The Powerful Art of Recruiting via Text Message: When It Works, What to Say, and What You Should Never, Ever Do

Not all recruiting methods match what’s convenient for recruiters and what candidates actually respond to.

Take InMail, for instance. According to the SocialTalent Global Recruiting Survey, recruiters love it. They’ll choose LinkedIn outreach 80% of the time – but candidates prefer all kinds of other modes far more. Prospective candidates prefer InMail only 20% of the time.

Meanwhile, 80% of smartphone users carry their devices with them 22 hours a day, and people open their text messages 99% of the time. Compelling numbers, right?

Logical conclusion: if you’re not already sourcing over text, it’s time to start.

When used appropriately, text messages are convenient for you and your candidate. Engaging talent through text messages helps you avoid the awkward work phone call and communicate in a personal and low-barrier way.


Building a Text Recruiting Program

The first thing to understand is that text message-based sourcing is not for everyone.

Like any type of communication or recruiting tactic, context and your candidate determine your outreach more than any factor on your side of the equation.

Even if you knew that a busy VP of Engineering candidate prefers business calls over emails, you’d never dream of cold-calling them at 7 p.m. for your first contact. Determining the best way to add text messaging to your recruiting tools carries the same caveats and nuance.


Step One: Integrate text with your recruiting cycle

text-cold@2x-27Text messages can work at any stage of the recruiting cycle. Again – what matters is how you’re using them and who you’re talking to.

  • Cold outreach. Texts to prospects you’ve never interacted with can be a great way to gauge interest in the position. Messages like “Hi Jane, it’s Claire from Company A. We’re looking for our next VP Product and I came across your resume. Are you interested in talking about the opportunity?” are innocuous and great first communications, with just enough flattery thrown in.
  • Follow-ups. If you’re somewhere in the recruiting cycle with a candidate, letting them know up-front that you can text them updates if they want is a great way to come across as highly responsive. Candidates love getting updates about where they stand – sending a brief, “Hi Jane, it’s Claire from Company A. Just wanted to let you know that I talked to the hiring manager today and we’re working on a time to get you in the same room together. Have a great weekend!” can put their minds at ease and stave off the “just checking in” email.
  • Reconnecting. Even if you didn’t previously use text with a candidate, you can reach out to re-establish a connection. A casual, “Hi Jane, it’s Claire from Company A. We have a few positions coming up & I wanted to talk to you about the updates you made to your LinkedIn to see if anything is a fit this time around” can spur action by a dormant contact.
  • Reminders. People are quite accustomed to getting reminders for appointments on their phones. Candidates will likely think nothing of getting a reminder text for an interview – “Hi Jane, a friendly reminder that we’re supposed to meet with the hiring manager this Thursday at our building just off of Union Square. Let me know if you have any questions! -Claire from Company A” – and may even appreciate the personal touch.


Step Two: Understand your candidate

Candidates who work easily across devices and mediums are the best bet for text messaging. For those of us who switch seamlessly from screen to screen and app to app, it’s simple to receive an incoming text, fire off a “Sure!” and let our calendaring apps work together to figure out the best time to meet.

Not surprisingly, there’s a generational component to text-based recruiting. Of all the job seekers Software Advice surveyed, 68% felt neutral or positively toward recruiters who used text messages. That number decreased as candidate age increased, with candidates over 45 feeling the practice was generally “unprofessional.”

The survey also noted that nearly a quarter of job seekers find receiving a recruiting text outside of 9 to 5 business hours inappropriate.

Also, don’t generalize based on demographics either. We know that Millennials ages 18 to 24 receive or send a staggering almost 110 texts every day, but don’t assume that your 23-year-old whiz software engineering candidate has lightning thumbs and would love a text from you. She might specify on her profiles to only use email.

As with any recruiting tactic, use the overall patterns to get started, but know your individual candidates’ preferences before making the contact.


Step Three: Tie in your measurements

Getting the right candidate into the right position is always the goal, of course, but there’s a lot to track along the way to make sure you’re not wasting a lot of time and energy accomplishing that.

If you’re using an applicant tracking system (ATS) system to track candidates as they progress through your recruiting cycle, integrate your text-messaging tracking too. You’ll benefit from being able to see the success rate of texting versus other activities as well as what kind of candidates respond well to text.


Step Four: Make it scale

You might be thinking, “But sending all of those texts seems exhausting, and I don’t want to work from my phone all the time!”

The good news for your thumbs? Technology eliminates the need to tap out all of those sourcing text messages on your smallest device keyboard.

You can use tools like Google Voice from your desktop to “text” to cell phone numbers. If you’re a Mac user, the Messages desktop app helps you text from your computer or phone seamlessly – and both Google Voice and the Messages desktop app are completely free.

There’s also plenty of other tools with monthly pricing that help you compose and send text messages without needing to use the small screen.


Text Etiquette

Remember that old saying, “less is more?” When it comes to recruiting, what you don’t do and don’t say can sometimes make as much difference as what you do. All human social interaction carries a set of unwritten rules, the ever-evolving etiquette by which we navigate what’s appropriate and acceptable.

Think about the different rules of “social threshold” between LinkedIn and Facebook, for instance. Most of the time, you’d feel like you had to meet a much lower burden of familiarity on LinkedIn before sending that connection request than a friend request on Facebook, right?

Recruiting via text can have its own sort of social “dance.” As you add text-based sourcing to your recruiting arsenal, be on the lookout for the cues that tell you what a candidate finds convenient versus invasive.

Here are a few pointers:

  • Keep it professional. You’re not the candidate’s best friend. Yes, friendliness is great, but don’t try too hard or depart too far from what you’d write in an email. Instead of “What’s up, Jane? Can we hang tomorrow at Acme Coffee to talk?” try “Hi Jane, I’m Claire with Company A. I have a VP of Engineering position you’d be a great fit for. Can we discuss it?”
  • No abbreviations. Yes, you’re texting, but trying to sound like anyone other than a professional recruiter is a recipe for disaster. The cool kids aren’t saying, “What’s up, Jane? Can u grab coffee & talk abt VP Engineering job 2morrow?” It feels disingenuous, unprofessional, and weird all at the same time. Try the much more straightforward example above.
  • Keep it short. Remember how your text will look on a phone, especially if you’re typing it out on your computer. A text should start a conversation, so don’t worry about cramming every detail of the job or your availability into the text. Keep it simple and let the candidate’s reply dictate what your response will be.
  • Use personal touches and referrals whenever possible. Text is a personal medium – that’s why it works and why you want to use it, after all. So include some personal touches or references to others, something like, “Hi Jane, it’s Claire from Company A. John at Company B gave me your name for an SDE position and I remembered your talk at Atlassian. Can we talk about the job this week?” It lays the foundation for why you’d choose such a personal medium for contacting them in the first place and shows you did your homework.
  • Give them the chance to change the venue. Just because you reach out via text doesn’t mean you have to keep communicating over text messages. You can offer the candidate an opportunity to move to another communication channel early in your conversation. You can do it right away – “I hope you don’t mind me reaching out via text. Let me know if you’d like to move this to email or have me give you a call” – or after a few exchanges.

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Quality, Not Quantity

Text messaging isn’t new. SMS technology has been around since the 1980s, so even though you may be just now adding it to your recruiting mix, your candidates have been fielding texts for a long time.

Why does that matter? The longer a technology thrives in the wild, the more savvy its users get to that technology being misused.

Remember when banner ads were brand-new and advertisers salivated over the possibilities because people clicked on then 94% of the time? Then the novelty wore off and now people chuck devices in frustration at disruptive pop-up ads and “scroll-through” video ads and the conversion rate for many of these ad types plunged into sub-1% depths.

The best way to ensure that your candidates – and all people in general – keep responding positively to your text-based recruiting messages is to text rarely and well.

Only use text on candidates where your data and your gut tell you it will be well-received. Only use text with candidates where you’ve made effort to make it personal. If you’re mass-texting every candidate in your pool, not only can you expect a poor response rate, you can also expect to contribute to a general backlash against recruiting texts.


What’s On the Horizon

As candidates’ communication and consumption habits shift, the strongest recruiters will be on the leading edge of those changes.

The key for talent and recruiting leaders is to assess the methods that work for sourcing top candidates and implement, test, and evolve those methods forward.

Like any recruiting tool, the bell has tolled for text messaging as much as its death has been greatly exaggerated. In the hands of the right recruiting team and as part of a strategic approach, text-based recruiting could be your answer for cutting out the middleman and communicating directly with your technical talent.


Over to you – how have you found texting candidates useful? When in the recruitment cycle do you think it works best?