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Recruitment Success Factor: Probably Not What You Think


The demand for great team members is rapidly growing. We are at the point where for many roles, especially in the world of tech startups and emerging businesses where I live, demand far exceeds supply.  Recruiting for some marketing roles, especially with a mobile or user acquisition focus, has begun to resemble the challenges faced in recruiting engineers. What was already a competitive recruiting environment is becoming even fiercer.

In the startup world, where a degree of chaos and ambiguity sometimes comes with the territory, candidates often have a higher tolerance level for less-than-perfect recruiting practices. Our approach as an executive search and talent acquisition firm is designed to provide padding to these fast-paced, pressurized environments, helping our clients’ hiring process to go more smoothly and creating an enjoyable candidate experience in spite of the frenetic pace experienced by our clients behind the scenes.

However, we are finding that as high caliber professionals and anyone in high demand are being bombarded or at least frequently reached out to, there is a less tolerance for negligence or shoddiness in recruiting. Added to this is an increasing focus on culture  — often #1 or #2 on the list of priorities when we ask what factors will influence accepting a job offer.

The way that companies recruit and hire — even in the crazy world of startups — is under greater scrutiny and is often seen as an indicator of what it might be like to work for the company.

Rather than a list of how-to’s or tips, which you can readily find using a search engine, I want to highlight one value (or attribute) that will deeply influence the quality and most likely the success of your recruiting efforts.


noun  em·pa·thy \ˈem-pə-thē\

: the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions : the ability to share someone else’s feelings

  –Merriam-Webster (simple definition)

Empathy will influence the quality and effectiveness of your recruiting efforts from start to finish. One of the most effective ways to improve your recruiting efforts is to put yourself in the place of the prospective candidate or job seeker. Walk in their shoes, so to speak.

When people in my network forward to me a ridiculous recruitment email sent from a recruiter (or even a hiring manager), the thought that goes through my mind is “Who are they talking to?” Did the writer even think about how their message might be perceived? It is not that these recruiters or hiring managers are bad people — and in the case of the latter, probably overworked people who are already compensating for an understaffed team and have to add recruiting to their workload. A “just get it done” attitude can settle in.

The presenter in a recent webinar suggested that the people in a company who are involved in hiring should actually go through the job application process themselves. If you are not yet at the stage where you are using a more systematic process, then elicit candid feedback from your new hires about what they experienced going through the hiring process and tweak accordingly.

Thinking about some of the best advice I’ve read on recruiting techniques, empathy is at the core of that advice.

Take for instance, this excerpt from a post by Adam Jackson CEO of Doctor on Demand on How To Get Top Engineers To Open Your Email Then Join Your Company:

My final step then was to hone messaging. Unlike most recruiting pitch emails I’ve seen, I worked to focus as much as I could on the candidate instead of simply listing all the reasons why our company was awesome.

In another post, Here’s What Engineers Hate About Your Recruiting Emails, from Lever.com, an engineer complains that  recruiters don’t try to learn enough about the technology to even use the correct terms in their emails such as Java vs. JavaScript. This isn’t merely a matter of being annoyed by the recruiter’s lack of basic technical knowledge, but something deeper. “If they don’t care about knowing what to look for, why would they care about me?”  A mistake like this is a clear signal to this particular engineer that “if the recruiter doesn’t understand their company’s technologies, the recruiter wouldn’t take the time to understand the candidate’s needs.”

In this same post, focusing on perks during an initial outreach is also a warning sign: “…capitalizing on perks means making assumptions around what candidates care about.” The real issue behind this complaint is that the recruiter is not really focused on the person they are attempting to reach, but rather on conveying what the recruiter thinks is important.

Since my current frame of reference is startups, often the company is still small enough that the CEO either does the recruiting or sets the stage for the recruiting and hiring process. If you are the CEO and empathy is not your strong suit, you can compensate for this by making sure you have at least one leader on your team who can model empathy and also serve as a trusted advisor for feedback in this area.

Another source for insight into empathy might be your Head of Marketing, User Experience (UX) Specialist or Head of Customer Care. These fields often attract people with a high empathy-quotient.

Empathy is a quality that you cultivate rather than something you merely *do*. However, sometimes the cultivating is in the doing – or as a mentor once said to me “fake it ‘til you make it.”

Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to build empathy into your recruiting activities:

  • How would you feel or respond if you received the same recruitment email you send to prospective candidates?
  • What information would you want to see in a job posting if YOU were a job seeker?
  • Are you treating job candidates as though you are doing them a favor – or as a valued resource?
  • In targeting candidates, are you merely thinking about the job you want to fill, or are you taking into consideration the overall opportunity being presented?
  • Is the timing or quality of the feedback that you provide to candidates the same that you would want to receive?
  • Does your interview process respect candidates’ time, consider their needs, demonstrate that you anticipated and prepared for their arrival rather than making them  feel like an afterthought? For instance, candidates have reported that the interviewer has read their resume for the first time while they were sitting in front of them or that they met with three different interviewers who asked the same exact questions.

Let’s break this down further into the email outreach to prospective job candidates. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Does the email sound like it is coming from a real person and addressed to a real person or is it more bot2bot?
  • Do you present an *opportunity* for the recipient rather than just a job you need filled?
  • Do you spellcheck , grammar check and format your email for readability? (This shows respect and consideration for the recipient.)
  • Will it make sense to the recipient why you are sending the email to them? In other words, will they see a relationship between the job and their skills, experience or interests? (Which means some research or at least reading the LinkedIn profile.)
  • Do you change your messaging depending on the type of job you are recruiting for?

At my firm, we are frequently informed by prospective candidates that we were one of the very few if not the only recruitment email responded to. Some of this is due to writing skill, but I’d like to think that is is because empathy is a core value.

In conclusion, if you don’t use empathy in your recruiting practices, you will still hire people. But will you hire the most sought after people in a highly competitive employment market?


Caveat: If I waited until I was failproof at something before writing about it, I would never write a blog post, ever. But as someone who spends intensive time and energy in the recruitment process (or as I prefer to think about it, the *engagement* process) I am continually learning (sometimes from mistakes) and enjoy passing along the insights gained to help raise the bar for recruiting and hiring.

Donna White

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