Jill Krasny had a good article earlier this week on Inc.com called The Awesome Power of Empathy. This of course being the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. The article reminded me of when I first applied to be a search consultant at an Indianapolis MRI office.

As part of the hiring process, after multiple interviews and I took a battery of tests meant to determine if I would make a good recruiter. It was the first time I'd been asked to take these types of tests during a hiring process. I had no expectations as to what they were looking for in regards to answers. I answered each question completely unbiased.

Later, when discussing the opportunity with their managing partner in a final interview, he discussed I scored very high in all areas except one. The one area that I tested significantly lower than what they what they would typically look for was empathy. I have to admit, I was a bit shocked. As someone who spent practically as much time volunteering in the community as I did at my full-time job, I felt I had a pretty good grasp on compassion. At that time, I thought that is what empathy meant. 

My soon-to-be manager explained that empathy was a critical piece in recruiting and that it was something I would need to work on if I wanted to be successful in his office. He also shared with me at the time that his highest performer had scored exactly the same score on all areas, including the empathy, which he found remarkable. He was giving me a shot.

It took me a while to understand why empathy was so important in recruiting and even longer to truly embrace it. The test was pretty accurate. When it came to screening candidates for example, I had very little patience for grey. I was all black and white. The candidate had the right answer to my question, or they didn't. Had I not been trained to notice it I wouldn't have. It was true for clients as well. I took a thorough job order and determined the client was someone I could make a placement with or they weren't. There were no room for maybes on my desk for a long time. Eventually I learned what I would like you to consider, and that is the power of empathy in recruiting.

You have to get to know your candidate and client beyond what is on their resume in order to understand what motivates them. If you can put yourself in to their shoes, probe for the reasons they made the decisions they have in their career, or in the hiring process, good or bad, you have an advantage. For example, having empathy for a candidate can help you coach them through the process. Having empathy for the pain the client is feeling about the open position helps you drive urgency for hire. It also may change your decision on whom you work with, particularly candidates. By this I mean if you take the time to get to know the individual you may decide to spend more time with them than you expected before knowing more.

When I was conducting an initial phone screen with a recruiter candidate recently, I asked why she chose to leave her last recruiting role. She had obviously quit, albeit on good terms but her resume indicated she had been extremely successful for a new graduate in the recruiting industry.  Her answer surprised me. " I didn't like how competitive the job had become. I was miserable in the environment. "

Now, as you can imagine, I immediately had the vision of my client's face if she were to say this to him in an interview. First, I empathized with him because, let's face it, recruiting is almost always a little bit competitive and many recruiting firms with have a similar environment. Someone that does not have a desire to compete to win, just might not be the best choice for a recruiter position in the first place. I could completely relate to why he would not want to waste time on a candidate that said this.

Then I forced myself to go one step further, probably because of the empathy reminder I got from reading that article on Monday.  I asked more questions of the candidate. Doing so changed my mind about the viability of this candidate because suddenly, I had empathy for her situation as well.

In reality, the issue was not about competition at all, but rather, an issue with the company's process for determining regional accountability and with tagging "ownership'' of candidates. She was exceeding all expectations but not being compensated for it. She was a new grad that was clearly still a bit of a rookie but she had no intention of working without being fairly compensated. She had the confidence in herself to walk away knowing that her skills would provide her with another great opportunity. Is it the way I would have handled it? Probably not, but could I put myself in her shoes? I tried.

The bottom line is, was this something that should keep her from being considered for a recruiting position. Would it effect her performance with the next employer. Had she been encouraged to share what her issues were before she left, would she even be on the market. Were her concerns valid?

After a bit of a chat, my perception of this candidate changed. I was able to coach her about how to answer the question when she met with the hiring manager so that I could feel confident about presenting her to a client. Her hungry desire to succeed was very evident in the results she showed. She might work perfectly for an employer with a different process.

So think about empathy as you make your own calls this week. Probe further when you hear a response you don't necessarily like. See if you feel like that little extra bit of understanding might help your recruiting process. I'm not suggesting you "settle" for less than great, but consider putting yourself in the other person's shoes. I'm convinced now that  empathy can be a powerful skill in business, with my own team at REKRUTR and ResumeSpider and with those I recruit for private clients. I challenge you to get to know your candidates, and your client's a bit better. The ability to put yourself in their shoes will offer you an advantage. It will allow you the opportunity to alleviate their pain, and that might be the most important part of the entire recruitment process.

Sound off below. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Amy McDonald is a free-lance recruiter and employment specialist. She currently works with employment websites including REKRUTR.com as an executive consultant. As a veteran of the human resources and recruiting industry for over 20 years, Amy has worked with hundreds of recruitment professionals, training best practices in sourcing candidates and refining the recruitment process. In her spare time, Amy also participates as a contributor for recruitment information with BIZCATALYST360. – See more at: http://rekrutr.com/blog/

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Comment by Tim Spagnola on September 26, 2014 at 9:19am

I feel maintaining a level of empathy is a key trait for a successful recruiter. At times we are all guilty of making quick assumptions upon resume review or first phone screens, but to dig deeper to broaden the perspective can really make a difference. I have always tried to remain open to look at the situation from all sides. Thus putting myself in both my candidate and client shoes. It has certainly paid dividends. Nice post and reminder for all Amy. 

Comment by Anna Brekka on September 26, 2014 at 10:25am

Imagine if we all upped the empathy factor in our professional as well as our personal dealings. Powerful indeed. 


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