Is Your Hiring Process As Emotionally Intelligent As The People It’s Meant To Hire?

What if the reason recruiters can’t find emotionally intelligent candidates is because their hiring processes lack real people skills?

Is Your Hiring Process As Emotionally Intelligent As The People It’s Meant To Hire?
[Photo: bee32/iStock]

As most job candidates are probably sick of hearing by now, emotional intelligence is a coveted skill recruiters look for when they’re making hires. There’s tons of advice out there for candidates to adjust how they speak and answer questions on job interviews in order to dial up interpersonal skills. But a lot of the time, emotionally intelligent applicants don’t make it through to the interview stage at all. They get lost in hiring processes that are emotionally unintelligent to an alarming degree. What if the reason companies keep saying they’re having such a hard time finding emotional intelligence in the job market is because their hiring processes are devoid of humanity?


Related: The War For Talent Is Over, And Everyone Lost

The Crushing Inhumanity Of Your Company’s Hiring Process

Think about the last time you looked for a job. What was that process like for you? How many interviews did you walk away from feeling valued, important, and relevant? What about feeling human?

Knowing he was up against a battery of automated “applicant tracking systems” (ATS), one industrious job seeker recently tried to fight fire with fire. As Robert Coombs told Fast Company last month, he cobbled together a bot to apply to thousands of job openings in one go, customizing his application materials to each listing. It was an epic failure. “It doesn’t matter if you submit two, three, or 10 times as many applications as the average candidate,” Coombs concluded, “they’re rarely going to work out in your favor, for factors beyond your (or your robot’s) control.” He added, “By trying to game that system, I inadvertently learned how powerful it really is.”

As Coombs found out the hard way, modern hiring systems are built for speed and efficiency. Most companies look at hiring as a numbers game, measuring success by outdated metrics like time-to-fill (which has been dragging out longer than ever over the past few years). They value speed and quantity over quality of hires, and often fall short of both. This reality doesn’t help the fact that searching for a job is as already an emotional, stressful experience. So if you want to hire emotionally intelligent people, your hiring process should reflect the same level of people skills you’re on the hunt for.

And to do that, the bar really isn’t even that high. Most candidates just want an idea of what to expect when they apply and to be treated with dignity throughout the experience. Here’s a quick checklist for building a more emotionally intelligent hiring process.


Set Expectations That Show Empathy

The term “black hole” isn’t just a well-earned epithet for where so many applicants’ resumes wind up in most companies’ hiring processes—it’s also a good metaphor for the cold, empty void in those processes where empathy should be. It’s not just an aggravation for candidates and no skin off your back; you have a problem, too, when applicants never hear back.

According to CareerBuilder’s 2016 North American Candidate Experience Report, 38% of survey applicants received no communication back after applying. Maybe your application review process takes eight weeks, or you conduct four phone screeners before an in-person interview. Fine—you’ve still got to let candidates know up front how long the process might take, and you’ve got to do it as soon as you make contact. This is way easier than actually accelerating the experience, by the way; whatever your hiring quirks are, candidates just want to know so their expectations are set.

An example of proactively setting expectations is NPR’s Candidate Experience Pledge. Navigate to the “applying” section of the organization’s career site, and you’ll find a relatively simple overview of its approach to hiring, including the resume-review process and timeline, how to check the status of your application, some notes on the interview and offer process, ways to contact the recruiting team, and general FAQs.

Job descriptions are another way to set expectations. According to Allegis Group’s 2016 Global Benchmark Study, 72% of hiring managers say they write clear job descriptions, while only 36% of applicants agree. Ditch the standard boilerplate job descriptions and practice “radical transparency,” an admittedly annoying term for a really important idea: Rather than another dry laundry list of job responsibilities and objectives, just be honest. What will the human experience of working in this role actually be like? Focus on the success measures, deliverables, and even the negatives of the job. That detail and candor may not lead to more candidates, but it will lead to more of the right candidates.

Train Your Interviewers

Many companies bring a cross-section of team members into an interview without training them to interview effectively. The result is a haphazard process filled with redundant questions that leave the candidate confused and the interview team without much to work with beyond the resume, even after all that conversation.


Successful interviewing is a skill built over time. Good interviewers know how to structure an interview in order to probe for behavioral qualities and eliminate their own unconscious biases as best as possible. Lack of budget shouldn’t deter you from investing in interview training. There are open-source resources from Facebook, Google, and others for free, like Lever’s exhaustive guide to developing diversity and inclusion, Salesforce’s 16 training modules dealing with different aspects of workplace bias, and this resource from Workable on training hiring managers to be more effective interviewers.

Interviewing Is A Two-Way Street

Many companies approach interviews as one-sided affairs. They run candidates through a gauntlet of questions, often on a tight schedule with minimal breaks, and only let the candidate ask questions at the very end. It’s debatable how well this lets companies vet candidates, but it rarely lets the candidate gauge how they might fit into the organization.

According to LinkedIn researchers, a whopping 83% of candidates say that a negative interview can make them change their mind about a position—no surprise there, right? On the other hand, 87% say a good interview experience can do the reverse. For companies, that might be good news in disguise; demonstrating emotional intelligence is just as powerful as failing to demonstrate it is destructive. All it really takes is putting yourself in the candidate’s shoes. Think of the best aspects of every interview you’ve personally been on, and it’s easy to see how the secret is simply in getting the little things right—like these:

  • Prepare candidates with a full interview schedule in advance, and give them any materials that will help them better understand the role, team, and company (no, it isn’t “doing their homework for them”).
  • Make sure everyone who’s going to interview the candidate draws up interview questions in advance and compares notes so the candidate doesn’t have to repeat themselves.
  • Have each interviewer save 10–15 minutes for the candidate to ask questions about the role and team, not the cursory two- to three–minute wrap-up that’s usually tacked onto the end.
  • Respect the candidate’s time and make sure your interview process stays on schedule.

None of these things are difficult to do; they just take the commitment to do them. Investing in building an emotionally intelligent interview process will help you build advocates among all your applicants who will walk away with a great impression of your company—even if without a job offer in hand.

About the author

Lars Schmidt is the founder of Amplify, an HR executive search and consulting firm that helps companies like Hootsuite, NPR, and SpaceX navigate the future of work. He is also the cofounder of the HR Open Source initiative.