Have you ever spent weeks talking with a candidate only to have them back out at the end of the interview process? Or maybe you’ve found it impossible to get great candidates in front of a hiring manager. If you’re involved in the complex task of hiring, you’ve probably encountered at least one of these problems.

The good news is, design thinking can help. Haven’t heard of it? Design thinking is a problem-solving approach that involves the following steps:

  1. Make sure you fully understand the problem.
  2. Consider a wide range of solutions.
  3. Test your solutions, adjusting them as needed.
  4. Implement the winning solution, then go back to step one (the problem may have changed).

So how does this apply to hiring? We reached out to three recruiters at Indeed to learn more. Here are their top four tips for solving hiring problems using design thinking:  

1. Personalize your approach

When faced with a list of potential candidates (and an even longer to-do list), it can be tempting to fire off a series of templated emails. However, when using design thinking, the first step is to understand the problem. Looking at the problem of changing jobs from the candidate’s perspective, you can see that it’s deeply personal — and the way you communicate with them should match that.

Dane Browner, a recruiting manager at Indeed, describes how he learned this lesson firsthand. After talking directly with the tech talent he was trying to recruit, Browner discovered they were being bombarded daily with cookie-cutter messages from recruiters. One candidate even showed Browner his inbox: a wall of subject lines about new jobs. 

To get candidates to actually open his messages, Browner realized he needed to address them as individuals. Now, not only does he write personalized subject lines and messages, he also looks past the most obvious points on candidates’ resumes to find interesting information on which to connect. For example, if the candidate has written blogs or articles, Browner reads them, then references them in the subject line and body of the message (e.g., “Read your recent open-source article”). 

2. Know your user

In the design thinking framework, a key part of understanding the problem is understanding the user and finding solutions that will work for them. Companies (hopefully) wouldn’t design a product without knowing who is going to use it — and the same consideration should go into recruiting. 

If you focus too much on your pitch instead of learning about the candidate, “you might miss something that will prevent you from closing the candidate at the end,” technical recruiter Keri Garrison says. 

Some recruiters get so excited to talk about their job opportunity that they overlook what the candidate wants. Instead, treat them as your “user,” trying to understand their needs and how your job might be the solution. According to Garrison, listening carefully to a candidate from the start is one of the most important factors in hiring. 

For example, if you’re talking to a candidate in Tennessee who isn’t interested in moving, the incredible opportunity you have for them in California is unlikely to be a good fit. On the other hand, if you know that work-life balance is a priority for a candidate, finding a role that allows for balance will make a “yes” more likely.

3. Get creative

Hiring isn’t a one-size-fits-all process. Design thinking encourages us to consider a wide range of solutions and to change course when needed. The best solutions often involve thinking outside the box and may require perseverance to get right. If you give up every time you hit a roadblock, great candidates might not get the chance they deserve.

Here’s an example of how Indeed Recruiter Nikki Mumma Statz tried a new, creative strategy in the screening and interview process. A candidate she thought would be a great fit wasn’t selected for an interview, so she set up a coffee meeting between the candidate and the hiring manager. Sure enough, the two hit it off, and the candidate was eventually hired. 

“I want to go above and beyond whenever I can to give people a chance to connect,” says Mumma Statz. “When meetings like this lead to a hire, I feel so proud.”

4. Use evidence to make decisions

In a culture that emphasizes “trusting your gut,” pausing to analyze the information at hand doesn’t always feel like second nature. But following design thinking principles, as you try new solutions, it’s crucial to test them for success. 

Dane Browner tracks all the data he can related to emails, such as response rates and link clicks. 

“It’s hard to know what’s working if you don’t know your numbers,” Browner affirms. For example, looking at email-open data might reveal that a candidate never opens messages sent on Tuesday mornings; since they’re clearly busy then, it may be best to try another day.

Even for solutions that are less quantifiable, it’s important to test, measure and adjust. For instance, candidates must feel comfortable throughout the hiring process in order to accept your offer. Garrison makes a point to check in with candidates all along the way. It’s helpful to “identify roadblocks and red flags to be able to adjust your closing strategy,” she says. “Keeping an inventory of what works and what doesn't work will help you adjust in the future.”

The most effective recruiters are already using design thinking principles, even if they don’t know it. They make sure they understand their candidates, try out creative solutions and adapt quickly when things don’t work. Intentionally applying a design thinking framework can help you relate better to candidates, spot challenges early and make better, faster hires.