To Text or Not to Text: The Dos and Don'ts of SMS Recruiting Straight from the Pros

4 min read

Ahh, texting. In the days of AI and chatbots, it's strange to see so much conversation about a medium that, in tech terms, is relatively old.

But for recruiters and hiring managers, the fear is very real. In today's ultra-tight talent market, how can they be sure they won't annoy their top leads? After all, contacting candidates by SMS is inarguably more intrusive than the emails and InMails we're used to.

Still, the numbers are compelling. If you want to capture the attention of some 73% of US millennials and Gen Z'ers who interact with each other digitally more than they do in real life, we can't say we blame you.

We asked some of the talent management community's leading voices for their biggest dos and don'ts when reaching candidates via text message. Take their advice to heart and you can stand out as one of the few recruiters out there who not only has the tool, but actually knows how to use it.

Sharlyn Lauby, President, ITM Group Inc. and Founder, HR Bartender

Sharlyn Lauby does it all. As an author, speaker and consultant, she knows HR inside and out.

She’s also a beloved confidant to the HR community due to her fabulous work on HR Bartender , named one of the “Top 5 Blogs HR Pros Love to Read” by the Society for Human Resource Management (and pretty much everyone we know). 😍

What's the one thing recruiters should always keep in mind when reaching out via text?
Two things: 1) Get permission! I understand why texting is becoming more mainstream in business, but there are still boundaries. Recruiters show respect for the candidate when they ask for permission to text.

2) Learn how to text. What I mean by that is a good text message is concise. Recruiters need to learn how to send effective, succinct text messages that align with the organization’s brand and are legally acceptable.

When should you use text messages to engage candidates?

One of the first things that comes to mind when I think of texting a candidate is scheduling. If you want to set up a time to talk or have the candidate stop by, texting might be a very effective way to get an immediate response.

When should you NEVER use text messages to engage candidates?
I mentioned in the first question that texting is meant to be brief. Any subject that’s going to be lengthy, probably isn’t best via text message. Also, messages that could be misunderstood. We run into these same issues with email. The recipient may mistakenly read something into a message that might not be there. Same applies to texting. When in doubt, try to schedule a time to convey your message voice to voice.

Tim Sackett, President, HRU Technical Resources

Tim’s an HR pro who calls it how he sees it. But if you know him, you knew that already. (Btw, if you haven't already, you've got to get his new book, The Talent Fix, on your 2019 reading list.)

What's the one thing recruiters should always keep in mind when reaching out via text?
Spam is spam. If you reach out to someone for the first time via text or email, you have to treat it the same. More candidates will see your message on SMS, but it doesn't mean more will reply if you're just spamming them. So, make your message personal to them.

When should you use text messages to engage candidates?
At every step of your process! Texting works at your first outreach, followup, and for scheduling screens and interviews. Think about how and when you like to receive text messages versus phone calls and emails, and you'll have your answer to when candidates want you to send them a text message.

When should you NEVER use text messages to engage candidates?
The wrong time to use a text message is when you disposition a candidate. That's super low class, it's like getting that breakup message via text, it's super trashy! If a candidate has invested in you and went through your interview process, they deserve to hear from you in person. Now, you might reach out to them via text and say something like, "Hey, I have some information for you, when's a good time to jump on a call?"

Chris Russell, Managing Director, RecTech Media

Chris Russell, a.k.a. “the Mad Scientist of Online Recruiting” isn't afraid to try new things.

As an expert on all things HR tech, he knows better than anyone else how important it is to use it intentionally. 👌

What's the one thing recruiters should always keep in mind when reaching out via text?
Keep it short and to the point. Don't 'overtext'.

When should you use text messages to engage candidates?
I feel its a good medium for almost any stage of the recruiting process. Probably best after the first phone screen.

When should you NEVER use text messages to engage candidates?
Never text a rejection notice to a candidate whom you have interviewed in person. A phone call is best for that.

Elijah Elkins, Global Talent Acquisition Manager, CloudFactory

Elijah Elkins does not mince words. If he thinks today's talent leaders need to step up their game, he'll let you know.

Elijah's quick to point out that while SMS is more likely to be used and appreciated by younger candidates, your success with it really depends on the industry and type of role. "Part-time job at a pizza shop for sure. Full-time role as a Sales Director for an enterprise tech company, probably not," he explains.

Elijah has had people in their 20s text him during the recruitment process, and he's had people in the 50s text him, too. The lesson here: Never paint all your candidates with the same brush.

What's the one thing recruiters should always keep in mind when reaching out via text?
Be respectful and only use SMS if necessary or if candidates have requested it. Some people would appreciate texting and others would find it too invasive. The messages that you send should be short or things that cannot be misinterpreted easily.

When should you NEVER use text messages to engage candidates?
Never send a rejection message to a candidate via text or any other communication that could be easily misunderstood.

Quick Checklist: The dos and don'ts of recruiting via text message

Awesome advice all around. 💯

Here's a quick sum-up of everything you just read. Keep this open on your screen or copy/paste it somewhere you can find it so you always know how to send a text message that will warm candidates up, and not turn them off completely.

The Dos

  • Get permission!
  • Keep it succinct, legal and on-brand
  • Make it personal
  • Use SMS to schedule interviews
  • Use text messages after the first phone screen
  • Use text messages to get an immediate response
  • Send texts the same way you'd like to receive them

The Don'ts

  • Don't send lengthy texts
  • Don't send a message that could be easily misinterpreted
  • NEVER use text message to disposition a candidate

SMS is the hot new thing in HR, and with some powerful numbers to back it up, we don't expect it to go away any time soon. But as with any new trend, we do expect there to be a major learning curve before recruiters are able to really nail it.

If you're still a little unsure about the best use cases for recruiting via SMS, check out our post on The 6 Ways SMS Can Help You Hire Better for some easy, practical examples to try out.

And remember, like all new tools and tactics, it pays to have the patience to experiment. Take the time to notice what works for your unique talent pools and optimize accordingly. Here's to your texting success!

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