What is empathy? – The skill that drives connection in recruitment

It’s a declining trait in today’s workplace and society in general. And that’s a shame because, in a people-driven environment like the recruitment industry, learning and developing empathic skills can be a huge boost to your client, candidate and colleague relationships.

Simply put, it’s the ability to understand and appreciate another person’s feelings and experiences. Asking a question such as ‘How would I feel if that happened to me?’ is to empathise; to take a look at a situation from another person’s point of view. Empathy fuels connection – it’s essential to the process of forming and managing relationships, and relating to those around you in a positive way.

In a recruitment context, the use of empathy can help you to motivate those around you through the understanding of their needs and goals. It can enable you to better communicate with your clients, candidates, and colleagues, and it will guide you to consider how others perceive you through your actions and words. While we can’t know for sure what someone else is feeling, empathy is incredibly valuable because it can be used to understand our relationship with others and decide how best to respond without rushing to judgement.

Additionally, in the fast-paced, deadline-driven, target-meeting world of recruitment, it’s all too easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of work that needs to be completed, and this can lead to us becoming self-absorbed with an, albeit inadvertent, disregard for the needs and feelings of others.


Let’s look at some simple examples. Here’s something that we’ve all been guilty of at some point or another:

You realise that you haven’t contacted a client about a job brief you’ve been trying to fill, so you pick up the phone, apologise and tell them that you’ve just been so busy lately…

It’s a common excuse and probably the truth, but now put yourself on the other end of the phone and consider what the client could be thinking. Is it likely to be:

‘Oh, that’s terrible, that poor person must be run off their feet!’

Or is it more likely that your apology could be interpreted as:

‘I’ve just been so busy recently with clients who are a lot more important to me than you?’

A client may not say anything to you directly, but by using this one common, throw-away excuse, you could well be making them believe that you don’t consider their job brief your top priority, and aren’t doing anywhere near your best to try to fill it. Even if you don’t consider them a top priority, every client needs to feel that they’re the one you’re working the hardest for. It’s one of the basics of customer service — the best kind of client is a happy client!

You also need to remember that everyone is busy, including your clients. It’s highly unlikely that they will have been twiddling their thumbs whilst waiting for you to fill their job brief, but by giving them this excuse when they call you, the intimation is there.

The best approach here is to simply not give an excuse at all. In most cases, a sincere apology will be enough for the client, and you can then go on to ask them if they’ve had a good week before getting straight down to the nitty-gritty.

The good news is that empathy can be developed. However, it’s difficult to begin to practice it if your workday is stressed because you’re ultimately concentrating on yourself and your own needs. If we want to be successful, what we need to be able to do is take back control of the activity, take back control of what we do.

Bearing this in mind, you may find that it will help a great deal to organise your work days by planning them out, and structuring them to ensure that you stay in control.

Any media that involves characters — such as books or films — will help you to practice your empathic skills. Ask yourself what the characters may think and feel, why they’re reacting to situations in certain ways, or what motivates them to behave in the way they do. This will help you to learn to see circumstances from a viewpoint other than your own, to place yourself in someone else’s shoes.

You can also try this exercise while waiting for a bus, or traveling on the train – pay close attention to a stranger’s posture, expression, and attitude, and try to imagine where they might be going, what they could be doing or perhaps what they are feeling on that particular day.

With practice, you’ll soon find that you can apply these skills to your own daily interactions, setting yourself well on the way to becoming a better recruiter, manager, and all-around people person. And in an industry driven by the need to make connections, this can only be a good thing.