5 Tips for Writing Better Sourcing E-Mails

Boost your response rates with personalization, creativity

By Roy Maurer Aug 15, 2016
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Personalized outreach messages to passive candidates will return better results than generic ones, experts agree.

Tailoring the message to candidates includes establishing a real connection based on their profile and highlighting the potential growth opportunity that fits their experience.

"Initiating a conversation with a promising, passive candidate with a cold e-mail or LinkedIn InMail is tough to get right," said Christian De Pape, head of marketing at Recruiting Social, a recruiting, branding and training agency with offices in Vancouver and Los Angeles.

First, he says, you need to get candidates to actually click through to read your e-mail. "Second, you want them to get a good first impression and hopefully not totally shut you down."

The key is to "focus on starting a conversation, rather than selling them on a job," said Kristen Widman, customer success manager at LinkedIn. "I compare the initial communication to a networking event. You wouldn't go up to someone at a networking event and start rattling off requirements and ask for a resume. You would start a conversation and get to know them."

The following tips will also increase the chances that a passive candidate will open and respond to an unsolicited e-mail:

  • Use an attention-grabbing, creative subject line.
  • Keep the message brief and to the point.
  • Have a clear call to action.
  • Give candidates a chance to respond.

1. Make It Personal

Candidates are more likely to respond to e-mails when the message speaks to them personally. Addressing people by name and ensuring that the role is relevant to their experience will do much better than a generic mass e-mail.

Promising passive candidates could get multiple e-mails a week from recruiters, "and you have to be able to set yourself apart from the rest and make them feel compelled to at least respond to your e-mail," said Kerri Mills, an executive talent sourcer at job site Indeed and the 2015 SourceCon Sourcing Grand Master.

"Everyone wants to feel special, and candidates want to know that you have taken the time to look at their profile," Widman said. "Mention anything you have in common with the individual, whether it be shared connections or shared membership in a group, or [that] you went to the same university. Any commonalities you can call out will help increase your response rate."

Researching a lead before e-mailing is a must, said Arron Daniels, a Houston-based senior recruiting sourcer at grocery retailer H-E-B. "It shows the prospective candidate that you have actually taken the time to learn about them and their background, and they aren't just another InMail blast."

It's also important to highlight how the role would be an exciting move for potential candidates, backed up with information from their background and work experience.

"You want to get your candidates excited by the possibilities and their potential impact they could have in a new role," Widman said. Talking with candidates about their career path makes them feel as if the recruiter cares about their career trajectory, she says, as opposed to trying to push them into a job that would be a bad fit. 

Using templates to save time is still OK, Mills said, but she recommended adding a personalized note to every message. If individuals can tell "that you took the time to actually read their profile, they will feel more obliged to take the time to respond to you, even if they aren't interested right now."

2. Grab Their Attention

The subject line is arguably the most important part of an e-mail because it will determine whether the message gets opened at all. It should be creative and catchy.

"The subject line can be your make-or-break moment," Daniels said. "What would grab your attention? For example, there was a candidate I saw that moved to Texas from Hawaii. I incorporated that into the subject line as 'From Aloha to Howdy. ...' This person responded in less than an hour."

Experts agreed that recruiters should not include the job title or requisition ID in the subject line.

And "never, ever include the words 'job opportunity' in your subject line," Mills said. If you are targeting passive candidates, who by definition aren't job-hunting, "why would they bother opening it?"

3. Keep It Short and Sweet

Sourcing e-mails should be brief, focused and persuasive. "No one wants to read a short novel when they open up a new message," Mills said. "You have about five seconds to grab and hold their attention. If the InMail is more than a short paragraph or two, chances are they are not going to have time to read it right then, and probably won't end up coming back to it."

She said she keeps her e-mails "around 500-600 characters tops" and only shares the main reason for reaching out along with a personalized line or two and her contact information.

Sure turnoffs include too much business jargon, asking for a resume right away and including the full job description. "Link to it, sure, but don't muddle your message with a laundry list of requirements," De Pape said.

Highlight differentiators about the job rather than including the full job description, and share aspects of the company culture and benefits that are unique. "Make sure that you're showcasing the impact the role could have," Widman said. "Passive talent especially care about the impact, and not necessarily the responsibilities of a job."

4. Drive the Desired Outcome

Sourcing e-mails should create a sense of urgency and tell the person exactly what you'd like him or her to do. "Often, e-mails can have multiple calls-to-action that can be confusing for the recipient or, even worse, none at all," Widman said. "Keep it straightforward so they can easily take the next step to applying."

Mills advised never closing a message with "let me know if you are interested."

"This is an easy way out for them not to respond. I like to give the candidate a few time options to talk; that way they feel more inclined to answer my question." For example, she closes messages with "I'm available Monday between 8 and 10 a.m. EST or Tuesday 2 to 4 p.m., what time works best for you?"

5. Pick the Right Time

Consider altering the time and day sourcing e-mails are sent. Recruiters can schedule e-mails at nontraditional times such as weekends or after typical working hours.

Also realize that candidates need a chance to respond. "Let's face it, sometimes people get busy and they may be interested but forget to respond," Mills said. "Or maybe they're on the fence and decide to think about your message. When you follow up with a personalized note, this shows that you are truly interested in them and don't just send out dozens of messages to anybody," Mills said.

Daniels advises giving the prospective candidate at least two days to respond. "Don't pester them. But [after a few days] it's OK to send an ultimatum of sorts, respectfully telling the person you'll no longer be contacting them."

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