There’s Gold in Interviewing With Empathy

Taking a ‘Golden Rule’ approach to hiring is proving beneficial to both companies and the candidates they’re interviewing.
Written by Kim Conway
November 15, 2021Updated: November 15, 2021

We’ve all been there before — the too-bright conference rooms, the sweaty palms, the trains of thought lost to nerves, the ticking clock suggesting time has turned to molasses. More recently, we’ve stared into the all-too-familiar void of a computer screen with the contrast of unfamiliar faces looking back at us. Yet in both scenarios, we wait as a panel decides our fate.

No matter which side of the table you’re on in an interview, it’s natural to feel an edge of competitiveness — there’s a need to win the other side over. But this makes it all the more important for HR to consider how they structure the experience for a potential hire. What if the game-changing element of the interview process could be simplified down to one emotion: empathy? Could building this bridge with emotion and understanding between employer and candidate mend the tension of a struggle for victory? What if you could be on the same side?

Socialive’s VP of people operations, Anu Karwa, told us how her team leads with empathy by looking at the interview process from a candidate’s point of view: “We take their perspective into consideration and treat candidates the way we would want to be treated ourselves.” Meanwhile, Verifi’s senior manager of talent acquisition, Brian Ross, is practicing a similar style of leadership to Karwa: “Putting myself in the candidate’s shoes helps me meet them where they are in their job-seeking process.” As for Alex Kim, head of talent acquisition at Dave.com, empathy provides a clearer path to a fairer candidate experience. “Empathy is critical when balancing the sense of urgency to fill a role and a candidate’s need to take their time to prepare or make decisions,” he explained. 

HR teams are rethinking their candidate experience approaches through a lens of empathy. Built In LA checked in with hiring professionals from six local companies to learn exactly how they’ve restructured and improved their candidate experiences in recent months.

 

Alex Kim
Head of Talent Acquisition

 

What is the most important thing you want candidates to learn about your company?

We want candidates to know that Dave provides employees with the unique opportunity to work at a startup with endless growth potential, while having the financial certainty that only exists at public companies. Our lean but mighty team of approximately 250 employees will grow significantly in 2022 off the heels of our upcoming initial public offering. Although we will soon be a public company, we are very much in our early stages of growth and provide prospective employees with an incredible chance to help build Dave’s financial platform.

We are incredibly proud of the culture that we have created at Dave. There is still plenty of work to be done, but we are confident that our values and leadership commitments give us the foundation we need to build a truly world-class company. One example of how we’re doing this is by rolling out our people leadership commitments earlier this year to further invest in our people and ensure that we are growing our company with intention and purpose.

 

What are three ingredients that create a great candidate experience?

Empathy is critical. Understanding a candidate’s motivations for their job search not only builds rapport and trust, but also provides insight into how to position an opportunity so that it speaks to their aspirations.  

Transparency around company environment, team culture and role expectations is fundamental — and one of Dave’s core values. But it can be much more challenging in practice, as pressure from stakeholders can lead to overselling and misrepresenting an opportunity. Candor about the position and its challenges will ensure that prospective candidates turn into engaged employees who know what to expect in their new environment.  

Finally, consistency around pipeline management helps build a successful recruiting team, talent attraction strategy and employer brand. Candidates who make it to the offer stage make up less than two percent of the candidate pool. Don’t let candidates in the pipeline become stale, ensure that rejected candidates understand why they’re being rejected — this is something we’re still working on at Dave — and treat all candidates with respect.

The consistently positive feedback we’ve received validates how small efforts can make big impacts when you’re working to differentiate yourself.”

 

How has your candidate experience changed over time, and why did you enact those changes?

Creating a special experience in a recruiting world that has abruptly shifted to a virtual environment is incredibly challenging. Dave, alongside most other companies, was forced to quickly adapt to this new era in recruiting and develop tactics to give candidates an intimate and personalized experience similar to one they’d normally have when coming onsite for an interview. 

The adjustment that has received the most positive feedback from candidates is the implementation of a custom kick-off presentation that our incredible team of coordinators creates for all candidates who make it to our panel interview — previously known as our onsite interview. The deck includes an overview of who the candidate will be meeting with and why. We share our founding story, information about our leadership team and company values. Candidates also receive credit to our swag store or Uber Eats as a thank you for their time. The consistently positive feedback we’ve received validates how small efforts can make big impacts when you’re working to differentiate yourself from competitors in the market. Working in a digital environment is no excuse for not creating personalized experiences!

 

 

Anu Karwa
VP of People Operations

 

What is the most important thing you want candidates to learn about your company, and how do you communicate it during the hiring process?

The most important key to a team member’s success — outside of role-specific skills — is a cultural fit. That’s pertinent to any organization. To help candidates understand what our culture is about, we communicate our values during the hiring process, starting with “be a good human” and ending with “be bold.” 

We clearly communicate our expectation that this individual will be part of a high-performing team and will be asked to give their best. And we want candidates to know we value diverse opinions and perspectives so that they feel confident in showing up and being their best, truest selves. To provide a deeper understanding of our culture, we ask future team members to share their experiences, including what they love best about Socialive and honest conversations about challenges they’re facing.

We communicate our values during the hiring process, starting with ‘be a good human’ and ending with ‘be bold.’”

 

What are three elements that create a great candidate experience?

The first ingredient to a great candidate experience is a swift process. Top candidates have many options, and we want them to move through the process efficiently. We have streamlined the process so that candidates only spend a week from their application date to their final step, whether that’s a last interview or a technical test, in the case of engineering candidates. Second, transparency is key. We share compensation ranges and expectations for the role up front. Lastly, we lead with empathy. We’ve all been in a candidate’s shoes — interviewing and job hunting is not fun! No one enjoys answering endless questions or playing games. 

 

How has your candidate experience changed over time, and why did you enact those changes?

As we’ve grown and matured as a company, we’ve standardized our interview process further to ensure equity for all candidates, regardless of background. Instead of leaving decisions up to the discretion of a small number of individuals, we’re regulating questions and methods for feedback to include more quantitative measures to decrease bias. We are also ensuring that 80 percent of all roles have at least one candidate from an underrepresented background. We’ve over-delivered on that goal quickly. Our next update is to train all interviewers on unconscious bias and figure out how to incorporate that into the interviewing process.

 

 

Erin Jackson
Game Recruiter

 

What is the most important thing you want candidates to learn about your company, and how do you communicate it during the hiring process?

I start off by giving candidates a bit of history about MobilityWare. I share how the close-knit, family-like atmosphere we’ve developed over the past three decades sets us apart from other studios. I also love informing candidates about our flexible paid time off, no-crunch policy, wonderful benefits package, company trips and so much more. Lastly, I try to convey a clear picture of what candidates can expect on a day-to-day basis working at MobilityWare and how they can grow their career with us in the long term.

I try to convey a clear picture of what candidates can expect and how they can grow their career with us in the long term.”

 

What are three ingredients that create a great candidate experience?

First, authenticity: I want to make sure candidates are a fit for the role they are interested in. To fully evaluate each candidate, I need to get to know them, and I find that the best way to build that trust is by being open with them about myself and the company. 

Next is research. Prior to speaking with a candidate, I gather as much information as I can on their background, the responsibilities of the role they are interested in and the expectations of the team they would be joining. This is the best way to evaluate if they would be a fit for the opportunity I am discussing with them.

And lastly, a candidate’s first impression of both MobilityWare and myself is vital to their experience with the company, and I want to ensure that their initial interaction is a positive one. I see myself as a kind of company ambassador, since I am the first person that candidates meet. I genuinely appreciate their interest in potentially joining MobilityWare, and I value the time they’ve taken out of their day to chat with me. I convey that appreciation with a smile to make sure every potential hire feels valued.

 

How has your candidate experience changed over time, and why did you enact those changes?

It will come as no surprise to anyone that the pandemic has had a profound impact on our candidate experience. As we continue to work from home, we no longer have the opportunity to meet potential hires face-to-face. This presents a challenge, as I want prospective hires to have a sense of our company culture and new team members to feel fully integrated into the company. We work hard to find fresh ways to keep current and potential employees engaged. We’ve all found new avenues for showcasing MobilityWare’s personality and charm remotely, utilizing Zoom to add a personal touch to our candidate screening process.

 

 

Brian Ross
Senior Manager, Talent Acquisition

 

What is the most important thing you want candidates to learn about your company, and how do you communicate it during the hiring process?

We want candidates to learn that, by joining Verifi, they will have an opportunity to advance their career and continue to develop their skill set alongside an amazing, collaborative team. These tend to be some of the biggest reasons candidates seek new opportunities. During the first call, I review details about the position and the team, including the responsibilities of the role and skills the candidate would potentially gain. To give them some real examples for reference, I also talk about current employees in similar roles who have been able to advance their careers since joining the company. Opening the line of communication on the topic of career growth is key in helping the candidate see themselves — and how they are going to be successful — at Verifi.

 

What are three ingredients that create a great candidate experience?

Providing candidates with clear communication is key to building a positive relationship with them. There are often times when there is no update on their candidacy for the role, but simply taking five minutes to call and let them know this will always go a long way. 

Setting expectations is another important element, and it starts in the first call. Job searches are stressful and create anxiety for many people. By helping candidates understand what to expect from the interview process, we decrease their stress and make them feel more comfortable throughout the process. 

Last, but not least, is empathy. We all know what it’s like to be looking for a job, and I’ve found that putting myself in the candidate’s shoes helps me meet them where they are in the process and offer them feedback.

Opening the line of communication on the topic of career growth is key in helping the candidate see themselves at Verifi.”

 

How has your candidate experience changed over time, and why did you enact those changes?

The feedback we receive from candidates gives us ideas on how we can make it better, but also reinforces the parts that we are already doing well. For instance, candidates tell us how much they appreciate that we constantly keep them updated on the status of their candidacy. We realized tweaking something as simple as this goes a long way toward ensuring candidates feel positive about engaging with Verifi. We have also tightened up how we present the interview journey to candidates from start to finish. This gives us the ability to set clear expectations, so there are no surprises along the way. 

 

 

Omar Hariri
Global Talent Acquisition Manager

 

What is the most important thing you want candidates to learn about your company, and how do you communicate it during the hiring process?

We want them to know our employees are our greatest asset, and that’s why we are committed to their growth and development — the individual skills, curiosity and passion for their work contribute to the overall success of our business. We explain how we invest in career development, provide strong benefits and offer a lot of flexibility to make sure our employees have a healthy work-life balance.

 

What are three ingredients that create a great candidate experience?

Communication is key. It’s very important to constantly communicate with candidates and share honest and clear feedback throughout the entire interview process.  

A well-structured and organized interview process is also important. We always share the details with candidates during their initial phone screen so that they feel prepared and understand what to expect next.  

Lastly, the way our interviewers conduct themselves will either help sell candidates on the job or scare them away, which is why we train our teams and help them improve their interviewing skills.

Our employees are our greatest asset, and that’s why we are committed to their growth and development.”

 

How has your candidate experience changed over time, and why did you enact those changes?

We have shortened our interview process because we understand that time is valuable and most candidates can’t take a lot of time off to interview. We have also structured them in a way where every interviewer has a focus area so that candidates don’t have to answer the same questions multiple times. 

We have also leveraged technology to further improve our interview process and provide a better candidate experience. For instance, we use video calls instead of in-person interviews, which helps us save time and allows candidates to interview from anywhere. We still have more work to do in the years ahead, but we are proud of the progress we have made so far.

 

 

Zwift Team
Talent Engagement Team

What is the most important thing you want candidates to learn about your company?

We want candidates to learn about Zwift’s culture and values, engineering best practices and the benefits we offer. We also cover how to use Zwift and how our product is impacting the end-user — it’s much more than physical fitness.

 

What are three ingredients that create a great candidate experience?

Transparency, timely communication and empathy.

We build custom solutions based on the team we are supporting, while keeping candidate experience top of mind for the entire process.”

 

How have you changed your candidate experience over time?

The interview process needed to be made more efficient and effective. Each organization within Zwift is a little bit different. To ensure we meet our hiring goals, we use the interview philosophies of the leadership team. We build custom solutions based on the team we are supporting and what works for them — all the while keeping candidate experience top of mind for the entire process.

 

 

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