Remembering the human element Posted at 0:00, Fri, 6 May 2016 in Industry Insights

In an industry fuelled by resumes, applicant tracking systems, sourcing lists, job boards, online profiles, process automation, analytics, emails, and all the other things that represent a person’s identity, it’s now all too simple to forget about the human element of recruiting.

We all have those stories about receiving insight or a life lesson from someone that has carried significant value and helped us grow in one way or another. Some minor, obscure, or even substantial advice that has taught us a lesson to live by. Mine came in the form of my first boss in the recruiting industry – someone who would later become my mentor. They showed me the ropes and taught me the moves. The same individual changed my personal views about the work that I do on a daily basis. His name will go unsaid, but this person comes from a reputable background of 20 years of recruiting, with loads of wisdom, scars and a story associated with every lesson learnt along the way. Over the course of a couple of years I became accustomed to the tales and analogies, but one particular bit of wisdom he shared with me very early on in our relationship has impacted my career, and is the reason I am writing this today.

To my memory it went something like this: “In this business, you must always keep sight of what is most important. You must always remember that the service you provide and ultimately the product you deliver, involves the most irrational thing on this planet… human beings. Always remember the human element in the work you do. These are people; not just numbers. Not a placement, not a bonus, not a butt in a seat, but a human being. The work you do creates an opportunity for a person to provide. Therefore you have the ability to change a complete stranger’s life. There is power in that. Your work impacts human beings. Keep this in mind. It will differentiate you in the market and trust me – the success will follow.”

Now, I am positive this is nothing new. Nothing ground-breaking here. I am not even 100% sure he came up with it (I have a feeling I’ve read something similar in one of those self-improvement books out there). But what I am certain of is the impact this has had on my career and the way I run my business. I always try to remember that the paper or digital representation of talent in front of me is connected to a person. Our service involves people, not widgets. Our raw materials are the relationships we build. The human element is the most important aspect of recruiting (no people = no recruiting, right?) and it is often overlooked in a business driven by digital technology and data.

Candidates often become commoditized and are forgotten in the process. The quick click to decline a resume is really declining a human being. Trust me, I am guilty of it is as well. I know how easy it is to get caught up in the hustle and bustle and lose sight of what we are doing.

Especially if we become fixated on the end product or the outcome of the service we provide – that placement, that bonus, that revenue target or whatever it is that has the ability to make us forget that we work with human beings. We need to remember this factor and build it into our daily operations.

Internalising this credo is not rocket science, nor is it simple. My advice for remembering the human element is focused on a couple of core principles that I try to apply to every candidate interaction:


Actively listening to people is an art in addition to a skill. Learn who your candidate is. Learn their story. Learn their drivers. Though it takes little effort to listen, people acknowledge when you do and will appreciate it.


We are all fighting our own battles. We all have a life outside of work. Things come up and schedules change.

Be flexible (to an extent). Keep in mind the decisions being made will have an impact on this person’s life so have some compassion.

Take Time

Rome was not built in a day. Nor is building a relationship with a person over a 20 minute phone screen. Be thorough. Give a person your time. There is always more to the story than what is written.

Build Trust

You are the candidate’s number one advocate. Give them the inside scoop. Calm their concerns. Be the trusted advisor. Be the person they can confide in and rely on. If they cannot trust you, who in the process can they trust?

Be Honest

Don’t beat around the bush, be straight with people. Have the tough conversation. Provide feedback. Share your thoughts. Even if they do not admit it, people appreciate honesty.

It is that simple. In every candidate interaction if you seek to listen, understand, take time, build trust, and be honest you will undoubtedly separate yourself from the transactional masses out there trying to do the same job. Our technologically-advanced society is having profound impacts on the way human beings interact and treat one another. Some positive and some negative of course, but you have the ability to influence this by always remembering the human element in the work you do. Candidates will pick up on it and it will pay dividends in its own time.

If you have any thoughts on the human element in recruitment, we’d love to hear from you on Twitter @MitchelLake.