Bringing That Essential "Human Element" to Recruiting: How You Can Stay Focused on People—And Not Just Process

As a Strategic Account Manager at Greenhouse, most of my job consists of working with people. I help our customers’ People Teams build out process to make them more effective. I funnel feedback from our customers to those on our Product Team to steer the direction of what we build in our product next. I talk to prospects with our Sales Team to make sure potential customers understand the value of not just our product, but the relationship they’ll be starting with Greenhouse.

If you’re reading this, I bet most of your work day revolves around contact with lots of people, too. And interacting with people is just like any other professional activity; the more often you do it, the more it becomes just a routine. And the more your day-to-day becomes routine or habit, the easier it is to start seeing people not as human beings, but as numbers in your spreadsheet, dollars in a ledger, checkboxes on your to-do list, or columns in your report. But it doesn’t have to be this way, and especially when your work involves the livelihood of others, it shouldn’t be.

Whether you’re a member of your company’s People Team, a recruiter, or a hiring manager, if you want to be as effective as possible in your role, always remember that you’re working with other human beings, and that they have desires, fears, and dreams of their own that inform everything they do, just like you! No matter what your responsibilities are, you’ll find that it’s easier to achieve more effective outcomes if you focus not just on the tasks at hand, but on how the other people involved will be impacted and what they stand to gain (or lose) in the process. It’s much easier to convince someone of the value of a given decision or action if they understand how it will personally benefit them. Structure your communication accordingly.

In this post, I’m going to talk about how you can ensure you’re staying focused on the people and not just the process. To do so, let’s examine two common relationships:

  • Recruiters and hiring managers

  • Interviewers and candidates

Recruiters and hiring managers

One of the most common first steps when hiring for a new role is for a recruiter and hiring manager to sit down together and talk about the requirements of the position. Skills, characteristics, and qualifications are discussed, as is salary. The beginnings of a structured hiring plan take shape. This is where many people stop, take the nuts and bolts of what they’ve heard, and rush out to fill the role. However, as a recruiter, this is a perfect opportunity to spend a bit more time to learn more about not just what, but who your hiring manager is looking for, and to provide additional value by focusing on the human element.

For example, as a recruiter working with a hiring manager, consider some of the following questions to help you not just find better candidates, but also deepen your relationship with your hiring managers:

  • What does filling this role mean to the department or team, beyond the impact of the duties themselves? Is this a backfill for a well-liked person? Has there been rapid growth or expansion within the team, with many fresh faces and the opportunity for a culture shift? You’ll hear lots of important details during your role kick-off meeting, but spend a few extra minutes thinking about the human element. For example, replacing a valued team member may be more difficult than making a hire for a new position, so as a recruiter, make sure you probe a bit. You want to make sure you understand the differences between a hiring manager trying to replace the person as a trusted friend and colleague versus simply bringing in someone who can “do the job.”

  • What does this role mean for the hiring manager themselves, if anything? Where does the incentive lie for your hiring manager? Is this a key role on the team with many responsibilities, where the candidate’s success may also have a large impact on the success and reputation of the hiring manager, or just a simple role where time-to-fill is the most important consideration? Is this another face on an already large team with a simple role, or a high-profile hire? Are the incentives properly structured to align everyone to bring in the right person, not just the person you can get most quickly? One of the questions I often ask new customer that I’m working with is, “How can I make sure this implementation makes you look good to your boss?” My customers appreciate knowing that I’m looking out not just for their company’s success, but their own, and your hiring managers will appreciate it, too.

  • How will you structure the process to facilitate the flow of information to make both your own job and that of the hiring manager easier? Everyone wins when you make a good hire, but what are you doing to make sure the process is as seamless as possible for everyone involved? The right tools help. A solid, structured process helps. What’s your plan to check in? How will you keep each other informed on status or identify and overcome any blockers? Remember, you’re dealing with another human being, and even if you’ve filled this same role a dozen times before, a few extra minutes of real conversation may make a world of difference in getting the best candidate through the process as quickly as possible and making sure it’s a positive experience for everyone on both sides.

Interviewers and candidates

Any recruiter who’s done more than a handful of phone screens knows that even the best process can sometimes feel repetitive, especially when recruiting for high-volume roles. Repetition breeds habits, and while that’s often a good thing for developing work skills, always remember that there’s a real person across the table from you, not just a collection of bullet points and resume headlines. So, how can you keep the focus on the people, and not just the interview process? Consider some of the following questions:

  • What motivates this person? Why are they here? This isn’t necessarily a specific question to ask the candidate so much as it is a reminder for you. If you’re following a structured, repeatable process with a well thought out interview plan and a scorecard tailored to the interview, like we offer with Greenhouse, someone on your team will likely be asking some variation of these questions anyway, so this may not be your primary focus. However, it behooves everyone to always be thinking about the person behind those polished, practiced responses and what they hope to achieve by joining your team. Don’t be afraid to ask follow up questions or go on a bit of a tangent if you hear something interesting. It’s very important to note here that you do not need to come out of an interview feeling like you need to be best friends with this person, but you should get a better understanding of who they are and tie that to whether they would make a good fit for the role.

  • What are you doing to show that you care about their experience? There’s no shortage of writing (some on this very Blog!) about the importance of a good candidate experience, but it bears repeating. Think not just about how the overall process is structured to facilitate a good experience, but also think about your own individual behavior. Show up on time. Smile. Shake hands. Introduce yourself. Listen attentively. Leave time for questions. It’s simple stuff, but it’s hugely important to build rapport and provide a positive candidate experience. If it helps, think of these candidates as guests in your (professional) home.

  • Are you having any fun? Because if you aren’t, the candidate probably isn’t, and if no one is enjoying themselves, then what’s the point? Seriously. Having fun doesn’t mean you have to love every minute of every interview, but don’t be afraid to humanize the process a bit. Go off script. Have a conversation. Learn about the person; give a little something of yourself. Be a human being. Whether you make the hire or not, you’ll both be edified by having had an interesting chat with an interesting person instead of just ticking the boxes.

Bringing it home

It’s a bit ironic, the idea that People-People, recruiters, and really any of us who primarily talk to other people for our living can forget the human side of what we’re doing just as much as anyone else, but I’ve seen it happen time and time again at companies of all sizes. However, with a little focus and effort you can make sure that people remain at the heart of what you’re doing in the recruiting process. Everyone wants to see those numbers move in the right direction—time-to-fill and cost of acquisition decrease, while number of qualified candidates and candidate quality by source increase. Just remember, in the end, the most important data points are the people.


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Robby Perdue Headshot

Robby Perdue is a Strategic Account Manager at Greenhouse. With nearly a decade of experience in account management, customer success, and sales, Robby has worked on the full account lifecycle with hundreds of organizations, from venture-backed startups to Fortune 100 companies. He's always focused on the people behind the process. Connect with Robby on LinkedIn.

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