Technically People
Technically People

Episode · 7 months ago

Empathy: The Only Way to Win with Candidates and Employees


Interviewing isn’t The Hunger Games. The goal of interviewing is to hire, says this week’s guest Nate Smith. And yes, he agrees it’s somewhat ridiculous to point this out, but he believes he has to. The Founder and CEO of Lever says too many hiring managers, especially in tech, interview as though they were proctoring an exam. Too often, people look hard for evidence of how a candidate *won’t* fit, verus how they will. 

Empathy is the better way. At best, an interview is uncomfortable, says Nate, whose company does all it can to make the process feel more natural. Candidates can use keyboards, editors and languages with which they're familiar. They can search Google. 

That replicates how a candidate would go about their tasks at work. Nate asks, rhetorically: Don’t you want to know how a candidate will perform in your actual work setting?  

“Look for every example, every bit of evidence, that this person would be amazing on the team,” says Nate. “And when you find that amazing person, it's really important that, during the interview process, they've been falling in love with your company.” 

By the time you extend the offer, then, they’ve already decided: Yes. 

At Lever, empathy isn’t just a must for hiring. It pervades every part of the company’s culture. Listen in to find out empathy fosters trust, deepens relationships and attracts and retains exceptional talent.  

Episode Highlights:

  • Empathy is about centering what you say and do around what matters to the individual
  • How to run an empathy-based interview
  • Advice for recruiters: Stop telling candidates how great your company is. Instead, say this: “Tell me about you.”  
  • Why understanding a candidate’s preferences allows you to tailor your offer to show how you can meet their needs 
  • The role of empathy in helping employees grow in the directions they want 

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Welcome to technically people, a community conversation by and for workplace futurists brought to you by the tech recruitment platform built in. The podcast features insights from leaders, thinkers and doers on the vanguard building human centered workplaces of the future. Along the way, you'll hear concepts that will stop you in your tracks, concepts that inspire you to ask yourself, what's the most futureforward way to approach my people leadership? We all know the future of work is a waiting around, so let's get on with the show. Hi, everybody, welcome to the show. I'm your host, Tiffany Myers, and I'm happy to introduce our guest, Nate Smith. So nate is the CEO and he's the founder of lever. Lever is a talent acquisition suite. It provides ATS and crum capabilities in one product. Lever puts empathy at the center of everything that it does. It was built on that foundation, and so today nate is going to share how it does so with recruitment, with hiring and with retension. So, nate, thank you so much for being here with us today. Thank you, tivity. So, last we talked, you shared with me something that is pretty unique about one of your tools, which is lever and nurture, and it's just seemed to me that it has a lot to teach people about best practice in recruitment today. Can you talk a little bit about that? Absolutely, what we look to design software, we're actually really trying to think about not how do you build software that just automates things, obviously that's really useful, but also software that develops deep human connection, develops relationships between people, and it's a really hard challenge to build software that feels human, but it's so much more effective, especially in the world of recruiting, where really building relationships is fundamental to the role and to what you're doing to bring value to the company. And in order to build great relationships, a lot of what you need to do is to be empathetic. So when you think about how do we develop relationships outside of work or even with our colleagues, a lot of times we think about asking them what's important to them, understanding a little bit about them, maybe a little bit about their history. Do we take that same approach when we're talking to candidates? What does this person really care about? And one of the ways you can do that is through tools like lever nurture, where you can actually bring a variety of voices to bear. You can have a recruiter, hiring manager, someone that person might work with on their team. All send emails in an automated fashion and that really engages candidates. It makes it show that you care about them as people, you want to build a relationship with them and you really understand the kinds of connections to the company that might be of value to them. Yeah, and it's really imperative in this outrageously tight market in terms of talent. Engineers are not responding to generic emails. So you're talking not just about the fact that you have a TAC capability, but you're talking about changing the conversation. When you think about harder to fill roles, it's even more imperative that you go the extra mile to have a great candidate experience and we find that empathy is a big part of that. If you send an email to someone that says hi, I'm contacting you from a company has a really great brand, or we've raised a lot of money, or we're growing really quickly, we have a really fancy office with Ping Pong, you sound just like everyone else like that is a completely undifferentiated statement. These days, everyone has a great culture and a great growth rate according to them. What's different is when you talk to someone and you listen and you say hi, like tell me about you and you genuinely care to know, and then you can share with them something that's truly in response to what they bring to the conversation. That actually stands out. Yeah, absolutely, and so I think we can move on to talk about how the interview process. Once we get past that different...

...way to connect with candidates and the sourcing, the interview process is really human centered at Levernton and it's also based on this astonishing revelation that an interview is not like the hunger games. It is not actually a competition. This is actually some feedback, I've found is really important for folks who are a bit more technical in background, in particular when you are coming from a role where you know, you think it's your job to help make sure that we're hiving really high quality people. Sometimes you might think of that as giving a test, like I'm giving this person exam and I have to be fair in delivering that exam and, you know, evaluating how people do according to that. Well, really, what is your goal? Your goal is to hire people. You want to hire people that you're going to work with. And so does it really matter if you proctorr an exam? Know, what matters is you do find out who's going to be a great fit for the company. Absolutely, you do have a way to assess whether their skills are going to translate well into being successful in this role and you want to be looking for every single example, every single little bit of evidence that this person would be amazing on the team. And then also when you find that person who is amazing, it's really important that the entire time they've been getting to fall in love with you and fall in love with your company. And that doesn't happen when you put on a stone face, when you're you approach it and you say, I'm just going to be really objective and I'm not going to tell you how. I think that doesn't build relationships. The way you build relationships is a process of giving and sharing and asking and listening. And I always say don't be afraid to compliment people in interviews. That's a crazy idea to some people. is like if someone says something and you're like wow, that was really impressive, like I've actually never heard anyone answer that question before that way. So interesting, like say that make that person's Day, enjoy it, like let them have a laugh, really have a human connection. And when it comes time to try and to hire that person at the end of the process and they've got six different offers from a bunch of companies that are bigger and have more money, the only way you're going to win that candidate over is if they just genuinely believe that this is what they want to do with their life a little bit more than those other options. And you also do something that might, you know, be shocking to the people who think that interviewing is a site to the finished which is that you replicate experiences that feel most like I'm doing my work at home or I'm able to work with with the coding language I'm comfortable using. Absolutely I think there's no reason to make it hard on people artificially, and in fact what you really want to do is find out is someone going to be successful when they're in an environment that's as close as possible to like the real working environment. And when you're at work, you use Google, you take notes, you use the keyboard your accustomed to, you use the A language that you're most familiar with in a million ways. You customize your experience to yourself at work and an interviewing process can be really unsettling for the candidate when everything is totally different from their, you know, normal real life or the way they normally are at work. So we really struct ourselves to think what's every single way we can think about to just make stuff a little bit more natural. Let people bring their own keyboard and if they're doing an in office interview, why not? But let people use the editor they're familiar with, what people use the language they're familiar with, because the great people that you want to have on your team, those skills will come through when people are unable to do their best work. Hmm Yeah, so bringing in your own keyboards like text version of bringing your own Bankie, feel a little bit more comfortable in a super uncomfortable context. So exactly every little thing you can do makes a huge different. You...

...know, and this is actually something that is starting to happen a little bit more, we just did a podcast with educated, which is a company that creates online learning for engineers in particular, and the founder said that some of the fame companies are actually giving candidates courses before the interview to help them do well in the interview on whatever skill it is or whatever coding language they'll need to be using. So it seems like it's a good idea at any time. But I don't know. I just echo your your principle, which is don't you want your best candidates to rule? You want the job by the time they reached the end of the cycle of interviews? Don't you want them, if they're the best, to want a team up with you? Yeah, it's a lot like when you have employees and you're thinking about performance reviews and compensation. You want to think about how do I retain and motivate my very best talent. I think that applies the interview process as well. If you can say I want my very best, most qualified candidates to have the best experience possible, what would you do and how would that be different than if your thought was how do I weed out the people that aren't good enough? Yeah, but it is like performance evaluation in terms of how that is shifting as well, where you know it's no longer about looking at what went wrong in the past, but focusing a little bit more on looking into the future and what the possibilities are there. So I think there's a lot of trending along the same lines. I wanted to just ask you about something I thought was really interesting when you told me about it, which is this approach to interviews that you were inspired by. Top grading, which is at least the way that you've modified it, is a method that helps companies understand patterns across a candidates career over time and how helpful that can be. So explain a little bit more about this. So top grading is an interview format instead of methods that's been developed and there's a top grading organization and that trains people bon on how to do interviews. We've adopted some of that learning to inspire an interview format that we call the career trajectory. I'man we also use it throughout our process in terms of how we think about creating structured interviews that get to the heart of people's motivations, how do people make decisions, how do people work with others and other patterns of behavior that you can evaluate for an interview. But it's hard because when you ask questions like what are your strengths and weaknesses, you're going to get a prepared response and someone, when they're answering a question that way, is probably overthinking their answer. They're trying to create a story that sounds good to you and the typical my biggest weakness is I work too hard. It's like, come on, no one's learning anything right. So one thing that we think is really important is that you get to the heart of those questions, though. It's really important to get to the heart of what are someone's strengths and weaknesses. We do all have them, and the way that you can do that is by putting things in context. If you go and work through someone's life and chronological order, if you talk about the people, you talk about the jobs they had and exactly what they were doing in the Daytoday, you're going to get more accurate representations of what really happened and then you can draw your own conclusions about what that person strengths and weaknesses are a lot more accurately from hearing about their past behaviors as well as their motivations in the ways that they've behaved in the past. So it's primarily a way of getting more honesty and more ability to really get to know someone truthfully. So, just like so nate, my biggest weaknesses, I'm just I'm like just too perfect, just too perfect. But anyway. So there's also another element to this, which is recruiting. Is a sales role and I think it's your point of view, you've expressed to me that we're not necessarily leveraging all of the tools in the sales arsenal and that if... know people's patterns throughout their career, you can then make an offer based on okay, you know someone has left a job for another because that new job helps them grow or learn. So they're very learning focus. So you can then underscore, you know that you as well are going to give them learning opportunities. Do I have that right exactly? People do often repeat prior behaviors. They often repeat prior decision making, and that's something you can use to your favor when you're figuring out how can you present the opportunity to the candidate in a way that's most appealing to them. So if you can hear in they're telling you a story about why they moved from one job to another, some insight into what motivated that, you can then use that information to describe how your job also has a similar motivation. Alternatively, you might find out, wow, so someone's taken a job throughout their career for these other reasons, but they've told me now they're thinking about the future differently, and then maybe you can talk about how this is different from what they've done before. So once you really get to know someone on that deeper level, why they've thought things, what they've done in order over time, you really could you could almost say back their story. You're able to craft a really great narrative around an offer that's more than just here's the salary, here's the benefits, here's the location and what team you'll be working on, because you really want to stand out from the crowd, and it's so it's just that offers them so particular and unique to the individual exactly. So, all right, we know we've established that lover cares a lot, that you care a lot about empathy, and then I can extrapolate what that means, which is that you are also looking for empathic employees. So tell me how, in an interview, you can determine that. There's a lot of different ways and again, it's more important that people show that they're empathetic than that they say they're empathetic. If you say are you empathetic, everyone's going to say yeah, of course. But how do you actually observe empathy? And I think one of the ways that you can do that is and how people work with each other. It comes out the most. So we have, for example, in our engineering interview process us an interview format called the project interview, and in the project interview we ask you to talk about and describe the details of a project that you worked on with other people, and when you do that we learn a lot about your technical skills. We learn if you were the person who was more of the architect and came up with the plan for what you built, or maybe you were the person who you just wrote the most code. You were the person who banged it out. Everyone relied on you because there's no way the project would have gotten done on time if you hadn't done so much of the grueling work and you were really persistent. Or maybe you were the person who was pushing the team to be creative and you brought new ideas and you came up with really clever solutions and no one else came up with. We can also ask questions about what did you observe about other people? Did you go to this person that you worked with really closely for their expertise and learn from them? Did you teach them? Did you ask them what they wanted to learn in this project and then customize what you did a little bit to help them be able to work on the thing that they want to work on? There's so many different ways that people can show empathy through their behavior that, once you get into some of those situations and how they literally interact with each you can ask fact based questions to get a really great understanding of who really demonstrates empathy. So let's shift a little bit and talking about engagement and retention because, as everyone who is listening right now knows, we have the great resignation barreling toward us, which is has people leaders extremely concerned and focused on. Okay, how can I modify my approach to...

...retention? So tell me about lover's approach. Yeah, well, controversial opinion. I frankly am not a huge believer in engagement surveys. I think the challenge is that when you get them back, what are you going to do? There might be some concrete things in there. Maybe you could get a soda machine or a Ping Pong table, but who's going to stay at the company longer because you got some sort of perk or maybe you added a couple more vacation days to the calendar? I'm not saying that those things aren't important or they don't matter, but is it really going to make the difference in terms of your retention of employees? I just don't think it's a big enough thing to give them. I don't think it's important enough to actually make the difference and Change People's minds. So what is big enough? And I think the thing that is big enough is opportunity. If someone feels like the thing they're doing is cataholding them forward in their career, they're learning faster, they're getting to have more impact, and when you go back and you tell that story about how the company was successful a couple years down the road, or you talk about a really dramatic event that happened as the company went through crisis, can you articulate a story about how your role had impact? That's how our employees are thinking, and so what we want to be able to do is again have empathy for that individual and ultimately find opportunities for them to be that engaged, to feel like they belong, to feel like they their work has impact and to feel like they're learning so that they're delivering more and more value to the company they're at, but it's also setting themselves up for a great career down the road. And what's the best way to do that? Well, a lot of times the best way to make sure people have that level of impact in that level of career acceleration it's internal mobility. So talent acquisition, I would argue, is actually the very most important thing that we all can do to retain our employees longer. And sometimes the subject of I'm bored in my job can be taboot. So what do you do? Well, what you can do is you can certainly create a culture around the fact that people can apply for roles internally. That's a feature of lover is there's an internal job site. You can promote that in your company, you can say this is something we value and care about and then you can find out when someone who you think is an amazing employee says I need a new opportunity, lean in and keep that person around, because if you don't, they're going to be gone, you're not to backfill them and you're also going to have to still hire for this other role that they might have been a great fit for. So ultimately, my answer to what do we do about the great resignation? And let's check in with our employees. Let's ask them are they still learning or they still growing and if the answer is no, offer them a new job. Hmm, I think this idea of the subject. I'm getting a little bored here. I don't feel like I'm growing. It is often taboos. So I imagine that your response to alleviating that stigmas that it has to be systemic and cultural and you have some very transparent that you want people to be applying to other roles internally. By the way, I would like a soda machine. You're telling me, okay, you got to soda machine. I would like Diet sprites in there every week and I don't know, maybe some bubbly so okay ours. Even in the way that you are using okay ours, you are doing so in a way that ties into empathy and also a way that boosts engagement. Okay ours are a great system and a lot of companies have chosen to use it to help make sure that the company internally is more focused on what it's doing so that it can be more successful. And some of the best attributes of OK ours are that it's both top down and bottom up. In other words, you set okay ours at the company level typically, and that can then be expanded into Ok ours at department level, team level, individual level, and then you can see...

...if those things all tie together, and that's really important. You can also have have Ok ours that come about because, for example, a team says this is a really good goal, we want to do this, and then the department sees that and says that is a really good goal, let's make that a department goal. Or the company even brings it all the way up to the top and says we want everyone doing this. This is a great idea. So I think it's a really powerful system to connect the company across different levels and it also is a forcing function for collaboration, because different organizations can say I'm doing this, this other team is doing this. If we're all doing those things, are we actually aligned and are we going to get our goals done? Are we taking out too much? IS THEIR GAP? Are we not doing enough. So that's got you know, why Ok ours are great in general and in particular. One thing that at lever we try and focus on is that it's easy to get lost in all that detail. It's easy for people to create really great goals and make them measurable and they've got all these kars and they know how they're going to measure them and there they get going and then they completely forgot why they're doing what they're doing. So this is good empathy. Thing is you need to realize that it's a lot for people to keep all these different goals in their head all the time and you need to remember, as a leader in particular, but really everyone on the team can help with this, that bringing people back to why did we do this to begin with is a really important part of the objectives and you can get really lost in the detail forget to do that. So one thing we do, it's a simple thing, but I think it's really important, is we have the okay ours on a slide at every all hands along with a lot of other dashboards, and look into how the company's doing and I just read through the objectives every two weeks and I say here's the objective. I read it and I say, here's why we did that, here's how we're doing it against that, and that keeps people from getting too lost in all the detail and brings them back to why do we even do this to begin with? Yeah, yeah, I feel like understanding that I'm part of something bigger might matter more to me than Diet's bright or we'll get you there, tiffany. So how about we move a little closer to the end of our recording today and get your get needs two minute takeaway. So, if you had to share a couple key points that you want listeners to either understand or do about all the topics we dove into today, what would they be? What I'd really want people to take away is that, number one, empathy is something that you should work into every context of your work relationships, from bringing people onto the team to making sure they feel connected to what the team is doing and continue to be engaged over many years with a company. The second thing I would underscore is that in the interviewing process, your goal is to hire people. So remember at every single step, from initial reach out to close, you're trying to discover is this person a great fit for my team and how can I get them on my team? And then the final tip I would say is it's really important to stand out from the crowd, and one of the best ways you can do that is by being empathetic and basing everything you say in what matters to an individual. Yeah, that's right. Lets me, me, me. I just think it's really striking that the idea that your goal is to hire people as a recruiter is maybe not as intuitive, but it's just because so many other things get in the way. Right. Absolutely so, nate. Tell me how our listeners if they wanted to learn more about you or in touch with you, how can they do so? Absolutely Lever Dot Com is where you can go to find out about all things lever. We've got an upcoming number of Webinars, a customer conference that's open to absolutely everyone, happening in mid September. We'd... to see you at one of our virtual events. Great Lever Dot Co. Nate, this has been really a fun conversation. Thanks so much for exploring your take and lovers take on just how powerful empathy is going to be in the few future work place for our listeners. Thank you for tuning in. I'll just remind you to subscribe to the show by visiting technically peoplecom. Would love a five star review if you like what you're hearing and you want to hear more conversations like it. So I will be back with you next week, where we'll have another conversation about shaping a human centered and a pathic future of work. Built in is a tech recruitment platform that's in constant dialog with leaders about the future of tech. Built in's PODCAST, technically people, expands those conversations to help fellow futurists create and lead exceptional workplaces, environments that inspire in Demand Tech professionals to join your company and thrive. To learn how built in can help your company attract best in class professionals, visit employer's dot built incom. You've been listening to technically people, a community conversation about the future of work. If you want to hear more cutting edge ideas about creating human center workplaces, subscribe on your favorite podcast player and you'll never miss an episode. And if you're over the moon about what you've heard, we'd be honored if you took the time to give us a five star review. So signing up until we meet again in the future.

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