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Helping Candidates with the Generalized Empathy Principle in the Age of Coronavirus

Dr Alex Linley

Every member of society is being challenged by the coronavirus pandemic at all levels. In this article, I turn my attention, with my esteemed colleague Paul Deakin, Science & Analytics Lead at Cappfinity, to how we as recruiters and hiring organizations can provide practical support and advice to candidates in the application process during these unprecedented times. Throughout, we apply the generalized empathy principle, that in times of exceptional challenge, every decision should err on the side of empathy for those who may be affected.

We note that candidate application volumes (to date) have remained consistent across all our client processes. Candidates have not been put off applying for roles, nor have we (yet) seen spikes in applications due to the changing economic circumstances (but they may come).

From this, we offer ten tips to ensure you are appreciating the psychological world of your applicants, supporting them through the application process, and guiding them to perform at their best, whatever situations they may be facing. Through doing each of these, you will be demonstrating the generalized empathy principle towards your candidates – and they will remember you for it.

Process Guidance for Businesses

  1. Status updates: Hiring needs may change rapidly as the economic picture changes. Ensure your careers pages are kept up to date and that information is communicated and disseminated as quickly as possible. Enable people to follow live feeds or register for updates. The best way to manage uncertainty is to provide certainty wherever possible.
  2. Decision uncertainty: Exams have been cancelled for UK students in summer 2020, with marks instead being awarded based on teachers’ judgements. This is likely to see subtle grade inflation as teachers collectively err on the side of supporting their students. Communicate what your organization’s approach will be to this. Will you accept grades as they stand? Will you raise your entry requirements? Will you use additional or different assessments to complement a student’s academic track record? Decide and communicate.
  3. Process uncertainty: Employers have provision in place for making reasonable adjustments, but the current situation could put these provisions under unprecedented strain. Is it a reasonable adjustment to extend an assessment deadline because a candidate is mentally or physically unwell? The generalized empathy principle would say ‘yes’ in the current circumstances.

Assessment Guidance for Candidates

  1. Physical health and performance: If candidates are concerned about their physical health, encourage them to delay taking their assessment. There are heightened concerns about illness and physical health, with everyone confronted daily with the reality of coronavirus (COVID-19) and its spread.

    • Managing this is made all the more easier if reasonable adjustments and extensions are easy to request and achieve (see #3 above).
  2. Mental health and performance: If candidates are concerned about their own mental health, or worried about the health and well-being of others, this can serve as a distraction that interferes with assessment experience:

    • This can be most easily managed through delaying until a better time (see #3 above).
    • Also, provide advice and resources to help with managing anxiety and exam stress.
  3. Media overload: We are assailed by notifications, updates, buzzes and all types of incoming. These are distractions at the best of times, but in the current situation have an emotional toll that can impact assessment performance. Recommend that candidates:

    • Find a quiet space (which may be harder than usual if there are more people at home).
    • Do the assessment in one sitting, free from distractions.
    • Only open one screen at a time. Ensure no other devices are visible or audible.
    • Ensure no diverting of attention to other things until the assessment is finished.
  4. Device rationing: More people than usual may be having to share equipment and internet connections. This can especially be the case for applicants from less advantaged backgrounds, where one computer could be being shared across the whole family (if a computer is even available within the household). Advise candidates to take steps to reduce likelihood of technical problems:

    • Get guaranteed access to a suitable device for the required period of time. Don’t be tempted to take your assessment on an inferior device (e.g. using your phone rather than a laptop), because this could prejudice your performance. You don’t write your school or university essays on your phone, so don’t take a critical assessment on it.
    • Take steps to ensure that you have good internet connectivity (especially if your household demand is higher than usual). This might mean being prepared to take your assessment early in the morning, when other device and internet demands are lower.
  5. Mood management: How you feel can affect how you respond to an assessment. Energy is often assessed as part of a strengths assessment, and energy levels could be depleted due to low mood. Advise candidates to engage in mood-enhancing activities to manage this:

    • Do something you enjoy just before taking assessment – to take your mind off things elsewhere and to raise your energy levels.
    • Try positive affirmations, telling yourself why you want the job and why you would be the right person for the role.
    • Take time for self-reflection. Focus on what you are trying to achieve and why it matters to you.
  6. No surprises: Preparation is always important, but even more so as people may be more sensitive to surprises in these changing times. The shock of what we are being faced with from coronavirus, and the drastic actions that governments around the world are having to take, means that hypervigilance is becoming justified. As a result, people can be more ‘on edge’ to anything that is different to what they are expecting. Help candidates to overcome this by advising them to:

    • Prepare, prepare, prepare. Many organizations and test publishers will provide practice tests so that you can get a sense of what to expect in the real thing.
    • A number of practice tests from Cappfinity are available on our site Jobmi.
  7. One down, on we go again: Dealing with undesired outcomes may be harder than usual. Candidates’ resilience levels could be reduced as a result of having to cope with so much more in the wider world outside of their application process. To help:

    • Demonstrate the generalized empathy principle by being sensitive to this in general. Show even more patience, humanity and compassion than you usually would.
    • Share tips for dealing with having your application rejected or provide advice on further resources which can help people to learn about their strengths and new opportunities.

By implementing these 10 tips, both in terms of how we manage our own hiring processes and the advice, guidance and support we give to candidates, we can play our part in supporting the candidate ecosystem during the time of coronavirus.

Yes, there are certainly bigger challenges we need to attend to as well. But yes, it is also the case that we should strive for life to continue as normal wherever possible to do so. This is where the generalized empathy principle can play its part in supporting candidate applications in the best possible way. When our economies emerge on the other side, we can ensure we have the best talent to build our businesses, deliver our incredible public services, and help our countries and the world go forward once again.

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