If a recruiter texts you about coming in for an interview, which smiley face — if any — is okay to use in response? How long is too long when texting an answer about which programming skills are your strength? If a recruiter sends you a Bitmoji avatar leaning up against a water cooler, would you be more apt to write back or hit delete?
These and other questions may increasingly come up as more employers add text-messaging platforms to the hiring process, to coordinate interview logistics, connect with past applicants and ask initial screening questions before taking time for a phone or in-person interview. In a tight labor market, employers are looking for ways to grab the attention of potential workers, save money on managing multiple queries to candidates and better manage how they communicate with job seekers so they don’t think their résumés have fallen into a black hole.
“More and more people get spammed by job offers via email,” said Brian Kropp, group vice president for Gartner’s human resources practice. Text messages, Kropp said, are “another tool companies can use in a very tight labor market to try to get traction.”
A growing number of technology companies have sprung up to help employers use messaging tools to text potential workers. Mya, which launched in 2016 and now works with several large staffing firms and more than 40 Fortune 500 companies, uses “conversational” artificial intelligence to text with applicants about basic qualifications, availability and interview logistics. Canvas, which utilizes machine-generated questions and human recruiters to message with candidates, describes itself as “the world’s first text-based interviewing platform.” Other companies such as TextRecruit and Trumpia also have offerings.
Using text messaging in recruiting or for initial candidate screens provides some inherent advantages, say industry analysts and the companies behind the technology. People are more likely to respond to text messages than email, offering higher response rates from candidates who might overlook job-board email listings or emails from recruiters. Gartner’s research shows that candidates open and read only about 20 percent of the emails that recruiters send via LinkedIn, while the texting platforms anecdotally report response rates of 60 to 70 percent, Kropp said.
The quick, conversational back-and-forth of text messaging can also speed the process along, letting employers ask basic questions about qualifications and availability — while candidates can ask about benefits or pay — before scheduling a meeting or phone call that could be a waste of both sides' time. The low-pressure, informal way people approach texting — especially millennials and Gen Z applicants, who prefer it to email — can also cut down the awkwardness of a first-time discussion. “Can you imagine a [dating] app like Bumble or Match.com, and the first interaction was a screen conversation over the phone?” said Aman Brar, CEO of Canvas.
Yet if companies aren’t careful, getting a text about a job or the work culture of a company seeking to hire might feel intrusive or like mobile-phone junk mail. The aspects of texting that give it immediacy and make it feel personal can also make it feel invasive if it’s unwanted.
“Somehow your phone number is more personal than your email address,” Kropp said, adding that some people still have data plans with a limited number of texts before they’re charged. “If you’re a company that’s going to go down this path, you need to be much more sensitive to the message you’re putting on that text. How do you make it feel not spammy?”
He pointed to how years ago, getting emails from a recruiter got people’s attention, until people started ignoring or filtering those messages. “Three, four, five years from now, are text messages going to have that same sort of feel to it?” Kropp asked. If it becomes overused or is not done carefully, the novelty could wear off.
Mya and Canvas say they rely on getting cellphone numbers from the résumés of candidates who have already expressed interest in a job, such as at a job fair or by filing an application, or through a database of résumés from past job applicants. But Kropp says there are ways sites could scrape publicly posted résumés for mobile phone numbers or share résumés among companies.
Eyal Grayevsky, co-founder and CEO of Mya, said his company is in talks with major job boards to possibly enable it to reach people who have posted their résumés with the job boards, have said they are actively looking and have opted in to being contacted about jobs. But for now, Mya has been focused on contacting people who have applied to jobs at the customer recently or in the past. Mya might send a text, Grayevsky said, that says, “You applied to a job nine months ago, we wanted to check in — do you have a minute to chat? Or, 'You worked with us last year in a contract role” and asking whether a new opportunity is of interest.
Text-based recruiting is largely being used for high-volume job categories such as retail, food service, nursing and customer service, though some companies are also using them for professional staff jobs or high-demand positions such as software programming. Brar said Canvas has been used to recruit welders, machinists, graphic designers and software engineers.
Josh Bersin, an industry analyst who studies workplace technology, said: “I don’t know if it’s been super useful for higher-level jobs yet, but it’s getting there. It’s getting sophisticated very fast. It’s more accepted than I would have expected by now.”
Scott Sendelweck, the human resources marketing manager for Indianapolis-based Community Health Network, said he has used Canvas for hiring many positions at the health-care system, with the exception of physicians, which he hopes to add soon. He said he cut the amount of time it takes to hire for positions from 30 to 45 days down to 25 to 35 days, and texting is helpful for engaging with night-shift candidates who don’t work the same hours as recruiters. He also noted that texting can be discreet. Texting “can be done very covertly,” he said. “We run into that a lot.”
He said his recruiters often have multiple texting conversations going with potential candidates simultaneously, saving time and getting run-of-the-mill questions, such as whether a person is available for certain shifts or what certifications they have, out of the way before going through the logistics of setting up a phone call or a time for an interview. For busy doctors who might be in the midst of back-to-back patient appointments, it could also be a way to reach them without waiting for the slow back-and-forth of email.
“It speeds up the process tremendously,” he said.
Asked how often the insertion of GIF video clips, the addition of questionable emoji or the perils of phones' auto-correct systems create awkward texting exchanges, Brar said most conversations remain pretty professional.
“The funny stuff that pops up comes out when someone shows up for an interview,” he said, “and says ‘I was texting with you while I was hiking the Appalachian Trail’ or ‘I was in the middle of cheering for a March Madness game.’ ”