Text-Interviewing — The Next Big Thing in Recruiting?

People love texting. In fact, texting is the most widely-used app on a smartphone, “with 97 percent of Americans using it at least once a day.” And among the age group that recruiters often target (18 – 29), 100 percent of those surveyed use texting. In addition, the odds of a tech-savvy or innovator recruiting prospect or candidate not being a frequent user of texting are near zero. Obviously, most recruiters already use texting to communicate with candidates, but for some reason, few are aware of and only a small percentage use texting as an interviewing tool.

I recommend an approach that I call “text-interviewing, which is where the two parties exchange interview questions and answers via text messaging. Now initially, text-interviewing might sound crazy, but it has several advantages over most interview approaches. It especially makes sense because of the often “almost instant” response time (90 percent of all text messages are read within three minutes) and the amazingly high percentage of text messages that actually get a response. In fact, the all-important response rate for texting is much higher than that of voice, social media, or email messaging.

The Many Benefits Associated With “Text-Interviewing”

The mobile phone by itself has many advantages for recruiters. As a result, many recruiters have justifiably learned to use it for live video and telephone interviews. But I urge recruiters and hiring managers to consider a supplementary approach, which is live or even asynchronous interview using only text. For recruiters who are always saying they want an “outside the box solution,” this text-interviewing approach has many advantages including:

  • Reduced stress means a better quality of hire because interviewees perform better — face-to-face interviews during work hours mean that the interviewee must make excuses as to why they will be absent, and having to rush to the interview can put a great deal of stress on the interviewee. And when an out-of-town interviewee must travel to the interview, they may even arrive exhausted. However because text-interviews are “remote,” they can be conducted without having to leave work, which will likely mean that the interviewee will perform better. And unlike telephone and video interviews, there is no background noise in text interviews that may distract the interviewer from hearing or understanding the answers. For international interviews, the interviewee freshness factor is even more important. Removing these three factors may actually mean that more currently employed and “in-demand” candidates will be willing to participate in your interviews. The reduced stress and the possibility of more time for the interviewer to craft the best questions and the interviewee to more thoroughly provide their best answer may also contribute to an improvement in your quality of hire.
  • A faster “time to fill in” because interviews are much easier to schedule — because most job seekers carry their mobile phone with them 24/7 during their job search, it opens the possibility of scheduling text interviewing not only during the day but also at night and on weekends. And unlike voice interviews, text interviews can’t be overheard by others (or seen by others close by). And as a result (depending on your ethical standards), these interviews can even be done during a candidate break at work. And there is no requirement that textinterviews even need to be scheduled because they can be done asynchronously on the fly, with each party completing their part whenever they have a break. Taken together, the ease of scheduling and the faster response time means that text interviews can reduce your time to fill dramatically.
  • Managers can save time by scanning the answers — busy managers can’t quickly scan through verbal answers to interview questions in a live or recorded telephone or video interview. However, because with text interviews the results are written in a narrative form, a manager if they choose can quickly scan through the answers, once again saving the hiring manager time.
  • Text interviews that are not going well can easily be ended early — when a face-to-face interview is obviously going poorly, it is difficult for the interviewer to end them early. This is because the individual has invested so much time and effort into scheduling and getting to the interview, in order to be respectful of that effort, it is often awkward for the recruiter or the manager to end them early. In face-to-face interviews, it is normal for the candidate to expect at least 30 minutes or an hour of your time. However because they are so uncommon, the interviewing candidate seldom has a fixed time expectation with text-interviews. And as a result, they are easier to abruptly end after only a few questions, once it becomes clear to the interviewer that you don’t have a desirable candidate (and vice versa).
  • The likelihood of bias is reduced — text interviewing eliminates or minimizes many factors that can lead to unconscious bias in hiring. There will likely be less bias because, with text-interviewing, you don’t see the interviewee’s face, body language, mannerisms, or voice or hear any accent. At least one senior executive at Hearst has used text interviews to help to minimize bias in hiring. The lack of distractions also allow the interviewer to be more focused on the answers provided, and the interviewee is also not distracted by any of the characteristics of the interviewer. And if the name of the interviewee is initially kept confidential, this may reduce discrimination against women and diverse individuals. Compare the diversity of candidates who were selected using text interviews, as compared to normal interviews, to measure how much better they perform.
  • There is a permanent record of the interview that can be reviewed later — the questions and the answers in text interviews are automatically recorded on the phones of both parties. This makes it possible for the interviewer to re-review the interview answers at a later time. And that also means that anyone on the hiring team who cannot be present during the initial interview can also review the interview questions and answers at any later time. This permanent record and legal documentation may also help you minimize any potential legal issues because there will be a permanent record of everything that was said or not said. Incidentally, because the entire interview is documented, the interviews of high-quality candidates who are not eventually hired can be easily forwarded to other recruiters or hiring managers who can consider them without having to go through another interview.
  • The cool factor may help to improve your employer brand image — most interview processes lack any feature that makes them memorable. So using text interviewing will certainly be considered as novel by the candidate, and some may participate in the interview simply to experience the novel practice. And it may even be considered cool because it also uses technology and the mobile platform. As more people talk about it on social media and in the press, it may help to reinforce or even build your employer brand image.
  • A lower cost per hire because they require no out-of-pocket spending or training — for most corporate users, there are no costs, new technology additions, or any need to work with a vendor when you implement text-interviewing. Because they are intuitive, they require no training and normally a simple one-page list of suggestions and things to avoid is all that is needed. With its many benefits and no out-of-pocket costs, this approach has a high ROI.
  • A contribution to sustainability — with text interviews, there is no travel, conference room space, or resources used (beyond the few electrons that are used during texting). And as a result, text interviewing is much more environmentally friendly than traditional face-to-face interviews.
  • Interview results can be assessed anywhere — because the contents of the interview remain on the phone of the hiring manager, they can carry it around with them and instantly refer to it at any time.
  • Global capabilities — because text messaging appears in a narrative form, if necessary, the answers can be provided in a different language, and later translated by using a software program. And because even the poorest parts of the world have the technology to support text messaging, there are no technical restrictions or limitations. And text messaging does not require the large bandwidth or the video camera capability that are necessary for live video interviews.

Several Variations of Text-Interviews to Consider

Some of the many possible text-interview variations are listed below.

  • Text-interviews can be live and interactive — many hiring managers enjoy the interactivity of live interviews. So one variation of text-interviewing is for the interview to be live when both parties have an available block of time. Using the live text interview model, each question is answered before another question is provided. Team text interviews are also possible using conference call features.
  • A lumping model is also available — another possible variation is similar to a questionnaire interview, where the questions are aggregated and sent all at once to the interviewee. They answer and return them all at once when they have completed all of their answers. If the recruiter or hiring manager prefers it, this model gives interviewees much more time to think about their answers before sending them back. Incidentally, when you submit the questions all at once, they tend to be the same questions, so you get more consistent interview questions across different interviewees for the same job. Unfortunately, this delayed model also provides a greater opportunity for the interviewee to research or get help on their answers.
  • Text interviews can be asynchronous  asynchronous means that time can pass between each question or each response. Under this approach, hiring managers can take their time reviewing each interview answer. And they can also at their leisure choose their next question. Both of which are an added advantage for busy hiring managers.
  • There are voice options if there are texting issues — if the hiring manager or interviewee can’t type fast on their phone, there are many “voice to text” options available. Incidentally, because text users frequently use a variety of shortened “text language” words and phrases in their messages, let the interviewee known in advance your expectation when it comes to grammar, shortened words, and OMG acronyms.

Some Additional Things to Consider

You can improve your interview documentation if you require hiring managers to archive them or to forward the text interview contents and interviewer comments to HR. If you want to provide your candidates with the look and feel of your facility and your team, you can send them a video tour as a supplement to the interview. As the first to offer this approach, your firm will develop a competitive advantage over other firms which are struggling to offer something different in the recruiting process. Survey a sample of the interviewers and interviewees in order to identify problems and to continually improve the process.

You should also look at the final hires to see if a higher percentage of them (than the average) participated in the text interviewing process.

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Final Thoughts

After literally decades of absolutely no change in interviewing, during the last five years, we have seen numerous innovative new approaches to interviewing. And in order to continue that improvement, the time is right for shifting to an “interview from anywhere” approach, where text-interviewing is one additional option. Even if you use face-to-face interviews for the final interview, consider text interviewing for at least the initial interview. This is because it has so many advantages, including a higher quality of hire, less bias, a lower cost per hire as a result of lower travel costs, a reduced environmental impact, an improved candidate experience, and a shorter time to fill. At a time when texting is all the rage, jump on the bandwagon and add it to your list of interview options.

About the Author

Dr. John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions. He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," Staffing.org called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website www.drjohnsullivan.com and on www.ERE.Net. He lives in Pacifica, California.

  • Pete Hooper

    Hi John,

    Good article, a real back to the future piece – i recall an old system we used in the early 2000s that was heavily skewed to using SMS (back when SMS was new!), and for memory it was very good, but the SMS capability of phones was somewhat primitive compared to todays smartphones. I do see hybrid instant messaging solutions as playing a big part in the immediate future – a combination of text / email / video messaging tools all operating in chronological order and feeding into the more traditional ATS systems. I have also been seeing some some creative uses for video messaging – whereby recruiters take a video of themselves or their Client to introduce a job order, and SMS to their candidates phones. A few are doing this on snapchat as well – but is limited to app users only.

    With the advent of the new tools eg whatsapp, the humble old SMS was supposed to be on the way out – but with the right message it remains the quickest way to get engagement.

  • http://www.insitusearch.com Jeff Winter

    I love to text: Its real time, convenient, and easy. I text more than any other form of communication. If you want to get ahold of me: Text.

    I also love cutting edge ideas, playing around with technology, and always looking for what’s next. I have been doing search for many years and no way do I see texting as an effective way of hiring top talent, but I do love to look at out of the box ideas, and also love a good dialogue that pushes the bounds of our profession, so I’ll address this point by point.

    Before I jump in – It’s probably helpful to explain my worldview on communication. I often talk about the communication pyramid. When you look at meaningful conversation that yields results, in person communication is always most valuable. Sure it takes more time, and it’s in your face, but there’s not better way to convey intent. Next is a phone call/video conference, followed by email, and finally texting. (I’m purposely leaving out Snap, Insta, and other “e-communication”) because well… we’re talking business, not what sprinkles were on our donut today.

    So let’s take a look at the point laid out in the post: Here we go!

    Reduced stress means a better quality of hire because interviewees perform better:

    Is this the type of employee companies want to hire? Those that can’t handle a face-to-face interaction? Don’t we want to see how employees interact under less than ideal circumstances, or at the very least – what they will be experiencing on a daily basis as an employee?

    A faster time to fill because interviews are much easier to schedule:

    If were talking scheduling – I’m totally cool with texting. I do it all the time. Texting is the perfect vehicle for logistics – But not interviewing.

    Managers can now save time by scanning the answers:

    Here too I agree, but the real question is: What is the real value of a texted answer?

    Text interviews that are not going well can easily be ended early:

    This I very much disagree with for a number of reasons. If a manager can shut down an interview via text, because its “easier to cut the cord” then we’ve got a long way to go with respect to candidate experience. Second, Does this give me permission to hang up the phone after 10 minutes vs. stick around 30 minutes for an in-person interview? Do a better job screening recruiters!

    The likelihood of bias is reduced:

    Hiring is bias. Who do we think will perform better based on what we know. We are working with people face to face everyday – In meetings, in the hallway – we should interview them as such. If the company is run via text – then text interviewing may be a viable option.

    There is a permanent record of the interview that can be reviewed later:

    Cool – totally on board with that. Documentation is necessary. I’ll still hold – what is the quality of info you are actually documenting?

    The cool factor may help to improve your employer brand image:

    Maybe. It’s an unknown. But for as many people who think it’s cool, I’d wager an equal or greater number will think the company doesn’t have time for an actual conversation and so doesn’t value hiring top talent. Pass.

    A lower cost per hire because they require no out-of-pocket spending or training:

    Meah… As long as you believe that a text interview is going to be an effective way of hiring top talent.

    A contributing to sustainability:

    Yep – as an eco-guy I love this point. It would be great. But really? You’re going to hire someone who can make an impact on your business sight unseen? Skills are one thing. How a candidate interacts with the team members on a daily basis can’t be evaluated via txt and that’s where you separate good from great!

    Interview results can be assessed anywhere:

    Sure – but that’s not anything new when compared to any halfway modern ATS.

    Global capabilities:

    See previous reply re: Interview results.

    There is a ton of inefficiency in the recruiting and hiring process and much to be improved. Texting can be a valuable tool in the recruitment process – but for logistics. “Hey what time tomorrow?” etc.. Texting for interviewing, and more importantly evaluating candidates, is fraught with danger and can actually turn off the top talent your company wants to hire.

    Interesting topic though!

  • chrisman

    At the risk of…..this seems like a really poor way of interviewing. All you are receiving are characters, no personal interaction, tone, facial expressions, it’s much more than the ability to type characters quickly. Fad that is doomed to fail in MHO