Empathy matters to candidates: Here’s how recruiters can be more empathetic


Founder and CEO, Recruit Gyan. Passionate about helping tech startups and other companies onboard top talent with DE&I focused strategies.

Empathy can make or break an employee’s experience at a company. According to a 2021 questionnaire of US employees by Ernst & Young, many “left a previous job because their boss lacked empathy for their struggles at work (54%) or in their personal lives (49%).”

The hiring process is often the first personal interaction a candidate has with a potential employer. The level of empathy recruiters show towards candidates during the hiring stage sets the stage for how empathetic candidates will come to see employers.

Empathy starts with treating candidates like people, not numbers. Recruiters are under pressure from employers to fill vacancies. Understandably, under that pressure, they start treating recruiting like a numbers game, approaching multiple candidates day in and day out with the same details, such as job descriptions and salary ranges. These details are important, but don’t do much to show empathy. To act empathetically, recruiters should follow the six steps below.


1. Ask unbiased questions

The hiring process is a two-way street, with both parties learning more about each other to assess suitability. When communicating with applicants over the phone or video call, recruiters should avoid spending that time primarily talking about the position or company.

Instead, I recommend that recruiters send that data to candidates ahead of time and briefly summarize it during the interview. Then they have to ask candidates open-ended questions. Asking open-ended questions accomplishes two goals. First, it shows candidates that the company is interested in learning who they are and what they are passionate about. Second, it helps the hiring team learn critical details about candidates’ experiences, skills, and work styles. Some common examples of open-ended questions include, “How did you become passionate about this particular field?” and “What interests you most about this role?” Of course, recruiters should also give the floor to candidates to ask their own questions.

2. Listen actively

Asking open questions is one core element of active listening. But recruiters need to accompany it with other active listening techniques, which, like the Very good mind article I’ve linked notes including keeping good eye contact, noticing nonverbal cues, and staying non-judgmental.

People can hook up signals that another person isn’t really listening to them, and recruiters should avoid giving that impression. As candidates answer questions, recruiters should fully absorb candidate responses so they can address any concerns or questions and pass relevant notes to other stakeholders within the company.

3. Set clear expectations

Unclear expectations can lead employees to develop frustrations, misunderstandings and grievances about their role, managers and companies. Such as UK business development company Grahame Robb Associates explains, “Clarity is an essential element in creating a culture of accountability. Employees must know exactly what is expected in terms of performance and behaviour; otherwise they will certainly fall short.”

Recruiters should be candid and honest during the interview stage about what a particular role entails, what is expected of the person who takes on that role, how that person’s work product will be evaluated, what the company culture is like, and what the standard working hours are under other essential details. With that information, candidates can make informed decisions about whether certain roles are a good fit for them. For example, if a candidate needs to focus on a niche they are not passionate about for a position, it is better for them to learn that as soon as possible.

In addition, recruiters should also set clear expectations about what is expected of candidates during each step of the hiring process, communicating details such as who will be sitting in the interview seats and what the hiring timeline looks like.

4. Make sure candidates have the necessary information

The better a candidate is prepared for an interview, the greater the chance of an offer.

Recruiters must provide materials that help candidates learn more about the job, department, and organization in question. These materials may include links to webinars and case studies (so candidates can learn more about the customers a company serves) and team biographies (so candidates can learn more about their potential new colleagues). But to prevent candidate feeling information overloadrecruiters should be careful to provide only the most relevant information.

5. Be patient and compassionate

For many people, finding a new job is a challenging process that can have life-changing consequences. Job seekers who feel pressured can become nervous, intimidated, and come to interviews unprepared.

Recruiters should let candidates know that these feelings are common and that they are there to guide candidates through the process. Patience and compassion will go a long way during the hiring process. For example, if candidates face extenuating circumstances that hinder their ability to move forward, such as a sick child or a car problem, recruiters should help them reschedule and get back on track. But a word of warning: There’s a difference between a candidate who is going through a tough situation and really needs support, and a candidate who repeatedly makes excuses. Recruiters need to differentiate between the two.

6. Give feedback

As candidates move through the hiring phase, recruiters need to provide them with feedback on their performance. Candidates can adjust their approach based on this feedback. For example, if the hiring team felt that a candidate did not clearly explain their past job responsibilities in the first interview, but decided to move forward with a second interview, the recruiter should advise the candidate to provide more details on that matter in the future . .

However, there is a line. Candidates shouldn’t have to fundamentally change who they are to get a job. In certain cases, recruiters still need to provide feedback, but need to be careful about how they give it, so as not to encourage a candidate to paint a different picture of who they really are just to get a job to get. For example, if a company’s team consists mostly of people with artistic interests, the recruiter shouldn’t tell the candidate to pretend to have artistic interests in order to get the job. Instead, they might say something along the lines of, “The organization as a whole appreciates artistic endeavors.”

In the end, candidates either get certain job openings or they don’t. In either case, recruiters should provide feedback so candidates know what they did well and what they can improve on, so they’re better prepared for what comes next in their professional lives.

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