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Careers Café

The hard job of a hiring manager

They have the tough task of making a good decision about who to hire, despite having incomplete knowledge about candidates.


The job search is emotionally trying, and no wonder. You put parts of yourself on paper, into networking conversations, into interviews, and out into the ether of online applications and emailed requests to meet. The response is often silence. That silence can keep people from persisting until they start getting more favourable responses, or can just overwhelm the good feelings that come with the job search’s successes.

Self-compassion can help along the way. It’s a hot topic, of course. I like Dr. Kristin Neff’s contested but useful three-pronged definition, in which self-compassion consists of kindness rather than judgment towards the self, awareness of how one’s experiences are common rather than unique, and an ability to recognize one’s negative experiences without over-identifying with them. Any job seeker who can achieve this magic trifecta would have an easier time of persisting in the job search.

It’s also useful to have compassion for the very people it may be the toughest to feel for: hiring managers. It’s easy to see hiring managers as heartless people who refuse to give anyone a chance, expect candidates to be perfect, and deliberately under-communicate. It may seem that they have no emotional skin in the game.

Of course, they do – they have to make a good decision about who to hire, despite having incomplete knowledge about candidates. They fear that some candidates may exaggerate or lie. They need to decide whether to choose from a small pool of applicants they know something about, or a larger pool of complete strangers. And they know that being able to handle the tasks of the job is no guarantee of working well with the rest of the team.

Add to that that they’ll meet multiple candidates they like, and may only have one job to offer. It’s not fun to turn people down for a job – especially when you wish you could create one for them.

Of course, part of the reason to have compassion for hiring managers is because it benefits your own peace of mind. It’s easier to see that not getting an offer isn’t a personalized rejection, but someone’s attempt to make the best decision in a tough situation.

Another reason, though, is because compassion can positively impact your work search. Part of compassion is wanting to help. Compassion can help you set aside the lens that hampers good job applications – the lens that focuses on what you want, to the detriment of understanding what the employer needs to know. What does each hiring manager need to know about you, in order to screen you in or want to know more? How can you structure your documents, online profile, and requests to meet in a way that shows them, right away, how you can help them get their work done?

Just make sure to show yourself some compassion, too, at those moments when it’s particularly hard to feel for the hiring manager.

Liz Koblyk
Liz Koblyk is the associate director of the Wilson Leadership Scholar Award at McMaster University.
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