If you have been in the recruiting world for a while, it might have happened to you that you have lost the excitement of getting into a brand new conversation with a potential candidate.
You might take these half-hour interview meetings as part of our daily routine and just go into the room with the same energy that you would spend on preparing a report. Interestingly enough, I have seen this not only in recruiting teams but also in hiring managers. New managers go into their first interviews with a mix of anxiety and enjoyment, getting ready to absorb lots of stories from these potential new employees. After a while, even those that enjoyed that experience end up showing up at the last minute, cramming interviews as part of their to-do list and not as a strategic move for building their teams. Also, certainly not enjoying them but feeling it as a burden.
This has happened to me. I have lost count by now, but I can confidently say that I have already conducted 1000+ interviews. When this is part of your day to day job, you tend to forget the small things and how to enjoy them. It was only when I brought a new intern to shadow an interview with me, that her words reminded me about the magic of an interview process. She said to me: "this is a fantastic opportunity! In 30 minutes I can get to know more about a person’s background and mindset, that I wouldn’t otherwise. I get to meet people from different places, experiences, and personalities". And that brought me back: that’s what interviews are all about!
These words stuck with me and reminded me to be grateful for these opportunities on getting to know someone and being allowed to ask deep questions, of trying to understand how people think and fight against the bias that unconsciously guides our decisions.
As with all social interactions, an important part of it is our mindset and energy when we approach these conversations. For that, I wanted to share some tools that had worked for me in order to bring back the curiosity to my day to day interviews.
Reframe the task
Yes, the main objective is to identify if that person that is sitting in front of you would be the right one to join the team. That must still be your number one priority. But no one said that you can’t learn more in the process through a common friend at a party and be genuinely curious about discovering their life story.
This is a trick I have learned back when I worked as a customer service representative: if you frame your sales, support or recruiting interaction as a learning opportunity, both you and your counterpart will be more open to share and enjoy that conversation.
By paying attention and actively listening to the other person’s story and point of view, you will be able to make a much more educated decision whether the person is right or not for the role. But at the same time, even if you didn’t fulfill the main objective (because let’s say, that person wasn’t the right match), you added to your general knowledge stories about companies, teamwork, or even challenges that you can use for your own personal and professional growth.
Challenge your bias
Unfortunately, it is human nature to judge a person (or a person’s background) before even getting into a conversation with them. The way they presented their resume, their cover letter or even their name might bring up a specific stereotype in our minds. This is our brain being lazy, and using shortcuts to make decisions that will help us ( **not really**) be more efficient at screening candidates. These biases are and will always be there, it is just part of how our brain works. But being conscious of them is the first step to becoming more mindful.
Understand where your biases are coming from: maybe you know someone from the same school and that person is easy-going, so you assume everyone from that school is? Or probably you have heard that people from X country tend to be results-oriented and not focused on the process, and you just assume that this person will be the same as this stereotype?
Give people a chance. Try to identify when is your bias taking over and when is your experienced recruiter brain talking. When you are screening hundreds of resumés every day, you do need to take shortcuts and identify the potential candidates for a role, sometimes just based on a piece of paper. If not, there wouldn’t be enough time in one day, month or even quarter to get things done.
But, every now and then, take some time to self-analyze your biases: double-check your decisions, run it through someone else to see if there is a personal bias or not. Challenge your assumptions and keep yourself accountable: make a conscious effort to invite people, that you might have rejected in the first place, to an interview. Give them a chance, this will help you be more confident that you are not missing out on a great fit for the role just because your brain forces you to take a shortcut.
Empathy as a rule
As a recruiter or hiring manager, it might be a routinary task to sit in a meeting room, do the same or similar questions every day and define if the candidate moves to the next stage or not. But for the person sitting in front of you, it is a unique experience. It might be the first time they get the chance to present themselves to this company, it might be that they are making a bold career change, it might be that this is the first interview experience they go through. No matter the situation, something that is routinary for you is not for the candidate, so try your best to be empathic and put yourself in those person’s shoes.
Imagine that you are going to the doctor, and you are the third patient they see with the same symptoms. You still want that doctor to pay attention to you and to feel heard, even if at the first minute, the doctor already knows the reason for your pain and is ready to prescribe you with a drug. Interviewing situations are not that different. Make sure that the time you spend with a candidate is a time where you are focused on what they are saying, that you are approaching their life story with respect and that you are creating a safe space for them to share why they came to interview with you in the first place.
As with everything in life, when we do something as part of your routine or daily tasks, we tend to forget to stop and reflect, to question our assumptions or even the reason why we do things the way we do them.
I want to encourage you, as a fellow interviewer, to bring that perspective back to your day to day job. Remember that each interview is an opportunity to get exposed to someone else's story, to understand a different point of view and to learn from them. Approach the interview with a curious mindset, challenge your bias and this will help you not only enjoy your daily conversations with potential candidates but also be more assertive when choosing the right person to join your team.
Think back on the best manager you have had during your career. Or maybe, reflect on that person that you consider your mentor in life. What is the first thing that comes to mind? Why, do you think, they are the best?
If you are like most of the people, the person or people that jumped to your mind in the first place are probably the ones that took some time getting to know you. No matter how rushed they were, or how many deliverables were piling up, the people that got stuck in my personal development career always took the time to start the conversation with a simple “how are you feeling today?”.
We are always “too busy”
Because being rushed and being busy is the new thing, sometimes we underestimate the importance of stopping and acknowledge the people around us.
Think back to one of the most stressful days you have had at work in the past year. Try to recall how you were feeling: what was the main source of that stress? What did you do during that day? Now that you are mentally already there, try to picture your teammates in that scenario. What were they doing? Were they all frowning, yelling at each other? Were they focused and silent? Was anybody there talking to you? Chances are, you can’t recall this as easily as you can when the memory was just about you.
Being “self-focused” during stressful moments
Stressful moments tend to be ingrained in our memory, as a defense mechanism so, next time, we would know better and not repeat the same situation again. But, if we are social animals, why is it that we don’t recall much about what was happening around us? What did other people experience?
When we are stressed, we tend to focus most of our energy on the task that is stressing us out. We want to get that paperwork done, get an answer to that angry customer, deliver that document to the tax agency… So we don’t have time to socialize and see what is happening around in the office or chit-chat. We will have time for that later… But will we? Let’s go back to that stressful day. Success finally! Paperwork was delivered, you have accomplished what people were expecting from you and now you have time to talk about your teammate’s daughter football match. But what you don’t have now, is the energy to do it. The last thing you want to do now is to socialize, you just want to go home and relax staring at the TV.
There is nothing wrong with that … unless you work in a “fast-paced environment” where tight deadlines are the norm and this situation repeats itself over and over again.
Force yourself to de-focus on the stressful task at hand
It is not all bad news… some people are able to deliver results and connect with their teammates. Guess who? Probably the best manager/mentor that you were thinking on at the beginning of this article.
Showing care for another person is such an important aspect of our interpersonal skills that is what gets stuck in our social brain — so much as that stressful moment sometimes. I am not referring to the shallow “how are you” and “I don’t care about the answer and walk away”. I’m talking about those people that, no matter how busy their day is, they will stop for a moment and consciously make some time to connect with you. I’m talking about that skill that makes them pause and raise their heads to see what is happening around, no matter what is burning on the background.
Take the time, it only takes 5!
At the end of the day, each one of us has a preferred work style and ways to energize ourselves but, no matter what, we all feel more comfortable in an environment where our teammates are not only expecting outputs from us (as if we were machines) but also showing us they care.
So, next time you feel people are stressed at your workplace, ask your deskmate to go for a coffee, spend 5 min chit-chatting about their life and… who knows? Maybe in the future, you might be “that person that helped them” when they reflect back on a stressful moment at work.
Ask anyone around you and they will say that they love receiving feedback. You will hear phrases like “I have to know what I can do better: it really helps me when someone tells me what I am doing wrong” or “All I want from my manager is for her to give me feedback, positive or negative”.
We might all agree that that is what we are rationally thinking, but is that really what we are feeling? Just by hearing someone telling us “let’s have a meeting, I would like to give you some feedback”, all of our rational thinking goes away and we are now slaves of our emotional brain. Imagine even, that the person that is telling you that is your boss and that the meeting is not going to be held until the end of the day. How productive will you be until then? Probably not much, as emotions such as anxiety have this nasty habit of occupying a lot of our energy.
There are many courses out there on how to give feedback, but being on the receiving end is not a piece of cake either and sometimes we neglect that part. Being receptive when getting feedback is a skill that needs to be developed, as any other one related to emotional intelligence and our interpersonal skills. After all, you don’t want to waste the whole day waiting for that meeting, right? Why is it that getting feedback is so hard for us, if it is something that we, in our own words, love to receive? Well, it is something that requires self-awareness and a conscious effort to get better at (if you think about it, so does everything we love).
In their book “Thanks for the Feedback,” authors Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone explain it like this: “Receiving feedback sits at the junction of two conflicting human desires: we want to learn and grow, and we also want to be accepted just as we are right now. Even though we know that feedback is essential for healthy relationships and professional development, we dread it and often dismiss it.” So, receiving feedback is a bold statement of our personal contradiction, and our brain hates being challenged in what we know is true.
To start this path of self-awareness and personal growth, I wanted to share some tools and techniques that you can start working on today. Start practicing and, hopefully, you will walk out of a feedback conversation with the satisfaction that you weren’t completely managed by your emotional brain.
Know your triggers
The sole phrase of “I have some feedback for you” gets your emotions going. Why is this? Well, because your brain forgets that it is now the 21st century and that not every confrontation is a sign of danger, so it overreacts. When it detects that you are facing a potential threat, your brain doesn’t want you to (over)think because it needs you to (re)act fast. This means, emotions take over and you are not able to focus on anything else. The first step to deal with this is being self-aware: understand that those words from that person will bring your brain automatically to be on guard. Remind yourself that it is not a ferocious beast trying to eat you but it is someone trying to help you improve. Keep in mind that no one enjoys giving negative feedback, so if they take the time to do so with you, it means they are investing in your personal growth. If you already identify that situations like this will instantly bring your emotions to the center of the stage, the best thing to do is to call it out. Once you do, you will be more prepared to walk into that conversation, and the energy required to go back to your rational this-is-just-a-normal-conversation- brain, will be less. Knowing why your anxiety kicked in and realizing it is just your brain overreacting will help you rationalize the situation and stop wasting your energy in unreal threats.
Have a growth mindset
Being accepted as you are right now and wanting to grow and develop at the same time is not a zero-sum equation. Work on your mindset and make sure you are not fixing your development with phrases like “I am just not a creative person” or “I am an introvert, so I can’t give a successful presentation to a big audience.Instead, strive to develop what Carol Dweck calls a growth mindset, and “see failure not as evidence of not having the right skills but as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching (y)our existing abilities”. If you receive negative feedback and frame it as a challenge instead of a threat, it will help you uncover new possibilities. After all, we don’t know what we don’t know, so just discovering something new when receiving feedback will open new doors for potential development paths to follow.
Take your time to process the information before you react
As has been mentioned before, when we face a situation that we find challenging, our rational brain might shut down and leave the space for emotions to take over. Receiving negative feedback could have that effect on us, and if we fight back immediately, we might be reacting instead of responding. What’s the difference? As Rich Hanson puts it: Reacting is instinctual. Responding is a conscious choice.
So, next time you receive a piece of feedback, put into practice these helpful techniques: ● Start by asking as many questions as possible to understand where the other person is coming from. Don’t assume, don’t fill in the blanks, just listen and check your understanding.
● Once you are both on the same page, acknowledge the other person’s point of view and be grateful for their time. As mentioned before, no one enjoys giving negative feedback, so think about this as an extra effort from the giver in helping you grow, instead of viewing it as an attack on you or your personality.
● Finally , and after that conversation is over, reflect on what you just heard. Sleep on it and prepare your action plan: what are you going to do (if anything) with what you know now, that you might not have known before?
On a final note, as with many things related to soft skills and behavioral changes, it all sounds really good on paper but it is harder to put it into practice. My last piece of advice is: don’t get decision paralysis. Start small, choose one of the above that you can already start implementing tomorrow and go forward from there. Once you convert this behavior into a habit, adopt a new one.
Any small step towards becoming a better “feedback-receiver” will help you grow exponentially, as you will be more open to identifying new ways of doing things and reducing things “you didn’t know that you didn’t know.