiting because they want to give candidates bad news, but ultimately, it comes with the territory. Not everyone will be right for the job. Not everyone will get hired. Empathy comes into play here, too, particularly around feedback. When a candidate asks why they didn’t get the job or what they could have done better, level with them, aim to help. Give them one or two tangible things they can work on, rather than a laundry list of where they went wrong. Make the advice actionable while remaining thoughtful and tactful.
  5. Deliver consistent experiences – Going back to the Time magazine piece, empathy relies on experiences, which is why workplace empathy becomes an HR issue. HR and TA professionals are responsible for the experience of those entering in – and those already inside – the organization. By building out a process based on consistency, you can support candidates from that first interaction on. Leverage solutions that reinforce this structure, introduce rigor, and allow you and your candidates to stay in touch easily. 

Rethinking hiring with empathy in mind doesn’t mean throwing everything out and starting over. It does mean taking a critical lens to how you engage candidates, what you expect of them, and what you provide in return. Let go of perfect and embrace humanity.  

About the Author

Ellie Angell

Ellie is a UK born self-confessed recruitment geek and ex-agency recruiter who is passionate about allowing candidates to express individuality and letting the very best shine through.

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