Building Bridges of Empathy: Recruiters and Job Seekers on Equal Ground

A look at both sides of the bridge as a recruiter and a job seeker and the need for empathy in the hiring process.

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Jun 6, 2023

At the crossroads of “Recruiters Recruiting” and “Job Seekers Searching” is an incredible amount of misunderstanding of, disdain for, and assumption about the other party. Not a lot of empathy and understanding.

So let’s step back a minute and acknowledge that recruiting is hard and job searching is tough. Frankly, both sides have legitimate arguments that job searching and recruiting are each a little broken.

Recruiters may think they have an incredibly hard job. And job seekers may think job seeking is often the hardest thing they have ever done. Both camps want to be the “most right”…but what if we just say they are both right? Because they are!

Let’s pause and allow the realization and the acceptance of this reality settle in for both sides. The not-so-funny, but funny thing is that the more you empathize with what a recruiter’s job is when you are a job seeker, the more effective you may be at job seeking.

And the more empathetic you can be to job seekers when you are a recruiter, the better recruiter you may be, as well.

Here is an example of empathy job seekers can have for recruiters.

When I was at SourceCon Spring 2023, Jim Schnyder, President of Recruiting Advisors, did a fabulous presentation on the State of Sourcing. There was a lot of great information in this session, but two pieces of information jumped out at me, that I believe is important for candidates to know:

  • 42.7% of recruiters polled said what keeps them up at night most is not enough time to do what they need to do
  • 88.3% of respondents said that they feel it is the recruiter’s responsibility to provide superior candidate experience

So what job seekers need to take from this information is that recruiter’s care about candidates, but may be too overworked to do all the proper outreach they need to do to properly communicate with applicants and candidates. I counsel job seekers to have this mindset going into job searching, so they don’t take lack of replies personally.

It is often a result of overwork, unsustainable time management expectations and too many openings assigned per recruiter with an overwhelming number of applicants applying. It’s not personal.

One example where recruiters can have empathy for job seekers:

The application process. If we are listening to job seekers, one of the more frustrating things is uploading a resume only to then have to fill out 3742 separate fields asking the same information in the resume they uploaded.

I tell job seekers to think of it this way, resumes are done differently by every applicant submitting for a job. Some applicant resumes have a job title up at the top, so you know what job the applicant is targeting and some don’t. Some resumes outline relevant achievements very clearly. And some don’t. Some use a highly graphical resume template and some just plunk words down on a simple Word document from scratch.

When you have an infinite number of ways information is presented in an electronic document, it is very difficult to parse information into the correct right fields for every applicant. So filling out the online application fields helps the resume database auto-populate with your information accurately. But visually comparing candidates via resume database fields that are often spread over multiple electronic file tabs in your Applicant Tracking System (ATS), or trying to get a big picture of what a candidate can do in this disjointed multiscreen way, is not feasible.

Having one to two page resumes with all the information needed might be easier for a human to read and review. Although, having a database with properly completed fields allows for much more effective searching in your resume database/ATS.

So both functions, at least for the moment, are needed and serve two different purposes for the recruiting process.

Wildly annoying, but if applicants at least understand that this process is a way to be (1) searchable by humans and (2) readable by humans, they may be less frustrated knowing this struggle behind it. Let’s hope AI can make both of these functions still happen in a more efficient way.

If recruiters can empathize with job seekers doing this redundant process for every application they submit, then maybe they can give some grace if a field is completed improperly or a file is uploaded incorrectly or consider improving the application within their ATS.

To help recruiters and job seekers have a greater understanding for each other as we go through the upcoming challenging months, here are some suggestions to try to help you ensure you don’t create a problem where there possibly isn’t one and save your mental energy:

In absence of information, do not fill in the blanks with information that isn’t evidence.

For example, if a job seeker hasn’t heard from a recruiter, don’t assume the worst until you have been told what you are suspecting. And a recruiter should not assume if a candidate made an error on the application, that they are not qualified for a role.

Don’t make it all about you.

If the recruiter is later in getting back to you with feedback or follow up on next steps than they stated, do not assume they don’t want to hire you. It could be that the feedback from the hiring manager is delayed for a ton of reasons outside the recruiter’s control and/orthey may not have time to update you. Granted, an update to know there isn’t an update is appreciated but you may not always get that. If a job seeker is quiet during an interview, don’t assume they must not like you. Again, it could be they are terribly nervous or are introverted where small talk isn’t easy for them.

Assume most people are good and are doing their best.

This is such a stress-reliever stance when you truly embody this mindset. If you’re going to make an assumption, let it be a positive one. Assuming the worst of everyone is such an energy drain and will make you a miserable job seeker/recruiter. If you assume everyone is doing their best, even when mistakes are made, it is just an easier way to move through life. Frankly, we are all human and mistakes happening can create an opportunity for someone to learn from their mistake and/or remedy the mistake with an outcome better than you could have imagined.

So as you go through whatever side of the process you are on, job seeking or working in talent acquisition, practice empathy. Seek to understand the other side rather than demand to be understood. The market is cyclical and the noise will die down and things should level back out, but if empathy is present throughout, it’s a win-win for both sides of the two way street.

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