A New Message for Recruiting

Texting is becoming a valuable asset in the talent-acquisition process.
By: | September 4, 2018 • 6 min read

Jared Bazzell does not have fond memories of the days when he had to rely primarily on email to communicate with job candidates.

At his previous employer, candidates would arrive for interviews 30 minutes late or drive to the company’s old address instead of its new location, says Bazzell, who today is manager of talent acquisition at global technology products and services provider CDW Corp. The problem was that there was no systematic way for recruiters to communicate instantaneously with candidates to ensure they knew when and where to show up or for candidates to quickly alert them if something arose or they had questions.

Things improved greatly after the company implemented a text-recruiting platform, he says.

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“We could text candidates links to a map of our new location and use text for scheduling interviews,” says Bazzell. Recruiters could quickly alert candidates to new openings and answer their questions, while the platform kept track of all text communications between the parties. The company saw a rise in quality of hire and significant decreases in time-to-fill, he says.

Of course, these types of communication can also be sent via email. Texting, however, offers immediacy—and it’s simply the way that most of us communicate now. If you’re a millennial or Gen Z’er, texting is probably your primary mode of communication: In a study by the enterprise mobile-engagement firm OpenMarket, 75 percent of millennials say they’d prefer texting over talking if given the choice of one format. A recent survey from the career website Nexxt finds that 73 percent of job seekers say they want to receive targeted jobs via text messaging.

Mobile is hardly limited to the younger generations: According to recent findings from the Pew Research Center, 77 percent of U.S. adults own a smartphone, including 92 percent of those ages 19 to 29 and 74 percent of those ages 50 to 64. Research by Indeed finds that using smartphones for job searches cuts across generations, with majorities of millennials, Gen Xers and baby boomers conducting much of their job searches on mobile devices. Eighty percent of those looking for jobs in the building, grounds-cleaning and maintenance industries use their mobile devices to find openings, followed by those looking for jobs in construction and extraction, at 79 percent.

“No one ignores texts, so the engagement is phenomenally high,” says Joe Weinlick, chief marketing officer at Nexxt, formerly Beyond. “One client was able to hire five nurses from a campaign where they sent out 500 texts—you’re not going to get that rate of hire through other tactics.”

For recruiters, texting may soon be the rule and not the exception, says Robin Erickson, talent acquisition research leader at Bersin, Deloitte Consulting LLP.

“I think text recruiting is going to be a built-in feature at some point for applicant-tracking systems,” she says. “Candidates are increasingly more interested in connecting with recruiters via text than email—it’s more immediate.”

Texting is hardly a panacea to all of recruiting’s problems, of course, and not all candidates want recruiters contacting them via text. Those who do prefer it, or who don’t mind it, will also need to be approached carefully by recruiters—text messages that might offend candidates, or that are sent during the wrong hours of the day, could end up doing a company more harm than good. Furthermore, some recruiters may need to be persuaded of the value of texting, particularly when they’ve relied primarily on phone calls for making initial contact with candidates. However, when those challenges are met, texting can lead to significant improvements in both the recruiter and candidate experiences.

Downstream Effects 

At Humana Corp., any delay in finding candidates for certain open positions has immediate downstream effects. Each year, the massive healthcare company hires thousands of people to fill roles such as customer service representative, claims processor and pharmacy tech. Those positions require new hires to undergo several weeks or more of in-house training—any delay in getting candidates processed means classes can’t be filled on time, and that they’ll have to wait to be scheduled for the next round of classes.

“Our CSR hires, in particular, are volume-driven—if we’re not able to fill classes, then we’re not able to get people in for several weeks of training,” says Kourtlee Gravil, Humana’s manager of talent acquisition. “When that pipeline starts to dry up, it starts to impact the net promoter scores at our support centers, because there are empty seats in those volume-driven support centers.”

The company recently began using interactive voice response—an automated telephone system—to make recruiting more efficient and ended up combining that with text recruiting to increase those efficiencies, says Senior Vice President for Talent Management and Organization Development Roger Cude.

“The IVR got us out of playing phone tag with candidates and helped us gain efficiencies and increase candidate satisfaction,” he says. “The next step was going upstream to get candidates to the IVR, and that’s where texting comes in.”

In the past, Humana would email candidates a link to the IVR system. However, those emails would often be filtered out as spam, and candidates would complain that they never received them. Now the link can be sent via text, and Gravil says IVR-completion rates have risen from 68 percent to 84 percent.

“The speed of response on text was almost uncanny,” she says. “Within the first hour of sending a text, we had a 97-percent response rate.”

The company plans to start using text recruiting for more than just entry-level positions, says Gravil. “We really want to see how this can be used in other ways.”

Increased efficiency has been just one result of the move to texting, says Cude.

“The texting and IVR are taking care of the blocking and tackling and let recruiters spend more time on things that require live interaction, and candidate quality has, if anything, increased,” he says. “We’re able to process more candidates and have an improved candidate experience.”

HCA, another healthcare company that uses text recruiting, plans to extend the use of text to all facets of the hiring process, says Kelly Furbee, HCA’s vice president for talent acquisition.

“We want to be able to use texting in all our interactions—if a candidate has questions, we want to be able to answer that via text,” she says. “It lets us do more around self-service.”

Furbee says a platform-based texting service (HCA is a client of Montage, which provides video- and voice-based-recruiting tools in addition to text-based), as opposed to recruiters simply texting on their own, allows the company to track recruiters’ activity and ensure that communications between HCA and candidates don’t get lost if a recruiter leaves or goes on vacation. “Now we have a record we can keep,” she says.

Texting has been well received by candidates at all levels, from entry-level hires on up to the professional and executive levels, says Furbee.

“We actually get better responses from candidates when we text first, versus calling first. This can require a change in mindset for many recruiters, who may subscribe to the notion that you build personal connections with someone by calling them first, but you have to consider other people’s preferences,” she says. “The fact is, many people prefer getting a text over a phone call. I typically don’t answer the phone when I get a call from a number I don’t recognize.”

Texting is just part of the new strategy at HCA, which hires between 60,000 to 70,000 people a year. The company is implementing several new systems that will enable candidates to complete all recruiting-related tasks on a mobile device, from job search and initial application to onboarding and new-hire paperwork, says Furbee.

Finding Internal Champions 

“Candidates get very frustrated when they have to take time out of their work schedules to undergo interviews or wait for extended periods to hear back from employers—they see it as disrespectful of their time,” says Kurt Heikkinen, president and CEO of recruitment-technology vendor Montage. This is especially relevant these days, as employees are aware that tools such as video-on-demand and texting can make the process so much easier, he adds.

“Today’s candidates expect to be able to engage with employers via their medium of choice,” says Heikkinen.

Clients are also using text to stay in touch with candidates and maintain engagement during the post-offer stage as well as during onboarding, says Heikkinen. “In areas like healthcare, where start dates can be delayed by weeks or months as the candidate undergoes credentialing, texting can keep the information flow going and point the new hires to specific resources to keep them engaged with the employer brand.”

CDW Corp.’s Bazzell says the company, which hires up to 500 entry-level sales associates each year, has saved 400-plus hours of recruiter productivity by automating text-based candidate correspondence and reminders.

“When you’re hiring for entry-level positions, time is of the essence,” says Bazzell. “These are people who are applying to 10 different positions—they’re going to schedule an interview with the first person who gets back to them.”

Texting is popular among all ages, not just millennials and members of Gen Z, he adds. “There may have been a generational gap with texting when it first began, but now we find that it transcends generations, whether we’re hiring at the entry level or director level.”

At his previous job, Bazzell had started using a system from TextRecruit for high-volume hiring for CSR positions. When he joined CDW in 2015, he persuaded the company to test a pilot program using TextRecruit for entry-level positions.

Some recruiters were initially wary, Bazzell admits.

“A lot of our recruiters were reluctant, saying, ‘My candidates don’t want to correspond with me via text,’ ” he says.

Bazzell began with a small user group of 20 or so recruiters, who became champions of using the system once they saw the results, he says. Today, all 50 recruiters on CDW’s talent-acquisition team use the system.

“Finding internal champions this way, rather than going in and trying to force this on people, was much more effective,” says Bazzell. “We wanted this to be a recruiter-led adoption.”

When it comes to the text messages themselves, the style in which they’re written is key, says Bazzell. “Authenticity is really important,” he says. “Don’t try and make your text read like it’s a campaign message or that it’s anything other than a normal means of communication. Make it feel as if you’re having a conversation.”

Texting between candidates and recruiters doesn’t end once the person accepts an offer, he says. “Recruiters will text them links to a survey to rate us on our hiring process and text them six months later to see how they’re doing,” he says. That approach has paid off: Texting has an “open rate” fives times that of email, says Bazzell, while the opt-out rate is 25 times lower than for email.

“Our recruiters have definitely seen a lift in response rate and feel like they’re truly interacting with and getting to know people, thanks to the text platform,” he says.

Setting the Standards

Text recruiting has been, up to now, mostly a niche vendor service, provided by companies such as TextRecruit, TextUs, Trumpia and Canvas (which offers a text-based interviewing platform). That will change in the future, says Erickson of Bersin, Deloitte Consulting LLP, as ATS vendors increasingly take notice of the medium and begin adding the capability to their platforms or acquiring vendors (TextRecruit was snapped up early this year by iCIMS; terms of the deal were not disclosed).

“These vendors are able to sell their service as an add-on because the standard ATS does not have this capability at the moment,” she says.

Recruiters had been using text for candidate outreach long before the first vendors arrived on the scene, but this approach proved risky, says Erickson.

“Companies should not be communicating with candidates without keeping a record of those conversations,” she says. By providing a platform, the vendors not only allow employers to keep records, but standardize the process and integrate it into other components of recruiting such as screening and onboarding. Now, vendors can help clients make better use of the data they’re collecting through predictive analytics and “sentiment analysis,” says Erickson.

“You can measure response rate and response times, determine the times that candidates are most likely to respond to messages, and actually compare this information to their email communications and find which works best,” she says.

Though it may lack the immediacy of texting, email is hardly dead and can still be a useful tool for recruiting, Erickson adds.

“It may be that a combination of email and texting is the best approach—you use email for the initial communication and then when you’re trying to schedule interviews, texting works better,” she says.

Indeed, sending candidates an email asking whether it’s OK to text them is a recommended approach for recruiters.

“There are lots of regulations around texting—you need to ensure you have an audience that’s opted in,” says Weinlick. “You also have to maintain a high standard: Don’t send that audience too many texts—ensure you’re treating this as a privilege, to reach out to someone via a medium which they use for personal conversations.”

Also, if a candidate texts back, “they tend to expect a response almost immediately,” he says, adding that another consideration is texted links, which should be mobile-friendly and easy to fill out.

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TextRecruit founder and CEO Erik Kostelnik says chatbots are playing an ever-bigger role in text recruiting, providing real-time answers to candidates who want to learn more about a particular job opening.

Mobile recruiting has been too dominated by talk of apps, says Kostelnik. “Pushing companies to build their own apps was a bad idea by vendors. People don’t give a damn about apps. Who wants to download an app just to apply for a job?”

Erickson agrees with Kostelnik’s assertion that apps have not worked well for mobile recruiting. Instead, a consensus seems to be forming that the best way forward for mobile recruiting is to ensure that the application process is mobile-friendly, including text capabilities, she says.

“I’ve heard one company say that they want people to be able to apply for a position on their way home from a job they don’t like—hopefully while on a train or a bus, not while driving.”

Andrew R. McIlvaine is senior editor for talent acquisition at Human Resource Executive. He oversees coverage of talent acquisition and recruiting and also edits the weekly Recruiting Trends Bulletin e-newsletter and its associated website, RecruitingTrends.com. A Penn State graduate, Andy also spent two years in the U.S. Army prior to attending college and attained the rank of sergeant while serving in the Army Reserves. He can be reached at [email protected]