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3 Texting Rules for Recruiters

A man is looking at his phone while sitting at a table.

​Text messaging is fast becoming a valuable communications tool for recruiters. Faster response times, increased engagement and an improved candidate experience are a few of the notable benefits. But it's not the only way you should communicate with candidates—and texting is highly susceptible to being misused, so deploy it with care.

"Text messages get read within five minutes of being sent and have a reply rate that's multiples better than e-mail," said Matt Charney, chief content officer for Allegis Global Solutions, a leading recruitment process outsourcing firm based in Hanover, Md. "Honestly, it doesn't matter what you text. It'll work better than any other form of candidate outreach."

He added that the best use for texting in recruiting is automating candidate notifications for each stage of the hiring process, which lets candidates know if they're moving ahead or not.

Below are three important things for recruiters to remember when texting with candidates.

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1. Get Permission First

Unsolicited text messages might seem invasive. Kelsey Maurer, a recruiter at Tews Co., an Orlando, Fla.-based recruiting and staffing firm, said she outlines communications expectations early in conversations with candidates and then only texts when necessary.

Before the wooing process starts, ask candidates about their preferred communication methods and specifically about receiving updates via text. "If candidates have opted into communications with you already via talent communities or job alerts, then you've already gotten permission to send them texts," Charney said.

But if you aren't able to get a previous opt-in or permission to send a text, "keep the first message short and sweet," said Pete Radloff, manager of talent acquisition at MicroStrategy, an enterprise analytics and software firm based in the Washington, D.C., area. "The goal is to engage them, not sell to them via text. Just get them to agree to talk with you further."

Properly identifying yourself in a first text is also important. Experts suggest that recruiters clearly state who they are, their position, the company they work for and the reason for the outreach.

"I start by addressing the candidate by name," Maurer said. "This personalizes the message but also helps track who it is if I texted multiple candidates. After addressing the candidate, I say who I am and my company, why I'm reaching out, and ask a question."

Discontinue texting if the candidate does not respond to the initial outreach. Not doing so could be considered harassing.

2. Be Frugal

Texting is best used for automated notifications or communicating about logistics like interview times or asking text-friendly follow-up questions. Lengthy communication is best done via e-mail, on the phone or in person, and remember that people don't want to be spammed via text by recruiters.

"Usually texting is only used to get a hold of a candidate who is not responding," said Elana Benn, a recruiting and onboarding specialist at Jeunesse Global, a cosmetics and skin care company in Lake Mary, Fla. "If one of my candidates was offered a position, and I had not heard from them regarding the offer letter sent through e-mail, then I would text them. I just don't have the time to keep up with an influx of texts as I interview, and conduct tours of our building, in addition to recruitment."

Maurer added that she tries texting "when something is urgent and I haven't been able to connect with the candidate over the phone or via e-mail. For example, say a hiring manager wants to schedule an interview tomorrow, but the candidate is working and cannot call me. I will send a text asking if he or she is available, and I usually get a response back in minutes."

Approach it like e-mail and you'll be fine, Charney said. "Don't go overboard with sends, target and segment your SMS campaigns appropriately, and make sure that there's a clear call to action."

Messages that end with instructions to take an action such as "Click Here" have much higher response rates.

3. Be Professional

Texts from a recruiter are professional communications and represent the employer's brand. They could also be dug up in an audit or investigation, or be used in legal discovery. So be thoughtful about what you send. "Always keep it professional; ditch the emojis and the snark," Radloff said.

Research has shown that job seekers are most dissatisfied when recruiters spam them, send messages outside of business hours, and get too personal with texts unrelated to the job or hiring process. Many said they would prefer a job offer or rejection notice over the phone or via e-mail.

Setting expectations can help ward off unwanted behavior from candidates as well. "Texting can get too comfortable and could leave you in uncomfortable situations," Maurer said.

She's been hit on, invited to personal gatherings and blasted by candidates who let loose on everything from the bad reaction of their medication to stomach viruses.

A rejected candidate once sent dozens of messages full of aggressive questioning to Benn's phone. "It was borderline harassment, and I felt very intimidated and uncomfortable," she said.

"Managing the communication once a candidate has your personal number is critical," Maurer said. "When a candidate texts me over the weekend, I'll respond that I will follow up Monday. I acknowledge the contact but steer the communication to more-formal settings. Early Monday I will follow up with a phone call from my office line."

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