Are you empathic?  In other words, do you (thanks, web dictionary!) routinely demonstrate “the ability to sense and understand someone else’s feelings as if they were your own?”

Well, I’ve got news for you.  While you may be a fairly empathic person under normal circumstances, there are pretty good odds that this ability of yours is going to diminish to a certain degree if you find yourself in a job search situation.  In my experience, the stress and pressure of looking for work often causes people to get overly focused on the nuances of their OWN needs, worries, and emotional state — and consequently will tend to drown out the amount of attention they pay to the emotional state of the others around them.

You’ll see this tendency displayed by many job hunters during networking situations, when a person will talk for 4-5 minutes straight about themselves, and their employment goals, without ever giving the listener the chance to reciprocate or share some thoughts about their own situation.  You’ll also see it in interviewing scenarios, where candidates will sit through an entire hour-long interview without ever expressing any real interest or curiosity around the hiring manager’s needs and problems.  And you’ll also see a lack of empathy displayed (and this is the kicker) in the tendency of many job hunters to complain bitterly about the way that they’re treated by recruiters, or by HR professionals, or by the various hiring managers they encounter during the course of their search.

C’mon, admit it!  We’ve all got a built-in, reflexive bias for engaging in this behavior, and few can resist taking pot-shots at employers that give us negative feedback or that are perceived as not giving us a fair shake in the hiring process.  And yet, is it really all that likely, statistically, that a preponderance of the jerks, idiots, and fatheads of the world just so happen to work in the HR or Recruiting fields?  Or end up in charge of all corporate staffing decisions?

As simple as it sounds, I believe it bears remembering that the individuals on the other side of the desk, or on the other end of the line during a phone interview, are people, too.  Their behavior may seem confusing at times, or inappropriate, but you can take to the bank that it makes perfect sense from their point-of-view — and that their actions would seem indisputably logical, if you only understood the range of pressures that they are having to deal with as part of the hiring process.  In fact, my contention is that the more you seek to understand the wants/needs of hiring managers — and express your appreciation of them — the more attractive of a job candidate you’ll become in the majority of cases.

So the next time you come across an anxious and inexperienced phone interviewer, rushing frantically through a list of questions, perhaps you could take a moment to remark “Wow, it must be hard to have to sort through so many resumes, and talk to so many candidates, hoping to find that one perfect person who will knock this job out of the park!”  Or if you call up a headhunter and they seem a bit snappish over the phone, you could make the comment “You know, it might not be my place to say this, but I would imagine it would be awfully hard being in your shoes and having desperate and/or arrogant people calling you all day, expecting you to get them a job.  Especially in this economy!”  While I see a lot of run-of-the-mill politeness practiced by job seekers, rarely do I observe memorable and noteworthy moments of empathy such as the ones demonstrated in the examples above.  So I think there’s some ground to be gained here.  I think empathy sells.  And I think many employers would respond favorably to a candidate who doesn’t seem to be bringing a “me, me, me” or an “us vs. them” mentality into the conversation, right from the get-go.

Perhaps it’s just me, but personally, I know that whenever I see somebody practicing an uncommon amount of empathy, it makes a huge positive impression on me.  For example, when I finished up with a client the other day, and we were discussing payment, this individual almost knocked me off my chair when they asked how much I had to pay in credit card processing fees — and then insisted on paying me by check, instead of by card, since they didn’t want me to have to eat the extra 2.9% fee!  Compared to the average person, who would be focused on their own convenience or on racking up a few extra frequent flier miles, this gesture really stood out.  (Editor’s Note: Don’t worry, dear clients!  I’m just making a point here, and Visa and Mastercard are still accepted, quite gladly, at Career Horizons!)

In closing, this whole topic keeps bringing me back to a quote that was posted behind the desk (for some strange reason) of my orthodontist during the eight grueling years I was an ortho patient: “That which you perceive to be the problem is likely somebody else’s attempt to solve a different problem.”  Interesting way to look at things, no?