Every single day, it seems, there’s some “thought leader” out there shouting about how “we” need to disrupt recruiting (despite the fact that almost none of them, you know, actually recruit for a living).
“The old ways won’t work,” they say, even if they don’t know exactly what those old ways actually entail; makes sense, since embracing the status quo is shitty for selling consulting services.
That’s why, according to these “influencers,” recruiting has become a spammy, sadistic and superfluous “unprofessional” profession, as it were.
Of course, this is almost always positioned in the context of whatever new cool recruiting tool, training or technology that “thought leader” happens to be peddling that particular day.
Unlike these “recruiting experts,” however, I’m actually a recruiter. I’ve been one for a while, now. And from where I sit, as a real recruiter closing real reqs, I have a slightly different opinion from this pervasive punditry. The thing is, I don’t know that we actually need to “disrupt” anything, exactly; at least not the same kind of disruption that’s devolved from a professional call to arms to a product call to action.
What I do know, though, is that we’d all be a hell of a lot better off if we, as individuals and as an industry, could collectively get our shit together and make one single, simple and completely disruptive change to business as usual in recruiting: start treating people like human beings.
Treat Me Nice.
One of the occupational hazards of this occupation is that recruiters, by necessity, often upset people. It’s an unfortunate side effect of being in this business; it’s recruiters who most often serve as the bearer of bad news, the messenger tasked with telling job seekers they’re no longer under consideration for a job, or our clients didn’t like their resume, or that here just isn’t a fit for them at this time.
Even the ones who successfully get through the process often have their hopes dashed by an offer that isn’t even close to the range either of you had hoped for, and for some reason, justifying it with HR buzzwords like “internal compression” or “leveling” doesn’t make breaking the news to a candidate any easier; in fact, it often undermines the trust that’s the entire foundation of a recruiting relationship.
So it goes.
And while I firmly reject that recruiters are in the rejection business (see what I did there?), I do recognize that MANY of our candidate interactions aren’t exactly happy ones.
The problem is, many recruiters fail to understand that as badly as being the bearer of this bad news kind of sucks – so much so, in fact, so many of us avoid sharing it entirely, exacerbating that whole “candidate experience” issue – but as bad as it is for us, it’s often infinitely worse for the candidate.
If you want to change recruiting, start with changing your mindset, first. How about a little empathy?
I can’t pretend to know exactly what implications and emotions any candidate thinks or feels as the result of my rejecting them. But here’s what I can do – I CAN and SHOULD acknowledge they are feeling something – and respect those feelings, whatever they may be. From anger to despair, the reactions may run the gamut, but it’s our job as recruiters to at least understand where the candidate is coming from.
In some extreme cases, a candidate may have put an inordinate amount of effort into your hiring process, or become so interested and excited about an opportunity that being told it’s not going to happen feels not only like a punch in the gut, but a personal rejection.
Often times, the candidate reactions are inordinately irrational – when we’re told we’re not getting an offer, particularly one we want, it can feel like our careers are OVER, particularly because we’ve come to see our careers in the context of that dream job or dream company, only to have the realities of recruiting defer those dreams.
While we can empirically recognize that this isn’t really the case, in the moment, for the candidate losing out on a dream job can feel like a nightmare – and we need to wake up to the fact as recruiters, it’s our job to be respectful of that.
The importance of empathy and compassion in recruiting really hit home for me in a huge way a few weeks ago. As many of you probably have heard by now, I got married last month; my husband and I ran off to Hawaii, leaving our families behind to catch it via live stream instead (gotta love technology, right?)
The morning of our wedding, I woke up with the brilliant idea to send flowers to our mothers. You know, a little token of our love and appreciation, particularly since (by design) neither would be attending the nuptials in person, and I thought it would be a nice gesture to give them something from us they could enjoy during the ceremony. I know, pretty sweet sentiment, particularly coming from me.
So, I jumped online, found some simple, straightforward arrangements (I deferred to the experts and went with the “florist’s choice” option), then shelled out what ended up being an exorbitant amount to ensure they’d be delivered that same day. Which shouldn’t really have been a concern, since we still had a good 12 hours before the ceremony – I was feeling both smart and sweet, really, at having conceived of this little goodwill gesture.
Later that day, as I’m getting ready for my ceremony and dealing with the stresses of being a bride that you have to deal with even when you’re more or less eloping – I get an email that my flowers were not, in fact, going to be delivered that day. Which, of course, left me with only one choice: I freaked the hell out.
I called the site I ordered the arrangement at immediately, trying to get the issue resolved; the rep on the phone basically told me “though shit. They’ll be there tomorrow.” Which, shouldn’t be too big of a deal, right? I mean, what difference does one day possibly make? Unless, that is, you’re getting married in a couple hours and are up against a gun (and wish you had one, at that very moment).
I tried to keep my cool. I explained WHY this was so important, and asked if there was ANYTHING that could be done. It wasn’t until I insisted on at least a refund of that same day delivery charge (which came out to be a boatload) that she not only issued a refund, but actually apologized and promised to upgrade the flowers to compensate for the confusion. Which was appreciated, since it was the best she could do, all things considered. So it goes.
The next day, my mother-in-law received her flowers; while they were a day late, she absolutely loved them, and sent me a picture. They were awful. I’m talking heinous, here – which is hard to do with fresh cut flowers. I was actually embarrassed that my mother-in-law had received such a craptastic arrangement, even more so because she used to be a florist. I knew she was judging me, even as she insisted they were lovely and smelled amazing. Now, I love my mother in law. But I friggin’ hate ProFlowers.com.
After hanging up with my mother in law, I called my mother to see if she’d gotten any packages delivered from me. Nope, she tells me. Nothing had arrived; what should she be expecting? I kind of backtracked (I’m still trying to surprise her at this point), and told her I’d get it sorted out.
It wasn’t until the next day, after too many follow up phone calls and way too much frustration, my mom finally received HER flowers (only a couple days late, but really, who’s counting?) Now, I must say that unlike my mother-in-law’s arrangement, this arrangement was at least truly lovely. But honestly, it was the SMALLEST flower arrangement I’ve ever seen; it was like the bonsai tree of floral bouquets. This was an “upgrade?”
It’s Now Or Never.
I know what you’re thinking; what the hell, exactly, does any of this have to do with recruiting? Well, the point is this. As pissed off as I am with ProFlowers, I realize that that for all my anger, they’re nothing more than an intermediary between me and the actual local florists responsible for royally screwing my order up. It’s not the website that delivered shit flowers late – it was the FLORISTS.
But the reason for my continued animosity (antipathy, even) at ProFlowers, even recognizing that they’re not fully to blame for the botched opportunity, is because they didn’t care.
Look, I get it. They might not have been able to fix the problem, or do a damned thing about it, but would a little empathy and compassion really have killed them?
By my final phone call to these chumps, I was so upset I had to pass the phone to my husband as I broke down in hysterics, sobbing about how my wedding. was. ruined. And believe me, I’m not exactly the Bridezilla type. Until, that is, you push me over the edge. And I was upset, hurt and ANGRY because, simply, NO ONE CARED.
Every customer service rep I spoke with acted like I was being somehow unreasonable, or worse, like I was BOTHERING them with my questions, queries and cries for help. The attitude, so succinctly summed up by one of the reps I spoke to, was “well, I don’t know what you want me to do.”
Let me tell you what I want you to do, lady. I want you to show a little human sympathy, realize I’m going through some shit, and have some compassion.
Don’t Be Cruel.
You know, just a little, “I’m so sorry,” or “I understand your frustration,” or, even better, “let me tell you what I CAN do.” It wouldn’t have changed the outcome, but it would have changed everything for me.
It’s those little words, that little bit of interpersonal empathy, that can go SO FAR when it comes to dealing with a bad situation. While you can’t change the ends, it’s the means that really mean something.
But I didn’t get any of that. I was treated just like a faceless number, just another customer having just another crisis, the same type they deal with a hundred times a day.
I was treated like one of the thousands of applicants recruiters get resumes for every day who, no matter what the circumstances, just don’t really matter all that much.
Or the dozens of candidates I talk to every week to say, “thanks, but no thanks,” and forget that those words carry a lot of weight with them. I let candidates know that they’re no longer under consideration as a matter of process, but forget sometimes, in following that process, that every one of these candidates is a real person who’s going to have a real reaction to this news.
Good, bad, or indifferent, all they’re looking for to turn things around, and make a customer for life, is to show a little empathy, a little humanity, and give the impression that someone out there actually cares. Because even if you can’t help change a hiring manager’s mind, or really do much to help resolve candidate crises, sometimes the biggest help, the most profound impact a recruiter can ever make is simply by showing our stakeholders that we’re here for them, we understand how they feel, and that we’re willing to listen.
Talk about disruptive.
About the Author: Amy Miller is a staffing consultant & talent sourcer for Microsoft, where she supports the hardware division as a member of Microsoft’s in-house talent acquisition team.
Amy has over a decade of recruiting experience, starting her career in agency recruiting running a desk for companies like Spherion, Act One and the Lucas Group before making the move in-house, where she has held strategic talent roles for the State of Washington’s WorkSource employment program and Zones, an IT product and services hub.