Top 10 Things to Avoid When Recruiting via Email

Everyone I know feels harassed by email which has invaded their waking and sleeping hours. —Margaret Heffernan

Screen Shot 2013-09-25 at 9.37.42 AMThe ease of finding profiles on LinkedIn has made connecting with new candidates the Mount Everest of recruiting. In-demand candidates find themselves inundated with InMails from recruiters, causing many to create junk email addresses just for InMails. In other words, most are never read. Reaching out via email is tough too but can be way more effective, if done right.

When using email as your first point of contact, the onus is on you to make sure every recruiting email you send, whether to one or one hundred recipients, is well edited, straightforward, honest, polite, and relevant to the recipient; before you hit send.

Top 10 Things to Avoid

This list has evolved overtime with input from both recruiters and candidates. Of course, there may be lots of different things that can lower your response rates, but if you get these right, you’ll be ahead:

  1. Being too vague and not providing enough detail
  2. Typos and/or getting the recipient’s name wrong
  3. People from the same firm email the same person about the same job
  4. Deceptive subject lines and ignoring unsubscribe requests
  5. Bragging about a salary too low for the candidate’s experience level
  6. Casting a mishmash of unrelated terms, just to see what sticks
  7. Sending a blanket, non-personalized form letter, aka spamming
  8. Soliciting names from the recipient when you don’t know them
  9. Assuming a passive candidate is interested in considering a new job
  10. Sending an email that is not relevant to the recipient.

Learn the Ties that Bind

When looking at recruiting members of a group, such as programmers, auditors, or nurses, look for the ties that bind them together. Search professional websites and articles for the commonalities shared among those within your audience and attune your message towards those connectors.

Programmers love to fix complex problems and build cool stuff. Big four professionals want to eventually move to a cushy job in industry with a better work/life balance and higher pay. Nurses want to go to work each day at a place where they will be valued, and where they feel like they are part of a team that really works together.

Age is another key factor that may make it easier, or harder, to craft the right message. If your audience is largely within a certain age range, for example all Generation Y, then tailoring your message is actually a bit easier as you zero in on what that group considers important. If on the other hand you are speaking to a broad range of ages, you need to adjust the style so that it relies on other common traits within that audience.

Speak to Your Audience Only

Marketers will tell you the key is to really understand the customer segment then match the message to that audience. In other words, your message needs to speak to each recipient as if the email was only intended for them, whether sent to 1 or 1,000 recipients. Once you nail down the commonalities within your audience, you can begin to tailor your messages to be far more relevant to them and thus more likely to be read and acted upon.

Vagueness is for Politicians, not Recruiters

When looking at poor response rates to a recruiting email, being too vague and not providing enough detail is often a culprit. Say who you are and why you are emailing them — at the beginning of your message. Always be straightforward, honest, and succinct. When looking at reasons why a given recruiting email failed, vagueness is often one of the reasons. Presume passive until proven otherwise.

Presume Not

As recruiters we know that everyone eventually makes a move, but timing is everything. For the sake of improving your response rates, treat every candidate as passive until they prove otherwise. Sure you will occasionally hit pay dirt and get an active candidate keen to hear more, but most recipients to your email are currently not looking. Regardless, sending an email that only gives them the option to act like an active candidate is going to flop.

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Plant Now, Harvest Later

When emailing multiple candidates, you are not recruiting as much as farming. This may seem counter intuitive to what you want now, which is candidates, to fill your current openings, but given that the recipients are more likely to be passive than active, what you are really doing is planting seeds to be harvested later.

That means that messages that indirectly get you what you want will product more candidates in the long run than direct recruiting emails, by tapping into their networks.

One of the greatest lines I’ve ever read is; “while not presuming you’re interested in a new role, I hoped you might help me with this tough search by …”

Another is, “I am working a really tough search and thought you might be able to help, if I asked nicely.”

Email: Can’t Live With It, Can’t Live Without It

The quote at the top of this post is worth keeping in mind as you write your email. Most of us do not suffer the email fool lightly. Send me a crappy recruiting email with my name spelled wrong and I would likely never open another email from that recruiter.

Your recipients are busy and skeptical about emails from people they don’t know (the sender might be a recruiter). Some messages that sound great just don’t resonate while others get amazing results. Recruiting via email is often an exercise in trial and error. You never really know how your message will be received until you hit send.

Jeff Wood has seen the recruiting profession, and the technologies used, evolve dramatically since becoming a recruiter in 1995, (when he used to fax resumes to clients). Today he is co-founder of RecruitLoot; a web startup that builds useful tools and resources to help recruiters save time, and get more hires.


7 Comments on “Top 10 Things to Avoid When Recruiting via Email

  1. Great article, I love that you’ve pointed out how crucial it is to use email as a networking tool and not necessarily for direct hiring. Spam will go in the junkbox in a second, a personalized and sincere email might just get forwarded onto a friend or colleague, or it might just stay in the back of someone’s mind – until the time for change does come about (aka, Aesop’s The Ant and the Grasshopper..)

  2. Jeff: Great post. Of course, for those of us that were trained correctly the first time, this is no epiphany. I’ve been using the “presume not” and “plant now, harvest later” ( I use different wording) methods for over 15 years.

  3. @ Jeff. Thank you. I think it is vital to make sure that a message is professional, relevant, and fairly interesting. However, since I have no guarantee that any given person will be interested, I can only spend a limited time crafting the emails. I rather resent the comments of spoiled and self-centered candidates we sometimes see here on ERE who feel that we recruiters should spend great amounts of time researching them and customizing our approach to their every whim.

    Also, I can’t work to cultivate passive candidates- I need to fill positions NOW. Except in cases like with LI (where you have to “opt out” to say you aren’t interested in a job), I need to operate where if I can find their resume and it has contact information, I’m going after them as potential active candidates.



  4. Don’t underestimate the value of the Subject Line. People get a lot of employment spam. It’s important to different your emails from the junk.

    Also, including a phone number and a link to your LinkedIn profile helps legitimize your message.

  5. Great insight to the value of email, as it is still more popular then all other means of communication by the numbers. The great thing that was taken from the article is that it can be time consuming and there are core concepts that maximize conversions.

    If you are in Recruitment and have not heard of a CRM, please research it as it will automate all of this communication with min. effort.

    Marketing is about how to increase acquisition rates and how to optimize conversions of what is acquired.

    How can you maximize capture rates and increase engagement levels with the new recruitment tools today? This can not be accomplished with any ATS… it is about building a sustainable talent asset with the tools to enhance communication. If you utilize Social and Mobile to recruit today then a private talent community is need with increasing capture rates by 200%+ and build in CRM capabilities.

    To best sum it all up: “There is an AP for that… “

  6. @ Jim: “it is about building a sustainable talent asset with the tools to enhance communication. If you utilize Social and Mobile to recruit today then a private talent community is need with increasing capture rates by 200%+ and build in CRM capabilities.”

    Could you elaborate on this, Jim? I’m not quite getting your meaning here.

    Thank you,

  7. This might seem obvious so forgive if this has already been suggested:

    In the event I see a profile/someone on LinkedIn I like, I simply call them at their place of employment instead of contacting them via LinkedIn. That person does not know me, probably already gets too many LI system inquiries already and they seem to appreciate my not clogging their LI email box by calling them instead.

    I don’t have to wait to see if they will respond and since I call prospective recruits while they are on the job anyway I see no difference between calling someone I would like to recruit for a specific search assignment and calling someone to test the water with them for a future assignment.

    I need to fill my files with ‘qualified’ candidates, what could be simpler than seeing someone who would possibly be an appropriate recruit since they are professionals within my specialty areas than to call them and suggest they stay handy in the event I may want to send them on an interview down the road.

    And, of course, many times they ‘surprise’ me by suggesting they are open to new possibilities right then.

    What a surprise….LOL!

  8. Tom Hopkins once said that ‘every “no” gets you closer to a “yes”.’ If applied to email, the principle should justify getting a complaint every now and then.

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