Is Text-Based Recruiting Taking the ’Human’ out of ’Human Resources’?



A good first impression at a job interview used to consist of a polite smile, a firm handshake, and stylish business dress. Today, your first impression may be based solely on how well you reply to a recruiter’s incoming text message. My advice? Go easy on the emojis.

In a bid to save time, a new wave of recruiters are choosing to make initial contact with candidates by SMS text instead of phone call. Texting candidates, the thinking goes, is an expedient way to review basic applicant information and determine job compatibility. It also allows recruiters to communicate with young job seekers the way they prefer.

Text messaging appears to be gaining traction with recruiters and candidates alike. A 2018 Jobvite survey found 43 percent of recruiters have texted candidates, and 88 percent say job seekers respond positively to texts. Some candidates even report going through the entire hiring and onboarding process — up to and including walking into the office on their first day — without ever meeting their recruiter face to face. Now that’s efficiency!

What We Lose in Text Message Interviews

To be candid, I find the text interview process more than a bit off-putting — and also ironic. Many of these same young job seekers who prefer text-based recruiting seem unable to put their cellphones down and break from tech’s dominance over their lives. These revolutionary devices that let us order Grubhub dinners and land new jobs via SMS are also preventing us from enjoying the best part of being human: personal relationships in the physical world.

Now, I’m not saying we should totally ditch texting in the recruiting process. It has its value and its place. Texting is an efficient way to make first introductions, schedule appointments, and take care of perfunctory matters. What concerns me is that recruiters have begun to rely on SMS to manage the whole process, and in doing so they’re missing out on important insights like these:

  1. Nonverbal cues: When you interview candidates over text, you don’t have access to any of the important nonverbal signals a candidate will give during an in-person interview. You’re not really evaluating how well the candidate handles the interview — you’re just evaluating how well the applicant can come up with a carefully crafted response through text.
  2. Communication skills away from the keyboard: How can you evaluate via text a person’s negotiating skills, conversational skills, or their enthusiasm (or lack thereof) for the job they are seeking? How well could they recover from a deal going bad, defuse a tense business situation, or simply make their boss laugh? None of this can be suitably judged by SMS interaction.

The applicant is also put in an awkward position. Now they have to worry about issues of text etiquette: how quickly to respond, how detailed an answer to compose, how to negotiate with a person who isn’t in the room, etc. Additionally, the candidate loses the opportunity to gauge a business’s culture when there’s no chance to visit the job site.

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Time and again, organizations herald their people as their strongest business asset. With an increased reliance on messaging apps like Slack, which has team members in the same room communicating by text, how authentic and deep can people connections in the workplace be? In the name of efficiency, interviewing by text message has eliminated yet another social engagement opportunity from our lives. As our heads are increasingly buried in our phones, we’re losing a lot of these golden opportunities to appreciate the people, the places, and the beautiful menagerie that surround us.

Cellphones can be useful tools that make our lives more convenient, productive, and safer. For example, I use mine intentionally to accomplish what I need to do for work. But with the proliferation of apps, social media feeds, and online games, these instruments have morphed from utilitarian to addictive. In making cellphones the solution to all life’s problems, we’ve actually created a rather giant one.

As technology takes over the workplace, it’s time for HR advocates to step back and assess what these so-called advances are doing to the organization. Are fundamental social skills, empathy, and creativity being lost in the rush to technocratic efficiency?

Communicating by SMS can be efficient and powerful for recruiters, but it needs to be used in moderation and not at the expense of in-person or phone interviews. These are the only places where a candidate’s personality and verbal skills can really be assessed. So, by all means, add texting to your recruitment arsenal. Just make sure you don’t become too reliant on it at the expense of your company’s new hires.

Bethany Baker is executive director of A-GAP.

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