Down with the Telephone! How Email Can Improve Your Candidate Relations

Jack has always followed two general approaches when making contact with a candidate. The first contact is always a phone call to do an initial screen and “gut” assessment. The second contact, assuming there is one, is an interview. There may be a phone call or two, or even an email, to set up the interview; but that is often left to his assistant. Although new technologies have become common, Jack has not really incorporated them into his day-to-day routine. Jack says he doesn’t use email as a primary contact tool because it is too impersonal and because many senior-level candidates like the personal touch of a phone call. It is also very hard for him to assess a candidate, he says, using email. He needs to hear their voice and get a sense of how they respond to questions he asks. Experts in psychology agree that an experienced recruiter like Jack can probably get a sense of a candidate’s verbal acuity and personality from a phone call, but not much else. On the negative side, they can also most likely determine a candidate’s race and national origin, which may lead to the screening out of good candidates. No matter how hard we try, personal prejudice always colors how we regard candidates. The other problem with phone calls is that they take too much time. The average call probably takes around 25 to 30 minutes, if you connect with the candidate at all. When you don’t immediately connect, a game of “phone tag” often takes place, which wastes more time. One or two emails, combined with a screening process, can save hours of time and increase your efficiency. Research shows that almost everyone is using email. The Digital Future Report*, Surveying the Digital Future, Year Four, which was recently published by the University of Southern California, shows that more than 76% of Americans have access to the Internet and that 90% of them have email and use it. This means that almost 72% of Americans have access to both the Internet and email on a regular basis. The same report also shows a 300% increase in the use of broadband (cable and DSL) in the home since 2000. The Internet is slowly replacing television as the way we receive news and other information, and is a primary communication tool. People are clearly using the Internet as a means of job searching, as a way of communicating with friends and family, and as way to stay in touch across the miles. Telephony is important and remains a powerful communications tool, but the Internet is catching up. The fear of someone getting information about you and other privacy issues are often brought up as a reason to not use the Internet or email. Although many of the survey respondents did have some concerns over the privacy of their personal data on the Internet, that concern has steadily dropped over the three years the study has asked about it. So what does this mean for a recruiter? It means you can find, connect with, communicate with, and even screen candidates without a phone call. Organizations that have put together quality recruiting websites and that work to develop relationships are finding that more and more good candidates are coming to them through this website. When you add to the site online screening and assessment technologies, you get fewer, but much more qualified, candidates to communicate with. Websites are very popular with candidates and are the first place most serious job seekers go to learn about new positions, an organization, or a product or service. About 74% of the survey respondents felt that the data found on corporate and government websites was credible. While I have no actual to data to back me up, I believe the average recruiter has a much lower credibility when it comes to describing a position or explaining what an organization does on the phone. Technology can alert you to candidates who are exceptionally qualified by sending you an email with information about the candidate from their profile. You can then send the candidate an email, an instant message, or pick up the phone. Candidates that I speak with are not troubled at all with email, and many prefer it. They may have questions to ask to get more details about a position or they may just want to know what the status of the position is. Email can provide this with speed and clarity. There are many other communication tools that are enabled by the Internet. All of them can play a role in your recruiting process and can reduce wasted time and costs. For example, recruiters can put together a “webinar,” or seminar given over the web, for a group of interested candidates. None of them has to know the other is there. You, as a recruiter, can touch numerous candidates at the same time with information about a position, your organization, or whatever else is of interest. Or you can have all of the candidates be aware of one another and establish a session with discussion. This will give you insight into the candidates you will not get with any other method. With this tool, you can invite senior management to say a few words or you can show a short video. The possibilities are really only limited by your imagination. Emerging technologies allow candidates to self-schedule interviews and provide them up-to-date information on their status. Interviews can be conducted by video from a number of sources, including Kinko’s Copy Centers. The possibilities to begin utilizing technology to ease your workload, improve efficiency, and save costs are potentially huge. The telephone looks very 20th century, very old-fashioned and is less and less useful everyday.

*The Digital Future Report, Surveying the Digital Future, Year 4, USC Annenberg School, Center for the Digital Future, 2004.

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Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at


8 Comments on “Down with the Telephone! How Email Can Improve Your Candidate Relations

  1. I second this article which has just validated my last couple months of work. When heavily relying on e-mail contacting messages combined with technical screening questions, at times I have endured the questioning looks of the ‘phone brigade’. The bottom line is the intelligent use of this technique compresses your recruiting process. The candidates that respond are interested, informed on our corporation and have passed minimum technical screening. This results in focusing valuable time with candidates who are ready for more intense focus. A side benefit I believe is the indirect corporate branding effect on candidates. The better ones recognize your use of technology, make a mental note of your approach technique and appreciate the conservation of their time.

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  2. I enjoyed the article and embrace the technology which has made my recruiting life much more efficient over the years. I do, however, question the following statement:

    ‘Experts in psychology agree that an experienced recruiter like Jack can probably get a sense of a candidate’s verbal acuity and personality from a phone call, but not much else.’

    I place very little emphasis on unqualified statements such as this. Care to identify these ?experts? in psychology who?ve made these insights and where can I read their findings?

    Clearly email and other forms of technology have made recruiting much more efficient over the years and I dare say I am a bit of a tech enthusiast both personally and professionally. However, when the ?rubber meets the road,? actually speaking with a candidate is my preferred method of exchanging information about:
    ? What a candidate hopes to see in their next role.
    ? What they are not seeing in their current role
    ? Comp expectations.
    ? Asking for referrals when the match is not there.
    ? The nuances of a given role (which are not easily documented in a job spec by a manager).
    ? Discussions about the corp culture and etc.

    My $0.02. Technology is invaluable when it comes to recruiting and sourcing for strong candidates. It takes a back seat to an actual conversation when it comes time to qualify a candidate.


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  3. While I agree 100% with the article I would hasten to add that emails sent, whether individually or using a mass emailer to multiple candidates, should be personally addressed to the recipient. Preferably with some note that is specific to them – say knowledge of their career path or a function jointly attended, previous bosses, etc. – you get the idea. Blind emails come across like spam and often not responded to.

    Also, if you decide to send multiple emails to different potentially qualified prospects within the same company, be sure to alter the text of your messages for each person and even stagger the delivery time. While phone calls tend to have slightly different verbiage and tone when speaking to different folks, emails that arrive at the same time with the same wording could be construed as spam by the recipient’s email server or by the recipients themselves if they share the email.

    I have used the email method a number of times very effectively with hard to reach and/or longshot candidates. I always follow up my emails with a phone call to the individual after a short period of time and vice versa if I call a candidate first (I follow up with an email as well).

    Finally, keep in mind that a phone call or voice message left can be easily erased but with an email you are definitely exposed with your intentions and certainly creates a ‘trail’ that could come back to haunt you or your prospects.

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  4. I am all for being efficient with my time, and email is a great tool; I’d be lost without it! There are a few points that I’d like to make about email, in consideration of your article:

    1) Junk mail/fraud. We are bombarded on a daily basis by emails from seemingly ‘real’ people (i.e., not a company name) with ‘real’ Subject lines. Open it up: It’s another ad! Or a scam to wire transfer $30 gazillion dollars to your bank account. Not to mention the mass emails from agencies with all their jobs listed. How do you differentiate yourself? How do you get the reader to believe that you’re contacting *them*; not a plethora of people from a database?

    2) Besides the point that you made about candidates appreciating a personal touch, how do you assess hesitation in answering a qualifying question? How do you assess disinterest? How do you dig when your gut tells you that there may be some red flags to reveal or assuage? We all know that our instinct on a candidate needs to be explored, and one of the most common pitfalls in recruiting is making assumptions about a candidate’s interest, motivation, etc.

    3) The toughest and most common frustration with email is that it is virtually impossible for most people to clearly express their tone through writing. Consequently, there are misunderstandings and misinterpretations that could get that relationship off to a rocky start.

    Certainly, if I have an existing relationship with a candidate, email is a doable option for pinging them about an opportunity. I love email for correspondence on status, interview information, and so on. For me, in beginning a new relationship, nothing beats that initial call.

    Thanks for offering your point-of-view and starting this conversation!

    Sara Schmidt
    Thinknicity, LLC

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  5. From, a Viewpoint about email marketing…this is, in essence, what Kevin writes about. Think of the parallels between CRM and recruiting…

    ‘Is Strategy Missing From Your Email Marketing?
    Four ways to ensure that customers connect with your message.’

    by Kevin Burke
    Monday, September 27, 2004

    What’s your company’s email marketing strategy? Does it involve sending monthly newsletters promoting product/services? If so, you are not alone. This is the plan many businesses have adopted because it is fairly simple, it doesn’t require too much thinking, it’s flexible, and it closely mimics an organization’s marketing style that existed before email became a marketing medium. Unfortunately, using this approach results in a limited chance for it to become a significantly successful medium for the business.

    Email is a different medium from others for many reasons–just think: spam, filters, dynamic content, timely delivery, click-tracking, unsubscribe, animation, and many more. Does that sound like any other marketing medium you know? Nope. And it is rapidly changing–trying to apply yesterday’s strategy to today’s most powerful marketing medium is a colossal missed opportunity and mistake. In 1998, producing and sending an email newsletter was pretty slick stuff, and subscribers were happy to receive it, because they didn’t receive many other email messages. Today, a newsletter is routine, and people are flooded with email messages.

    For a business to maximize its email success, it needs to deliver value on a consistent basis. What is value? It can be very different for different people–what might be of value to one might be worthless to another. This is where research needs to drive strategy, and then be implemented in the email-marketing database. The best way to determine what customers want to receive from your business is to ask them. Sounds simple, but in reality most ideas are dreamed up by creative team people in a conference room, which is far from the true customer experience. The ideas that matter most to customers are discovered through talking with them about the things they like about your business, the ones they dislike, asking them how they would do it, and what would be ideal. This type of customer dialogue will lead you to the strategy that delivers value into the customer’s inbox.

    You still might want to make an email newsletter part of your communications, but make sure it includes the following:

    PERSONALIZE Include their name. Incorporate content that is relevant to them, and exclude stuff that is not. We’ve seen personalization improve click rates by more than 200 percent.

    CUSTOMIZE Allow subscribers to pick and choose different types of content. Choices will improve every email marketing performance metric (subscribe rate, open rate, click rate, conversion rate, etc.) and make your subscribers more loyal.

    MAKE IT CONSISTENT Email is a dialogue medium with a rhythm and tempo to it. Messages sent on regular days, whether it is daily, weekly, or monthly, create a better subscriber experience. Subscribers will begin to consciously and unconsciously make reviewing your messages part of their routine.

    DIFFERENTIATE Almost every industry today is highly competitive. If you just have a product, and little differentiation, you probably won’t be in business long. A quality product is just the entry fee to be in business. Same goes for an email newsletter. You must send something more than just a product to hock. Design it to provide more information than just a sales pitch and PR, but something that can help subscribers in their day or might be of interest.

    Remember, a subscriber has given your business a unique opportunity to send them an email message–make the most of it by providing them information of value and in a way that makes sense to them. If you don’t eventually they will begin ignoring all of your email messages and deem them irrelevant.

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  6. I also agree with this article and have been using e-mail as a primary (but far from being only) source for a number of years. I like how it gives me a writing sample – it also allows us to paste the responses and put into our talent tracking system for use down the line. Plus since I recruit for people in offices other than the one I work out of, I can forward the info to hiring managers which keeps our process moving along. I have had one complaint about this process, which ironically came from a HR candidate and the hiring manager told me to close them out based on their response that they thought e-mail screening was unorthodox.

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  7. I enjoyed the article and feel that it is based in truth yet the research it is based upon is a bit off.

    Back when I started in the industry I had no Computer on my desk, forget about and Email address. At the time I was recruting technical professionals for companies like Prodigy. When new candidates found out that I was not up on the latest technology, and I could not react as quickly to get them the best opportunities, then they were gone. They knew as technologists early in the game where this Email thing was headed. I ended up leaving that firm for one that was on the cutting edge with giving access to technology. So I agree with the article in that sense. .

    On the other hand, I challenge the statistics. In the Real World, I would find it hard to believe that access to the internet and an Email Address is available to nearly as many people as the research may suggest. It appears that they conducted the survey…you guessed it…… Via Email.

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  8. How funny… I just ‘joined’ the other day, and saw a posting, asking about how other recruiters manage what I call ’email trails’ of contact with candidates… but I had to submit my profile first. Then, when I tried to search for that guy who asked the question to tell him how I do it (with the understanding that ‘all email systems are not created equal’…), I couldn’t find it. I did come across this forum, tho, but before I did, I found another where people were discussing how one of the ‘now Big 4’ accounting firms sent them a threatening email – to cease & disist – the dreaded ‘ILLEGAL HEADHUNTER SPAM’…!! I’m sorry, but I just found it amusing… I mean, really… sort of like removing tags from mattresses, or (dare I mention) making copies of company directory pages at the library copier, and peering sheepishly around you, in case ‘the copier police’ are nearby…??? (anyone agree??)

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