Hiring Manager’s Quick Guide to Becoming More Empathetic Toward Candidates

By Peter Cotton, founder and president, Best Sales Talent, LLC


                                                                                                                                                            Image from Nordstroms.com

Almost everyone has heard these old expressions: “to understand a man, you have to walk a mile in his shoes” and “treat others as you want to be treated.”

Seeing the world from another person’s perspective seems to be somewhat of a “lost art.”  Too many hiring managers have forgotten how to treat candidates whom they have interviewed for open positions at their organizations.  Additionally, they lack a great deal of empathy.  If they looked at the interviewing process from the candidate’s point of view, they could learn a great deal about how to improve the candidate’s experience.  If they learned how to interview properly, and to ultimately make a good hiring decision, they also could do it in a way that will enhance the company brand and the reputation of the hiring manager.  My opinion on this can be found at:  Poor Hiring Practices Spell Negative PR for Companies.

Hiring managers should take note of a recent article I wrote: Attention Candidates: When Hiring Managers Go Dark, Turn on the Light! It describes what goes through a candidate’s mind before and after an interview.  Basically, when the hiring manager goes dark, the candidate’s initial positive outlook on the job, company, and manager becomes one of disappointment, distaste, and contempt.

As a recruiter, I find it is becoming more common for hiring managers to not do what they say they will do.  Phone calls and emails aren’t returned. Promised deadlines come and go with no decisions. Candidates don’t get feedback on their interviews and don’t know where they stand.  Sometimes a “no decision” becomes the final step, and the candidate feels like they fell into a deep, dark hole.  When a recruiter is involved, they can “run interference” somewhat for the candidate, but even they are left in the dark at times.  Although it is shameful to say, there are even some recruiters who leave candidates in the dark.

As a recruiter, I think of myself not so much in the personnel placement business as I am in the communication business.  I facilitate communication between candidates and hiring managers. As a conductor leads a symphony orchestra, I initiate and lead a process that can result in a hire.

When a recruiter like me gets no feedback from a manager or hears about an employer who went dark on a candidate who interviewed on his own — without a recruiter’s help — several thoughts go through my mind.  There are ways an employer could enhance the candidate experience, and in so doing, enhance his reputation and the reputation of his organization.

Please see below for my quick guide on how employers can be more empathetic toward candidates:

— Write a clear job description.

— A list of “must haves” is not as effective as a list of “can dos”.

— Know what you want before starting a search.

— “I’ll know it when I see it” is not going to work. Those kinds of hires are doomed for failure.

— Create an easy application process with short, clear instructions. Make it mobile accessible.

— Send an email confirmation that their application was received and explain what will happen next.

— Give directions to candidates so he/she knows where to go and where to park. If parking requires a pass, explain how he/she can get one.

— Tell the candidate what building and what door to enter and where to go once inside.

— Alert the candidate in advance as to how much time he/she can anticipate spending on an interview and who else the candidate will meet.

— Respect the candidate’s time. Don’t leave them sitting in the lobby more than five minutes. Don’t take calls when the candidate is sitting at  your desk.  Don’t allow your employees to  disturb the interview.  Turn your cell phone ringer off.

— Improve your interviewing skills.

— Make sure your interview questions are the same for all candidates.

— Tell the candidate what to expect once the interview is over. If no decision is to be made on the spot about a second interview, tell the candidate when he/she will hear back. Specify a date and live by it!

— Give feedback at the time of the interview and ask the candidate for feedback, too.

— Give the candidate your business card with your email address and phone number. Encourage the candidate to contact you if he/she has any questions.

— Treat candidates as you would a customer. In fact, one day they may become a customer, or be able to recommend a purchase of your products.  Leave them feeling good about you, your company, products and/or services

— Send the candidate a thank you note for coming to discuss the position. This will give you and your company great PR as it’s rare for a hiring manager to do it.

— Move the process along quickly and efficiently. Don’t drag your feet.

— If you are unable to decide on the day and time promised, call the candidate. Let him/her know that he/she is still in the running, and that although you have no decision on him/her now, you will by a new date and time.  Live by the new date!

— Always acknowledge any email coming from the candidate. Their biggest pet peeve is sending an email that goes into a black hole.

— If the candidate calls after the interview and leaves a voicemail, return it promptly. Again, this will garner great PR for you and your organization’s brand.

— Unqualified candidates should be told early on that they won’t be continuing in the process. Don’t create false hope. (Some hiring managers will interview many candidates, hire one, and only then do they tell those who weren’t moving along in the process that they were not chosen – sometimes months later.)


Here is a quick story about a hiring manager who did it right.  I worked with client who was the VP of Sales.  I introduced a candidate for a National Sales Manager role.  The employer did everything I mentioned above, and he hired my candidate.  His process for on-boarding the candidate was outstanding.  When the candidate started work on a Monday, he was given an agenda for the week listing what he would be doing or learning and who he would be meeting on an hour-by-hour basis.  The manager arranged to have lunch with him the first day and had different people within the company from various departments meet him for lunch for each of the remaining days of the week.

That wasn’t all though!  On Friday of his first week at the new job, the VP of Sales did something special for the new hire.  He located a nice French restaurant not far from the candidate’s home.  He gave his American Express card number to the maître de.  He told the candidate that the company was so pleased to have the candidate join their team that he wanted to show his appreciation.  He told the candidate to take his wife to the restaurant on the next night (Saturday) and that they should order anything they wished.  He also arranged for the maître de to bring a nice bottle of wine to the table that evening.  The candidate’s wife was duly impressed, and the candidate had very positive feelings about his new boss and the company from that day forward.

If you are a hiring manager, I hope you found my above guidance worthwhile.  Do you have any other steps in your interview process that gives the candidates a positive experience? If so, I welcome your ideas.  Shoot me an email or give me a call at (401) 737-3200.