Leading with Empathy: Showing Your Servant Leadership Style in the Interview Process

Posted by Call Design on April 21, 2023

Interviewing can be a nerve-wracking experience for candidates, but have you ever considered how you as the interviewer can make the process more comfortable and positive? As a leader, you have the power to demonstrate your values even during the hiring process. By serving and supporting the interviewee, you can communicate your qualities as a servant leader and ensure a more productive, respectful interview. Here are a few strategies for serving potential hires:

1. Help them reset in an interview

Interviews can be incredibly stressful for people and that stress can turn into an anxious spiral of death. Becoming more and more flustered as they can’t think of an answer, they’re confident they’re bombing the interview, and they’re pretty sure you can see they’re sweating through their shirt even through the fuzzy Teams connection. As a servant leader try to help them out by changing course, allowing them to settle in, and know it’s a safe place.

In one interview I was chatting with someone that had been distracted by their roommate coming in unexpectedly. They weren’t sure if they should get up to close the door or stay on camera. Also, their line of thinking was interrupted and they were clearly starting to spiral. Unable to answer my questions and re-center on the topic. To help them out I shifted to questions they knew backward and forwards. 

“You mentioned that you had some cats. How many? What kinds? What are their names? How old?”

This allowed the interviewee to get out of their anxiety spiral and into a space that they knew and loved, their cats! After a few minutes of small talk, we jumped back into the questions related to the job and the company. However, this quick detour helped because:

A) it created a safe space for them to reset and refocus on the interview

B) it showed them the type of boss I would be (one that asks hard questions but also cares about your cats)

Note, I didn’t change my questions or make them easier because they had started to spiral. I didn’t lower the bar for the interview to be successful. However, I was able to create an environment that signaled the interviewee was safe here and that I wanted them to be successful. Being able to serve them, even in an interview, helps them understand the type of boss I am and what they are getting themselves into by working with me. 

2. Connect them with other opportunities in the organization

I’ve interviewed multiple people that blew me away. They had strong experience, excellent answers, and clearly understood the vision of the organization. The only problem is that they weren’t right for my team. Maybe their experience didn’t match what I needed or their answers indicated they were looking for a more senior role. In these situations you can serve them by connecting them to other leaders and roles in the organization.

Oh, and be honest about where you’re at with them. I’ve said, more than once, “I don’t want to hire you but I do want to work with you!” Let them know why your role isn’t the right fit but how you are going to try and find another way for them to join the organization.

3. Provide genuine and honest feedback after or even during the interview

As someone that has done his fair share of being interviewed, I know how frustrating it can be to feel like you’ve aced the interview only to hear “There were many qualified candidates…” You wish the company well on their search and ask for any feedback they have on how you could have positioned yourself better, and then crickets. Not one ounce of feedback. I’ve even had companies tell me that they aren’t allowed to provide that information.

One more way you can serve people before they join your team is by helping them improve their interviewing skills and answers. 

One of my favorite questions to ask is simply “Why should I hire you?” The whole interview can feel a bit like a sales pitch at times but this one makes it super crystal clear “Alright, give me your best pitch.” What I’m looking for is how well do they know themselves and their unique value add. I’m less interested in their specific brand or value add and more interested in their self-awareness. On more than a few occasions I’ve gotten the cliché “because I’m a hard worker… quick learned… self-starter… eager to learn…” and while all of those may be true I tend to think they are giving me the answer that they think I want.

In some situations, I’ve tried to coach them away from those answers. Helping them see that their wide background is a huge asset as it allows them to understand the language of many teams around us and be a critical collaborator for the team. Or that they may be inexperienced but they have intentionally and strategically built a strong network that they can tap into at any time. “I may not always know the answer to your questions, but I’m confident that I have someone in my network that I can tap that would know. By hiring me you are getting someone that is eager to learn, open to coaching, and has years of knowledge at my disposal through my network.”

Lastly and most obviously, if someone reaches out asking for feedback, actually give them some! For people that I thought would handle it well I’ve even given them the notes from the interview. Helping them see what I was thinking during the interview and the answer to ultimately why I didn’t extend them an offer. You have to be careful here because some of the notes can be a bit too honest for people and you may want to edit based on how well you know the person. In the end, though, providing any feedback will go a long way and is a small way for you to serve them.

Being a servant leader during the interview process can go a long way in creating a positive candidate experience and signaling the values of your organization. By helping potential hires reset, connecting them with other opportunities, and providing honest feedback, you can serve them even before they join your team. So, the next time you’re conducting an interview, remember to approach it with a servant leadership mindset and see how it can benefit both the candidate and your organization.

If you’re inspired to become a servant leader and create a work environment that is happy, engaged, fulfilled, and aligned, then Call Design North America is here to help. We believe that every employee deserves to have a meaningful and enjoyable work experience, and we can offer you practical tips and advice on how to achieve that. Contact us today to learn more about how we can partner with you to create a workplace where everyone can thrive.

– Dan Smitley