Identifying Empathy in a Job Interview
Empathy can be hard to spot during a quick 30-minute interaction with a potential candidate. Unlike assertiveness, friendliness, poise under pressure, and basic job skills, empathy won’t likely show on the surface or appear in the details of a candidate’s resume. But if you can’t measure or assess your applicant’s ability to see the worldviews of others, you put yourself at a strong disadvantage in the marketplace. Empathy is a must-have skill for almost every job in every industry, and candidates who possess it have the ability to drive their companies toward growth and success. Those who don’t tend to stand in the way of progress, teamwork, and forward motion. With that in mind, here are a few strategic interview questions that can help you get a sense of who you’re dealing with as you narrow the candidate pool.
What am I looking for/ What do I probably want?
Ask the candidate to put themselves in your shoes. What traits and skills are you probably looking for as you work to staff this job? What skills would the candidate value if they were sitting on your side of the table? If the candidate picks up the thread immediately and provides a meaningful answer or accurate guess, that’s a good sign. A blank stare or a litany of clichés (“You’re looking for a hard worker!”) may represent an area of weakness.
If you step into this role, what challenges will you and your team likely face over the next year?
Ask this question and give the candidate plenty of time to think about their response. In order to form an answer, they’ll need to review everything they know about the role, which may include information from the job post, their research of the company, their past roles, and their life experience. But their response will also be informed by their ability to assess the roles of others on a team and to back up and review how multiple people contribute to shared goals. They may face challenges for sure, but what about their team members in product development/ customer service/ IT/ marketing?
Present the candidate with a hypothetical problem to solve.
Give your candidate an imaginary problem to solve (an angry client, a negligent vendor, a planned event with an absentee speaker, an engineering failure, an unpopular product line) and ask how they might take steps to solve it. But as a catch, choose a problem outside her area of expertise. If they works in IT, draw their challenge from customer service, or vice versa.
As your candidate answers each of the questions above, read between the lines. Are they struggling to inhabit the worldviews and recognize the challenges faced by others? Or does the exercise seem effortless and even enjoyable?
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