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Being Direct

Bauer Researchers Look at Benefits of Direct Messaging Employers

Published on June 29, 2021

Photo: Yili (Kevin) Hong and Nina Huang

Online labor markets are thriving, and the elimination of most face-to-face meetings due to the pandemic has only heightened interest in digital job platforms.

Such job applicants swim in a large pool of geographically dispersed, semi-anonymous job seekers, and need to seek every advantage to obtain work. While some of the workers send a Direct Message (DM) to the prospective employers, many do not.

Research from C. T. Bauer College of Business suggests job-seekers can do three things to distinguish themselves from the rest of the invisible online hoard: DM the employer, be polite, and don’t sabotage your effort with mis-spellings.

Professor and Bauer Senior Fellow Yili (Kevin) Hong, Associate Professor and Bauer Fellow Nina Huang report their findings in "Just DM Me (Politely): Direct Messaging, Politeness, and Hiring Outcomes in Online Labor Markets," published in Information Systems Research. The other authors include Professors Jing Peng from University of Connecticut and Gord Burtch from Boston University.

“Because of the lack of interactive screening processes such as face-to-face job interviews, employers in online labor markets must contend with a great deal of uncertainty about the workers’ qualification and fitness for the job,” said Hong, a faculty member in Bauer’s Department of Decision & Information Sciences and Director of the Bauer College Ph.D. Programs.

“In our research, we found that direct messaging with a prospective employer increases a worker’s probability of being hired by 8.9 percent, especially if they lack experience for a particular job.”

While researchers aren’t certain why this is, they speculate that initiating direct messaging with a prospective employer enables workers to convey a variety of pertinent information, such as a workers’ level of interest in and availability to complete the posted job. Direct messages may also enable workers to place their skills and experience in context.

The findings - based on direct messaging activities between workers and employers across more than 470,000 job applications on a leading online labor market – are moderated by a few contingent factors, Hong said.

  • The benefits of the DM decrease if a large number of workers attempt to message the same prospective employer.
  • The benefits of direct messaging depend a great deal on the politeness of the message.
  • The beneficial effects are amplified for workers whose experience level isn’t a perfect fit for the job description, or when workers share a common language with the employer.
  • The beneficial effects weaken when the DM contains typographical errors.

Hong is an expert on digital platforms, future of work, and human-AI interaction. He was ranked #3 in the world in his academic field, based on publications in the Top 4 Management Information Systems (MIS) journals between 2016 and 2018. He has also been a research scientist for a number of tech companies, including Alibaba, Lyft, Freelancer, Magene,, Summer, and Picmonic. He has published his research in top journals such as Management Science, Information Systems Research (ISR), MIS Quarterly, Production and Operations Management, and INFORMS Journal on Computing. Hong is currently a Senior Editor of Production and Operations Management, and an Associate Editor of ISR and the Journal of the Association for Information Systems (all Tier 1 journals).

Huang’s research focuses on understanding individuals’ usage of information technology (IT) and digital artifacts and how to optimally design those IT and digital artifacts in various contexts, such as digital learning, online knowledge exchange, online healthcare, mobile applications, and digital commerce. She was awarded the Association for Information Systems (AIS) Early Career Award and serves as an Associate Editor at MIS Quarterly (Tier 1 journal).