Talking with recruiters is already stressful enough by phone—and now there’s a startup that wants to make it easier and more enticing by using the language many younger people prefer: text messages.
Canvas claims it is the world’s first text-based interviewing platform and it was founded by people who were dissatisfied with the traditional hiring process.
“This notion of ‘OK we’re picking up the phone and calling someone to screen them’—it’s just not with the times anymore,” Canvas CEO Aman Brar told Quartz about why he co-founded a platform that targets millennials and screens and recruits them over text. He has some numbers on his side. More than two-thirds of millennials reported sending and received text messages “a lot” in a 2014 Gallop poll. And in the U.K., more than three-quarters of all adults in the country own smartphones, but 25% of them aren’t using them to make calls.
For millennials, using text messages is already the messenger of choice for navigating their personal lives —including the fraught landscape of online dating— and now with text-interviewing, you can use the same emojis and abbreviated, casual tone to reply to recruiter texts as you would a first date.
But why would you want this?
The upsides to text-based interviewing
The hyperconnected younger-person market is there and ready for text-interviewing, and some Human Resources leaders believe they’re willing too, for the sake of efficiency and convenience. With their intuitive software, Canvas allows recruiters to store screening questions and helpful documents like benefits information that they can send over to interviewees at the click of their fingers. Texting buys everyone involved more time. With texting, an immediate response is not needed. Interviewee and recruiter can ask and answer questions at their convenience, with time to think over their responses.
Some may think that if you can’t handle the stress of on-the-spot questions then maybe you’re not the right candidate. But others believe that text-based interviewing is a fairer process that can reduce bias.
“At least one senior executive at Hearst has used text interviews to help to minimize bias in hiring,” HR expert Dr. John Sullivan wrote on his blog that advocated the practice. “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,” he wrote.
The goal with text interviewing is to see it as an initial interview that will screen who should get the more extensive, in-person interview. And with texting, you can end the conversation much more quickly if you realize that this candidate is not going to be a right fit and vice versa. And for companies on the hiring side, text-interviewing gives you a permanent record that you can share with managers who weren’t in the conversation.
The downsides to interviewing via text
Canvas’ idea is based on the assumption that it will make recruiters’ lives easier by letting them sift through candidates more quickly without the heavy lifting of coordinating time zones and in-person interviews.
But it’s not entirely convincing that text-message interviews are helpful for candidates. Since it only launched in October, Canvas is still new and time will tell if it gets widely adopted by industries.
Some concerns for candidates texting recruiters: there are so many social rules with writing business emails, and text messaging may compound that anxiety of whether or not you should use a period or emoji.
Then there’s the native sense of informality around texts. Does any candidate actually want to talk to a recruiter like they would talk to their friend? What’s the appropriate language or emoji to use when you don’t get the job? Texting is the lingua franca of millennials, and this demographic may show their more authentic self through it, but if it’s for a job interview it’s very likely that millennials will just adopt the same stiff approach they do for business emails. And if that’s the case, then why not just use email?
Most people are all for less formality in business communications—once they have the job. Before they get that job and before platforms like Canvas get more widely adopted, texting your recruiter will feel like a risky gamble with unknown rules and norms.