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Is There Time for Compassion in Recruitment?

I began recruiting in Adelaide many years ago. Not long after commencing as a “Human Resource Consultant” for an international player in the industry, “the recession we had to have” took hold. In those days in Adelaide it seemed more like a depression.

On changing employer, I found myself thrust into the world of Outplacement as my new employer had just been awarded one of the country’s biggest outplacement contracts. Over the next two years, I was a member of a national team that assisted with the transition of many thousands of long term employees who left the company or who were counselled on how to seek alternate career positions with the company.

I credit these two years in outplacement as providing me with valuable insight into the personal challenges experienced by a wide range of people seeking employment in challenging conditions that, sadly, too few recruiters have little exposure to.

As recruiters, working with the focus split between the all important client, the (apparently) less important candidate and the essential remuneration package, it is all too easy to not have any regard for what happens after we hang up the phone having counselled, advised or rejected a candidate. And we need to remember that “what happens” goes on to affect many more people than just the candidates we have advised who were unsuccessful with their application.

The candidate has to be forgiven for assuming that the role they have applied for is purpose designed for them. Despite the logic embodied in the numbers of applicants for any position, the applicant will already have decided that this is the opportunity that will resolve their mortgage problems, re-start their career, win back that missing credibility and social acceptance — all these and so many other things that come with “being employed.”

And the recruiter smashes these dreams; flicks to the next resume and takes another sip of coffee.

In outplacement, you witness the shock and hopelessness of termination. Even if the employee expected it, the realisation is usually still accompanied by extreme shock. This is often masked with healthy doses of false bravado.

What can be even harder to assist with is the continuing slide into helplessness that many people experience when they fall foul of retrenchment. As application after application is rejected, the job seeker can drift into a dangerous place between desperation and blame. Insensitive recruiters and HR departments and hiring managers can have a disastrous affect on the self esteem of productive members of society — just because they are out of work. The lucky job seeker has an outplacement counsellor to lean on. Most don’t.

I have witnessed only a few highly competent outplacement counsellors who can manage people in the predictable state of despair that comes with losing a position. They have an unusual blend of control with a capital “C” and compassion. The latter earns them the right to exercise the Control over the distressed soul and help them out of their pit of vulnerability without the need to climb down into the pit with them.