How Text Messaging Broadens Recruiting Outreach, Cuts Time to Fill

By Roy Maurer Oct 16, 2017
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​Text messaging is proving to be a solution both for job seekers looking for more-direct communication channels with employers and for companies wishing to streamline their recruiting and screening processes.

Texting can foster better engagement among younger people who grew up with it and often consider traditional forms of communication, such as e-mails and phone calls, to be inconvenient and old-fashioned. Employers are also using text and online chats in lieu of traditional screening interviews or in-person job fairs.


A recent survey from Chicago-based talent acquisition software company Yello found that 86 percent of Millennials "feel positively about text messages being used during the interview process." Research from Google has shown that Generation Z prefers texting to all other forms of communication, including messaging apps and meeting in-person.

"E-mail, [LinkedIn's] InMails and phone calls are time-consuming and can get easily lost in inboxes," said Birch Faber, marketing director at TextRecruit, a software company that uses text and live chat to optimize hiring. "Candidates getting texts can respond from anywhere, anytime and instead of writing a formal business e-mail, they are replying in under 160 characters. For a candidate with a million different things going on, there is a huge amount of value in being short, sweet and simple in how you reach out."

Better Response Rates

​Several studies show that nearly everyone with a smartphone reads their texts (read rates are in the high 90th percentile) and about one-third respond, on average. Compare that with e-mail read and response rates of 18 percent and 8 percent, respectively.

"Traditionally, to get in touch with passive candidates, a recruiter had to ask for some phone time in order to lure them in," said Aman Brar, president and CEO of Canvas, a text-based interviewing platform in Indianapolis. "That comes at a cost for both parties. Text reduces that barrier to entry dramatically."

Recruiters have for many years been using text and chat messaging to communicate with candidates from their personal cellphones, but it was ad hoc, with no way to track the messaging history, and could actually end up harming candidate experience.

With new technology, large companies can now personalize text messages at scale, keep candidates organized and analyze the performance of text-based campaigns, Faber said. 

Shorten Time-to-Hire

​Text messaging can improve efficiency at multiple points of the recruiting process, from engaging with leads, receiving applications, screening candidates, scheduling interviews and onboarding new hires.

The recruiters at thredUP Inc., a fashion consignment website in San Francisco, have experienced significant improvements in candidate response time and overall engagement since implementing TextRecruit in March. "Our ability to reach [candidates] in real time through text messaging has not only decreased our time-to-hire but has allowed us to increase the accessibility between recruiters and candidates throughout the interview process," said Natalie Breece, director of talent acquisition at the company.

Faber said that grocer Whole Foods is using keywords and short numeric codes at its stores to encourage more people to apply for jobs directly through their phones, capture applicant information and fill their talent pipeline.

Multitasking Via Text

​Busy recruiters can send pre-selected interview questions to candidates, as well as employment brand information, workplace culture videos, and benefits and job descriptions. They can then sit back and monitor multiple conversations at once and respond if needed, rate responses, make recommendations on best fit, and share interview transcripts and candidate feedback with stakeholders.

"Using text-based chat in a structured format can make pre-screening very efficient and in many cases even replace the traditional phone screen," said Ed Barrientos, CEO of Brazen, an Arlington, Va.-based company that creates chat-based recruitment and hiring events. "This can vastly improve time-to-hire, especially when competing for hard-to-fill roles where the competition might also be courting the same candidate."

Text to Screen

Text-based screening has replaced the traditional phone screen for sales positions at Open Table since implementing Canvas in March, said Scott Day, senior vice president of people and culture at the San Francisco-based company. "We can see on someone's resume if they have the technical qualifications for a job, but we use text screens to hone in on whether applicants know who we are and what we do. It allows us to take a large group of folks down to a narrower set of people very easily. Then when we're ready to move into more intensive interviews, we can bring them in."

The technology allows recruiters to have multiple conversations at once, whereas that same recruiter would have back-to-back phone screens.

"A good recruiter can do about four to six phone screens a day, between scheduling and taking notes, while recruiters can do up to 10 times that with a text-based platform," Brar said.

Day added that his lead sales recruiter has 20-30 active text conversations going at any point in time. "This has allowed our sales recruiting team to move a lot more candidates through the process more quickly. Candidates seem to have appreciated the flexible outreach, as much as we have appreciated the efficiency."

Being ‘Mobile First’

​An automated text-based platform can also turn around a negative candidate experience, improving follow-up and managing new hires during the onboarding process.

"Our recruiters discovered that text messaging is great for timely back and forth communication between new hires going through onboarding, disseminating information about benefits or what to bring on the first day," Day said. "Traditionally we e-mailed that information out and trusted that the new hire saw it. Now, many people have told us how glad they were that we texted it because they don't check their e-mail that often."

Day added that being "mobile first" helped candidates see the company's innovation. "It says something about how we view the world. We are trying to create a frictionless dining-out experience and, similarly, we were attracted to this medium as a way to do the same with recruiting and get out in front of some of our competitors."

Tips for Recruiting with Text

​Employers should consider the following best practices when using text messaging in recruiting:

  • Identify yourself when texting people you don't know. "Not just your name, but what you do and who you work for and make it clear why you're contacting them," said Mike Wolford, a talent acquisition specialist most recently with Hudson, a New York City-based recruitment firm.
  • Keep campaign sizes small in the beginning.
  • Use a texting platform that allows two-way texting communication. "Don't just redirect people to a website when they text you back; use this as an opportunity to start a conversation," Faber said.
  • Find out if candidates would like to be texted instead of called or e-mailed.
  • Keep it brief—under 160 characters.
  • Keep it simple. Questions sent over text message should be easy to answer.
  • Personalize communications, like including the person's name or skill set to increase engagement.
  • End messages with a call to action. "Our recruiters have experienced a much higher response rate when including a call to action in their text messages, such as 'Are you available to speak over the phone tomorrow?' " Breece said. Adding a calendar link to schedule a chat is another good idea.
  • Make it easy for candidates to unsubscribe.
  • Text people one time only. "If they don't respond to you, don't keep blowing up their phone. That will come across negatively," Wolford said.
  • Be thoughtful about the information shared over text and how those communications are tracked in case of an audit or investigation.
  • Invest in training. "This will be a new skill for some recruiters to learn," Brar said. "It can create a divide between recruiters with good chat-based conversational skills and those who are more phone-centric. Employers can't just turn the software on; they've got to have a strategy around change management and training and getting people across the adoption curve."

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