The Rise of Empathic Recruitment

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We can broadly divide empathy into “affective” and ‘’cognitive’’: the first referring to the sensations and feelings we get in response to others’ emotions; the latter to our ability to identify and understand emotions and predict actions. It’s easy to see how both can play a big role in recruitment. Highly empathic recruiters have a natural advantage when it comes to a profession which trades on broad human desires:  ambition, stability, security, power.

This advantage is largely due to the cognitive side of empathic intelligence. The ability to predict how someone feels about a potential job helps in refining a longlist of a highly reactive candidates and can define an approach strategy generating a good response rate. You can read into someone’s education and career background, intuitively understand what their main career driver has been and almost ‘’feel’’ if there could be any ambition for a change and so mirror those feelings into a tailored approach. To someone who is empathic, it takes seconds.

Is artificial intelligence really more capable of managing human capital than us?

The recruitment industry is welcoming the use of artificial intelligence, which offers neither form of empathy. The idea of selecting a reactive pool of candidates is already a feature on many AI platforms which identify candidates who are ‘most likely to respond’. These algorithms score this probability based on a candidate’s social activity (high or low), number of connections (increasing or stable), activity on their profile, frequency of log-ins etc. In a way, like our neurons, the AI tries to ‘’mirror’’ the activity of a typical user open to new opportunities. If you look for a job you will probably modify your profile, increase you network and your log-ins will shoot-up. However, the same also applies to those who have just received a promotion or found a new job, which is unlikely to be your next candidate.

The human mind still has the edge with its emphatic ability to select a pool of candidates by simultaneously assessing career history, education, current location, etc., to assess a candidate’s ‘desire’ towards a job offer.

While empathic recruitment might seem to speed up the process of recruiting a candidate, it’s not just black and white. Being empathic in recruitment means adding layers to your screening processes. No candidate can be instantly dismissed and there’s always opportunity to delve deeper. It becomes a question of when you should be drawing the line. How much empathy is too much?

Having a ‘good eye’ for candidates can mean struggling to provide decisive feedback to rejected candidates. can feel like sailing against the wind but the temptation to tamper the message coming from line managers would, in the end, deprive rejected candidates of a useful learning experience. Empathic reasoning can be hard to translate to a rejected candidate, who are often just looking for straightforward feedback rather than a recruiter’s subjective responses.  Ultimately, empathic recruitment is best practiced in controlled measures.

Here are our top three tips on how to incorporate empathic recruitment into your process:

  • Be personal: while adding forms and videos to a recruitment process might seem efficient, it can present both a poor reflection of a candidate and of the company they are applying for. Communication is key and allows for our natural empathic responses to develop.
  • Spot the red flags: Being empathic enables you to deduce whether a candidate is truly interested. Don’t waste time on evasive candidates who aren’t fully engaged.
  • Understand the client: being empathic means being able to relate to a client and help them clarify their needs. You can execute a far more effective search if you’ve defined exactly what your client wants.


Written by Bruno Schisano, Group Head of Delivery at Walter James. Find out more about Bruno in this recent article in Executive Search News.

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