Bringing empathy into Talent Acquisition – 5 steps to achieving this

There seems to be so much focus on Artificial Intelligence (AI) today, on streamlining processes and having the best ATS on the market that we are losing focus on the heart of acquiring Talent.

As TA professionals, we are more than aware that changing jobs is one of life’s most stressful events (according to the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale). So why are we still reading articles like the one Forbes published in December 2019 about companies ‘ghosting’ their candidates?

Why are some recruiters still focused on getting a candidate over the line at whatever the cost with a hard sales pitch?

Applying empathy with our hiring managers and candidates through a nerve-racking recruitment process should be the absolute heartbeat of what we do. Here are some steps to take us back to the basics:

1. Setting everyone up for success

We need to remember that the hiring managers we partner with do not recruit every day and the candidates we speak to may not have interviewed for 10 years.

That should be the basis for every interaction.

Hiring managers need coaching around taking a step back and really thinking about the type of person and skills they need for their team to succeed – the job description from five years ago might not be relevant anymore. Although it can be painful to review, an hour spent on it now may save a month or two of re-hiring in future.

As for candidates, they need coaching around what to expect and how to prepare. We are not setting them up to ‘cheat’ – we are setting them up for success. We need to provide feedback through the process so they know where they are aligning well and what would need developing if they were successful in getting the role.

Doing these don’t just help our candidates with the interview process but it will be beneficial for them over a longer term too.

2. Communication

We must never be too busy for communication. Communication should be your main priority as a recruiter.

Every candidate deserves updates and feedback. It is absolutely fundamental to what we do as recruiters, and an oversight on this is brand damaging – not just personally but for the brands you represent.

Every candidate is a potential consumer and brand advocate, that is the level of respect they deserve. Once you have engaged a candidate in a recruitment process, they deserve to receive verbal updates and feedback.

If a candidate has applied, make sure you close your jobs properly by ensuring every unsuccessful candidate is informed – either by email where you haven’t previously engaged with them or verbally where you have spoken with them previously.

3. Make the effort to put yourself in the shoes of those you interact with

I make sure I ask about the impact of a vacancy to the team I am recruiting for and I ask questions about the management’s leadership style and the way they like to work.

Sometimes hiring managers can work off high trust and leave you to it, while others want to contact you twice a day to know what is happening. Neither is an indication of the urgency of the vacancy – more an insight to the working style of your hiring managers.

It is so important to approach things with a human touch rather than being dismissive of a hiring manager’s perceived urgency. I like to explain what goes into finding the right candidate, why it is important we follow a due process and set realistic timeframes. In doing so, we manage their expectations and this in turn allows them to manage their own KPIs effectively.  

When we phone screen candidates, we need to remember to ask about planned holidays, how flexible a person is to attend interviews and get to understand their motivations.

Recruitment isn’t all ‘sale’ – it is understanding someone’s drivers to ensure the role you are talking to them about it the right role for them to explore.

Recruiting with empathy isn’t bullying a candidate into a role because they have an amazing set of skills, it is about matching a candidate with a role and team for longer term retention.

4. Realistic expectation setting

I mentioned this briefly earlier but let’s get into this a bit more.

Setting realistic expectations sounds very process driven and unsexy, but a hiring manager who has not recruited for six months and a candidate who has not looked for a job for years have very different expectations on the length of time a hiring process will take.

A lot of hiring managers think you will have a shortlist in two days because, you know, you do this every day. Candidates think once they apply, they should get a response within a day. They are not being unreasonable; they are just seeing things with rose tinted glasses from when they were successful before.

A great example of this was when a hiring manager told me about his previous hiring experience, that he received a shortlist after two days and the role was filled in a week. Upon checking, I found that this previous role had taken 80 days to fill.

When a candidate has been successful before, they remember all the good bits and the memory condenses the time between each hiring stage. So, it is important to explain what to expect, why and what the journey will feel like.

I like to emphasise to them the next important steps of the process so they know exactly when to follow up with me. I find this builds trust and transparency and in return, you tend to get the same.

5. Repetition

This might seem like a pointless thing to highlight, but most people learn things through repetition, and it helps to strengthen connections in the brain.

If we are applying empathy to Talent Acquisition, just because you say something once does not mean the other person has fully understood or remembered what was outlined. I find explaining, follow up email (templates are your friend) and re-explaining are the ways to go. Every communication opportunity I have I will repeat the important parts, and this helps strengthen realistic expectations with candidates and hiring managers.

If you remember that people do not always absorb first time around, it also helps you manage your own frustrations with people ‘not listening’ and over time you find your patience increases, and you help coach people through the process with a higher sense of the human touch.


It is easy to let the day to day pressure of meeting KPIs and increasing workload get to you. I get it.

You might receive 150 applications to a role, only to find minimal quality amongst them and wishing you had started proactively sourcing sooner. You can have four or five hiring managers harassing you for updates when you only briefed the roles in the last week.

Empathy is the key to success for many, many reasons. It helps you understand other people so you can respond appropriately to how they are feeling, it helps to foster better working relationships and it establishes long term engagement. You might not hire someone today but you might in a year’s time.

If you act with empathy, the people you are working with will feel cared for, understand that you are out to help them succeed, and it builds stronger connections, helps to regulate your own emotions (goodbye frustration!), promotes helping behaviours and builds trust.

The positive repercussions are plentiful, and ultimately it makes you feel good!

Cover image: Shutterstock

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