How do People Like to be Contacted by Recruiters? by @GlenCathey

Image Credit: Scott Knudsen

Have you ever wondered how the potential candidates you reach out to on a regular basis actually prefer to be initially contacted? Would you like to know how they really feel about receiving emails, LinkedIn InMails, phone calls, Twitter replies, Facebook messages/comments, and text messages from recruiters?

I’ve compiled a number of surveys that provide significant insight into how people like to be contacted by recruiters, and the results might surprise you.

Stack Overflow’s annual Developer Hiring Landscape survey is quite powerful because it is backed by an impressive sample size of 26,086 responses with global representation from 157 countries. I know, I know – some of you don’t recruit software engineers, but I think the results of Stack Overflow’s survey are likely representative of any in-demand talent pool, I.T. or otherwise.

Take a look for yourself:


Email is Preferred, LinkedIn Liked

Unsurprisingly, email tops the charts for “great” as a way to hear about new job opportunities.

However, what many might find surprising is that LinkedIn InMails aren’t hated much as some would have you believe, and actually have pretty strong ratings for “great” and “tolerate.”

Stack Overflow didn’t publish the percentages, but I’d guess that less than 30% of the 26,086 survey respondents claimed they didn’t have a LinkedIn account – this means that over 70% do. Keep in mind these are software engineers from over 150 countries. I often hear from the LinkedIn-bashing bandwagon riders that software engineers aren’t on LinkedIn. Stack Overflow’s survey data tells an entirely different story.

Also of interest is that the number of people claiming to have a Facebook account was only slightly higher than the number of people who claim to have a LinkedIn account – they’re almost equal.

Phone Calls, Facebook and Twitter Hated Most

I have to admit I was surprised by the fact that developers hated being called about as much as they hate being pinged on Facebook about new job opportunities. However, it still looks as if about 25% of the respondents said the phone was “great,” and over 50% claim that receiving a phone call from a recruiter was either “great” or tolerated.

As you can see, it appears that about 33% of developers claim they don’t have a Twitter account, which is still pretty strong representation on Twitter in my opinion considering the sample size and the massively global reach of the survey.

While the survey results clearly show that a large percentage of people hate being contacted through Facebook about new job opportunities, I know many people who successfully leverage Facebook to reach out to potential candidates. If I had to guess, I would say most people using Facebook to contact people in their target talent pool are probably not doing a very good job in their initial approach and messaging which produces not only a lack of response, but also a negative sentiment towards being approached unsolicited on Facebook.

I am not sure why so many developers would hate being contacted by recruiters on Twitter given that Twitter is a very public/open platform, and I would not think many people would think of Twitter as a “private” place like many people likely feel about Facebook. Do you have any thoughts on this?

What about Text Messaging?

We all know that text messages have a ridiculously high open rate, and I’ve been in some spirited online debates over text messaging people as a first point of contact from sourcers/recruiters. What better way to bolster my opinions than provide some data to back it up?

SIA’s 2015 Temporary Worker Survey asked participants to compare how they feel about text messaging vs. email and phone calls as a preferred method of communication about jobs. You have to be a corporate member to review the report, but I will briefly summarize the results here: In short, less than 10% of survey respondents said text messaging was their preferred method of communication about jobs, and that percentage steadily decreased as compensation increased, to a mere 1% for people making over $60/hour.

Okay, but surely younger generations prefer text messaging, right?


SIA found that less than 10% of people aged <25 to 65 preferred text messaging, with a variance of only 2% between the <25 and 55-65 age groups.

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Okay, so maybe people aren’t crazy about receiving text messages as an initial outreach from recruiters. What about using text messaging for following up with candidates?

Software Advice’s 2015 text messaging report found that people prefer emails and phone calls to text messaging, even for scheduling interviews and following up. Similar to SIA, they also found that only 7% of people surveyed preferred text messaging for initial outreach from a recruiter. This is especially telling given that Software Advice’s methodology involved screening their sample to only include respondents who were currently looking for a job. I feel it’s safe to assume that for those who aren’t currently looking for a job, fewer than 7% would prefer receiving an unsolicited text message from a recruiter.


Also of interest is that 32% – 37% of the survey respondents aged 18 – 54 felt that using text messaging in recruitment was unprofessional. Check out the full findings of the survey here.

Final Thoughts

LinkedIn’s 2015 Global Recruiting Trends Survey found that 75% of people aren’t looking to make a change from their current employer, but most of these folks are open to talking to a recruiter and would consider moving jobs.

Even if you don’t recruit software engineers, you’re probably aware that they are very difficult to recruit because they are so highly in demand. However, you might be surprised to know that Stack Overflow’s survey of over 26,000 software engineers around the world found that 59% are open to new job opportunities, and 69% would consider moving jobs.

This means that the majority of some of the most in-demand talent in the world is open to making a change.

So why are they so hard to engage?

First, you may be using methods to contact them that they hate. See above.

Second, your messaging may not be as good as you think. If a highly in-demand person who isn’t actively looking for a new job receives 10-20 (or more!) messages from recruiters every day, why would they respond 1) at all, and 2) to you specifically out of all the others? If your messaging strategy effectively addresses and answers both of those questions, you’re in good shape.

Lastly, I would not use the above data to suggest you should never call someone because surveys show most people prefer email, or that you should not use Facebook or Twitter to reach out to potential candidates. The reality is, beyond the safety net of email, you never know what any particular person’s preferences are for being contacted (phone, Facebook, etc.), and using the phone and social media can be a great way to humanize you, allowing you to stand out from faceless “just another recruiter” status to a real person who has earned a response.

image credit: Scott Knudsen

With more than 20 years of experience in recruiting, Glen Cathey is a globally recognized sourcing and recruiting leader, blogger ( and corporate/keynote speaker (9X LinkedIn, 9X SourceCon, 3X Talent42, 2X SOSUEU,, PwC, Deloitte, Intel, Booz Allen, Enterprise Holdings, AstraZeneca…).

Glen currently serves as a Global Head of Digital Strategy and Innovation for Randstad, reporting into the Netherlands, focusing on data-driven recruitment, AI and automation.  Over the course of his career, Glen has been responsible for talent acquisition training, process, technology, analytics and innovation strategies for I.T. staffing and RPO firms with over 100,000 hires annually, and he's hired, trained, developed and led large local, national, global and centralized sourcing and recruiting teams, including National Recruiting Centers with over 300 associates.

He has earned a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology from the University of Maryland at College Park and is passionate about people, process (Lean) data and analytics, AI and automation, strategy and innovation, leadership and performance.



19 Comments on “How do People Like to be Contacted by Recruiters? by @GlenCathey

  1. Wonderful post – like the abbreviated style Glen.

    The challenge of recruiting is no longer finding candidates – it is getting them to talk to you. Indeed, as sourcing becomes increasingly de-skilled, sourcers are having to pivot back to being full stack recruiters and develop their game in outreach and messaging.

    Instinctively I agree with many of the findings of this post. The phone call as first contact is over. Email is preferred – and the hard truth is – because it can be safely ignored. But it is missing some important vectors which need to be discussed before even tentative conclusions can be reached

    If I may introduce them here – these are a) content b) identity and c) timing.

    A) What you write is important, especially if you go with email. Subject line? Critical for open rates. Ask any professional marketer and they will tell you that the if you achieve an open rate of over 5% off a cold email, you’re very doing well indeed. Message length, degree of customisation, tone – of which are super important. We’re doing our own research into messaging – lessons from the 500 employers who have messaged software developers on Workshape – and we’ll be talking about message length down to the character count. We’ll aim to publish this later this week and it should be a useful complement to this post.

    B) Who is doing the writing – perhaps even more important. CEO / Founder / CTO doing the messaging? You have a much higher change of engagement than if you were a recruiter. The identity of the sender is often enough for the receiver to make his / her judgement whether the email is worth reading. I suspect this is what people like Lars Schmidt, Will Staney and others understand very well – that the role of the internal recruiter may not be to primarily ‘recruit’ anymore but to move the culture of the company as a whole into a ‘recruiting posture’. Something people in-function need to do. Recruiters become the co-ordinators of the doing, rarely the sole actual do-er. Because your ability to do so is paradoxically hamstrung by who you are.

    Unfortunately, agency recruiters have different challenges. To the in-demand candidate, they rank alongside every other salesman as the lowest of the low, just above flotspam I’m afraid. The fault isn’t of the individual agent – its simply the volume of noise generated by the recruitment industry as a whole which has made the labour market (caveat: I refer to high demand labour market here i/e software developers) defensive and even hostile to recruitment contact. Don’t believe me? Just type in “No Recruiters” into LinkedIn’s search input field and read some of the exasperated copy.

    C) When you send it – may save you. Understanding the rhythm of your target market’s work day is important. Developers are increasingly working in agile teams. That means that do Stand up at 10 or 11 every day. Software engineers are also – guess what – highly literate, ‘always on’ users of computers. So timing your email might increase your open rate, even if you decide to do it at times which don’t make traditional sense. Hint: try Sunday evening.

    Anyway, this comment is longer than Glen’s post itself, so I’ll stop here

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful response Hung – I’m looking forward to what you can share from your Workshape efforts!

      I’ll be speaking at #SOSUEU about effective messaging and have some fun things to share regarding subject lines, tone, approach and content that work well (ahem) even for agency recruiters. 🙂

    2. Nice post, couple of good points there.
      I would just point out that in my opinion sourcers are quite far from marketers. And sourcers who confused their roles with marketers are exactly the reason of the volume of noise you mention in point B.
      Sure they both do use such tools as an e-mail to reach the potential ‘Client’. However, marketers have much more limited data and much higher rate of uncertainty whether the person might be interested or not.
      This is why I would expect much higher open rate from sourcers. I would say 50% of answers is a healthy rate, which would mean the open rate is around 80% or more.
      Marketer can aim at specific groups, but in recruitment world it would mean that we InMail all Software Engineers within 100km from workplace. Surely, in such case 5% of open rate typical for marketing activity is really a lot.
      Just to sum up, if recruiters / sourcers do not want to be treated as monkeys who can only fit triangles to triangles, then they should definitely move on to a partnership level, where you know the market and deeply analyse the ‘Client’ before making a contact. In return you can surely expect not being ignored.

  2. Silly article –
    1) Ofcourse Stackoverflow will say that there message gets the best results…duh
    2) SIA – is the “staffing” industry survey. Who the heck wants to get a text from a bunch of agencies with low paid so called “sourcers” sending bulk emails and texts.
    3) LinkedIn survey – Another joke here. Ofcourse everyone is passive here including the 375 “Harry Potter” as of my writing.
    Your last para – That is it. You nailed that one.

    1. gobalrules,
      Thanks for reading! 🙂

      1) Regular old emails were ranked higher than Stack Overflow messages, but of course not surprised that SO users would rank SO messaging over other social platforms
      2) SIA’s survey didn’t isolate people only being contacted by agency recruiters – not sure if that’s even possible
      3) I sense you’re not a LinkedIn fan, which is fine, but their active/passive stats closely mirror almost every other source of active/passive split data. Not sure about the job seeking status of the 375 Harry Potters, but many of them look like real people, and the fake ones likely did not respond to the LinkedIn survey. 🙂

      Thanks re: my last paragraph. Just because people don’t prefer to be contacted by phone, Facebook or text messaging, doesn’t mean it doesn’t work.

      What do you think about the relatively low preference for text messaging, even for applicant/interview process follow up?

      1. I am sure a LinkedIn fan, its a great success story. This is a co when started had no vision and no idea where they are going but grabbed and moved in all the right direction but a survey from them? Now that’s a joke.
        Text messaging costs money and the reason its more widely used in UK for interviewing. Now saying that, I know few Big 4 in US (Deloitte/EY/KPMG/PwC) are using texting to confirm candidates for the interview but not using for their senior hires. They have been using it for few years now.I still don’t see them using for application as its a long process. Its still not easy to fill a form even via a smart phone but to do click to say I will show up for a interview works.

  3. I’m looking at this and thinking that most people would have predicted the results of this survey. Therefore, it doesn’t receive a “thought leadership” badge. Nothing “aha” about the results.

    1. Thanks for weighing in Craig. I actually referenced 3 separate surveys, and although most of the results were in line with what I would have guessed too, 1) some folks believe text messaging is a well-received and desired method of communication in recruitment, especially with younger age brackets and lower compensation ranges, and the data does not support those beliefs, 2) there’s a strong sentiment in the recruiting community that software engineers aren’t on LinkedIn and that InMails are not well received, and again the data does not seem to support those views, and 3) I’ll consume any “voice of the candidate” data/information I can find, whether it jibes with my thoughts or not, so I figured I would consolidate and share the information for others. Not looking for a “thought leadership” badge, just looking to share information.

  4. I think that an email detailing the the job is a great way and i am not surprised it is on the first place. An email or a message gives you the time to read all the details throughly. Great post!

  5. An interesting post and made me think. I can understand that people may want to be contacted by email/inmail etc but as a quality recruiter needs to understand you and your aspirations to be able to put you forward for the correct role. And you can’t do that without talking to someone. Without that understanding candidates risk being bombarded with more irrelevant roles via email

  6. Just another note on text messaging candidates: I have found that I get an extremely high response rate to texts (and candidates even seem to prefer it) after I have already made contact with candidates, but yeah — for initial contact it yields a very low response %.

  7. I guess I agree with Mr. Lee to a large degree. But I want to add my 2 cents worth as well.

    As a true recruiter I am not concerned with how a candidate feels about how I approach him/her. What I want is a response. The facts are if I can talk to a candidate, I can get that candidate interested in a job better than 80% of the time. I do not have that kind of luck with emails.

    So while I will continue to use both LINKEDIN Mail and email, my main contact method will continue to be the good old phone.

    Let’s face it folks, people answer the phone when it rings. How many times have you been in a store with money in your hands and had the clerk stop the transaction to answer the phone? enough said!

    1. Hi Jay,

      If you don’t care how I feel when you approach me, I’m going to drop you like a hot potato as soon as I find out. The arrogant shtick might work on someone unemployed, but you need me more than I need you and I know it.

      1. Hi Fraternite.
        IMHO There is a difference between caring about how you feel about the method of contact, and the message and what I can do for you and your career and family. The discussion is about the former,

        I care greatly about the later, that is why I have been pretty successful in the headhunting business for a;most 15 years.

        I am an engineer with 20+ years as a hands on engineer who has come over to the dark side, I understand what my candidates need and want because I ahve been there and done that.

        So please do not misunderstand what I am saying here Fraternite, and everyone else.

  8. I always love these posts! In my experience, I’ve had great success with Twitter recruiting but mainly in the Creative market. Dev’s & Designers seem to respond the best!

  9. Great post! One clarification question; when referencing an “email” is that their personal email address or their work email address? As a recruiter, a lot of times all I have is their work address… Wondering if that is received the same as an email to their personal account.

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