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Empathy in Recruitment: How to Add a Human Touch to Your Hiring in the Age of AI

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Over the past four years, compassion and empathy in recruiting have become a priority in the race to find talent. Recruiters, staffing agencies, and human resources professionals experienced burnout and mass layoffs in 2023, so many can relate to both sides: the one hiring and the job seeker. 


Empathy lays a foundation for trust from employees and has far more value than interviewing and onboarding. Recruiters understand the organization’s culture and are familiar with the candidate’s hiring experience. They can ensure a smooth transition from the interview process to the first day of hire. The amount of available positions has shifted from scarce to plentiful, as a recent Robert Half survey shows a hiring increase in the first half of 2024.

Empathy and Compassion Create a Better Candidate Experience

Today’s job search and interview processes are filled with technology, compliance, and data, lacking a sense of human connection and belonging. The recruiter is often the only human connection for weeks and months after posting the position. Assessments, interview scheduling, and AI-driven interviews are a few tools replacing this person-to-person connection. 


Recruiters are the company’s brand ambassador. They are the window to understanding the company’s culture. A compassionate and empathetic recruiter can help shape the candidate’s perception of the company culture in several ways:



    • Job satisfaction: A recent global survey showed that out of 8,700 employees asked, only 48% agreed their company was empathetic. Of the employees who disagreed, 90% believed empathy would make a difference.

    • Job performance: Leadership that listens and responds to its employees results in higher employee retention, increased productivity, and greater loyalty. Compassion also helps reduce workplace drama and conflict.

    • Positive company culture: Compassionate leadership creates a model for employees to follow and emulate. Compassion is contagious and influences a slow change toward a positive culture.

  • Effective leadership: People are attracted to and will follow compassionate leadership. Compassionate leadership reduces burnout, improves employee attendance, and decreases employee turnover.

When Recruiters Lack Compassion and Empathy Toward Candidates

Recruiters interact with many applicants from multiple job postings to find the best fit. Mistreating a candidate may result in missing key talent and delays in filling in-demand positions.


Here are ways recruiters unintentionally discourage a connection with candidates:



    • Lack of communication: Understandably, recruiters desire to automate as much as possible when hundreds of candidates apply for one position. Hiring has evolved to where technology and AI are becoming key to streamlining the many layers of the interview process; however, poor personal communication creates an unfavorable impression of the recruiter and the company.

    • Insensitive feedback: Recruiters will only give feedback if the company allows it. However, when there is an opportunity to offer it, a straightforward and carefully worded response can have a positive effect on a candidate’s professional development. Constructive but tactful feedback can make an impact even on candidates who don’t get the job.

    • Rigid processes: Engaging relationships with candidates can make the interview experience more informative and productive for everyone involved. If a company says it cares about people but doesn’t connect with them, it’s difficult for both candidates and recruiters to fill positions.

  • Untimely responses to candidate concerns: There is much anxiety in the job search for candidates waiting for a recruiter’s contact. A lack of recruiter response to a text, voicemail, or call is nerve-racking to a good candidate and may disenchant them. Recruiters who understand this and empathize through experience make meaningful connections with candidates.

Tools and Strategies to Show More Humanity

Automated processes and technology may help the company save money and time, but they can diminish the humanity of the candidate’s experience. Recruiter relationships with candidates that incorporate empathy and compassion make the company feel more human. Suitable candidates with several options will likely find the company more favorable if they feel connected, heard, and valued.



In the competitive race for talent, recruiters can enhance their effectiveness by incorporating empathy and compassion into their strategies. Here are some valuable tools and practices that can help:



    • Ask open-ended questions: Cultural fit is evident from every answer given during an interview. An interview has to feel more like a conversation and less like an interrogation. This better reflects an exchange of ideas, making the candidate feel they can contribute.

    • Active listening: Recruiters are expected to demonstrate the company’s values. Candidates will take nonverbal cues from conversations and respond if they sense the recruiter cares. Most people want to feel heard, and even if they are rejected, they can use the experience to guide their career advancement.

    • Thoughtful communication: The recruiter and company will likely use automation to send candidates emails, texts, and phone messages for scheduling and status updates. Candidates need some human contact to connect and care about the company. If the company’s competitors are more personable during their hiring processes, candidates may make decisions based on the quality and frequency of human interaction.

    • Show appreciation for their time: Today’s job search requires juggling many tasks, yet rejection and ghosting by companies make the work and time spent applying for jobs unpleasant. Candidates invest time in interviewing with several companies. Recruiters can offer appreciation and establish a connection with the candidate even by sending a personalized “thank you” message.

    • Answer direct questions: Based on their research, candidates want to learn more about the company and how they can contribute to it. The recruiter is often the leading resource for helping candidates understand the interviewer, the company, and the culture.

  • Use a job fit assessment: A job fit assessment helps candidates understand how well they’ll perform in a specific role before they start. It also helps them identify tasks, work environments, and competencies aligned with their strengths. Most candidates don’t understand how their skills would fit a job, so this assessment can be invaluable for their overall career development and create value beyond the interview experience.

Win the Hearts of Talented Candidates with Humanity and Technology

Technology, specifically artificial intelligence (AI), saturates news headlines, conferences, and podcasts. Comparatively, empathy and compassion appear as afterthoughts or sound bites. The reality for recruiters and the companies they work for is to create processes to make hiring faster, easier, and better. However, candidates will only stay with the company if the changes and adaptation to new technology help recruiters win by creating a better candidate experience. 


There are several signs that show companies and recruiters what works to create the best candidate experience and to best compete for talent:



    • It’s all about the candidate. If the recruiter’s efforts show candidates the hiring process is more about them than how well the automated processes work, it will sell candidates on the company’s value. Assure candidates there are responsive humans involved in the process who are looking forward to their impact on the company. 

    • Build trust. Connections with candidates foster authenticity, honesty, and transparency. Trust is a tangible return on investment that pays well beyond the first 90 days of employment.

    • Make personable connections. Can recruiters convey empathy with candidates to show they understand their challenges? Recruiters set the expectation that everyone a candidate meets will offer a welcoming attitude. 

  • Be open to feedback. Offer tactful and respectful feedback regarding the candidate’s questions about the company and culture. Clarity is necessary to avoid unnecessary doubts. 

When companies are looking to hire talent, it’s important to treat candidates with respect and fairness. Candidates often share their experiences with each other both directly and indirectly, and social media is full of complaints about ghosting, poor communication, mistreatment, and misunderstandings during the hiring process. It’s in the best interest of recruiters to regularly seek feedback from candidates and work to create a positive and amicable interaction.


Improving the Candidate Experience with Compassion

Recruiters must collaborate with companies to improve the candidate experience. This is not only to streamline the hiring process but also to ensure multiple human interactions along the way. Surveys and conversations are measurable ways to create a more human-centered hiring process and to gather valuable feedback. 


Empathy and compassion are not displayed simply through emotions, but rather through kindness, courtesy, and thoughtfulness, considering the candidate’s experience first. Everyone has been an active job seeker at some point in their career, so recruiters must use their understanding of what it feels like to sit in the candidate’s chair and do their best to improve the candidate’s experience.

Picture of Mark Dyson
Mark Dyson
Mark Anthony Dyson is a career writer, thinker, podcaster, and speaker in the careers and job search space. He has written for Glassdoor,, Payscale, The Financial Diet, The Balance Careers, and more.

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