Speaking with Job Candidates: How to Adopt the Right Tone of Voice

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Formal or casual? Funny or all-business? Here’s how to make sure you adopt the right tone of voice to connect with every candidate you’re recruiting.

Man talking on the phone while wearing earbuds and looking at a laptop.

Photo: Adobe Stock

Understanding tone is a great way to connect with your candidates. It’s important to listen to them and let them feel comfortable. You’re guiding them through a major decision in life and they should feel at ease.

Tone also plays a huge role in determining how candidates interpret what you say. According to Professor Albert Mehrabian’s famous and often-cited research, words only account for seven percent of the impact a message imparts on the person who hears it; tone of voice accounts for 38 percent, and body language accounts for 58 percent. Of course, most of our communication with candidates happens through email or over the phone, so there is no body language – just words and tone. In other words, the tone you use matters a whole lot.

This advice will help you understand how to address your candidates using the most relatable tone of voice through the recruitment process, by looking at the signs, prepping yourself, and, above all, trusting your gut instincts:

Before calling

Check their social media. Do your research on the candidate. Check out their social presence. Do they include jokes on their LinkedIn profile? Are their Facebook and Instagram profiles public or private? By performing basic social media research, you learn more about the candidate and can prep yourself for your call. You may even find a speaking point to bring up and use to connect with the candidate!

Once, on a candidate’s social media profile, I noticed that the person was a big Elvis Presley fan. I decided to incorporate song titles into my outreach email message. I got an amazing response back; the candidate laughed and was immediately comfortable chatting with me candidly.

Screenshot of Recruiting Social recruiter Lara Pinto’s LinkedIn Summary.

As you can see from my LinkedIn profile, dogs, travel, and food are all great ways topics to bring up when you’re on the phone with me.

Get clues from their emails. Before hopping onto a call, you can also gauge how your conversation will go by the emails you’ve likely sent back and forth beforehand. How did the candidate greet you? Did you get a “Dear Sir/Madam,” or, “Hey John! How’s it going?” It’s important to consider the details of the email. Did the candidate use proper grammar and punctuation, or have they written in a casual manner?

Take a hint from emojis. Emojis have become increasingly popular, even in work-related emails. When your candidate reached out, did they use any of the little smileys or symbols? This can indicate that they want a casual conversation, and lets you know you can keep things lighthearted.

I had a candidate once who tried to communicate with my primarily with emojis and minimal words. The messages were tough to decipher, but when I did the result was worth it, and definitely a talking point for our call. It also helped that I was looking for a creative copywriter – bonus points to this candidate for getting my attention! ?

Screenshot of a recruitment-related email using an emoji.

If the candidate uses emojis, then I know it’s okay for me to use them, too, along with a more casual tone of conversation.

On the phone

Listen to the greeting. After the initial emails and research, it’s time for the phone call. How did the candidate answer the phone? Did you get a, “Good afternoon, this is John speaking,” or a, “Hey it’s John.” Let the candidate set the tone; it is your job to make them feel comfortable through the recruitment process and not let them feel pressured or pigeon-holed into taking the role. You can also test the boundaries a little by trying out a few soft jokes. See how the candidate responds; a funny quip may loosen them up a bit, or they may not be receptive. In either outcome, you can gauge how to proceed for the rest of the call.

Roll with the surprises. You may have done all your research on the candidate, but when you hop onto that call they are a completely different person. My advice? Go with it! Embrace the element of surprise! Communication is about being able to adapt to others.

Once, I had a candidate with an eccentric personality: the person’s profiles and portfolio were witty, their pictures portrayed an extrovert, and their LinkedIn offered comic relief. After exchanging a few emails back and forth, I gave the candidate a call. I was completely caught off guard when someone very timid and shy answered. I tried to make them feel comfortable by referencing our emails, but did not get a bite back. So, it was time to change up my tone. I polished up my language, and tried my best to make sure the candidate felt at ease communicating with me – both on the phone and by email.


Lara Pinto, Vancouver-based recruiter at Recruiting Social
About the author

Lara Pinto is a recruiter at Recruiting Social. Connect with her on LinkedIn.


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