Get Personal with Recruiting Outreach

By Roy Maurer May 31, 2017
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AUSTIN, Texas—Recruiters have an image problem. From the viral hashtag #recruiterfail to a Google search for "recruiters are" that turns up results like "recruiters are scum," there's a lot of online evidence that people are frustrated with spam from recruiters.

Taking the extra time to personalize outreach is a sure way to change that negative image, said Kerri Mills, manager of global executive recruiting for Indeed, the world's largest job search engine. "You must get creative," she told attendees at Indeed Interactive 2017, a conference for recruiting professionals. "Engineers and developers have created blogs to call out recruiters who have treated them poorly."

Mills herself was recently the target of a months-long spamming campaign from a recruiter who hadn't taken the time to know her skills or understand her likely career path.

"He first sent me a message about an entry-level recruiter role," she explained. "I don't consider myself entry-level, but OK. Then I got another one for a technical business analyst. I wrote him back asking 'What from my profile makes you think that I would be a good fit for this role?' I still haven't heard back."

Personalization Works

Personalized outreach is the only way top-quality candidates constantly being hit up with new opportunities may be motivated to respond to a recruiter's query, Mills said.

Indeed's sourcing team recently experimented with personalized messaging. "Out of the 62 messages that were sent, we [achieved] a 100-percent response rate. We had 73 percent who talked to a hiring manager, and we ended up making four offers."

One reason recruiters often don't customize their messages is because they think it takes too long, Mills said. But only the introduction needs to be personalized. She uses a standard template and only characterizes the first paragraph with personal information she has ferreted out online.

"I wish that I could personalize the whole thing every time, but it's not possible," she said. "It should only take about 3-5 minutes to create these e-mails once you know where you're most comfortable looking for the information to use."

Spending the time researching someone's online presence can pay off. As an example, Mills had targeted a product director from Facebook. "How often do you think Facebook employees get solicited? Probably a decent amount," she said. While researching him, she came across an article in The Huffington Post which featured a trip he took to North Korea. A video was embedded at the end of the article showing him in a city park leading people in an a cappella singalong of "Be Our Guest" from Beauty and the Beast.

"I see this video and I'm bawling," she said. "I was so touched by it. I sent him a message about how I felt about the article and the video."

Two days later, he wrote her back: "Kerri, this was one of the smartest, most well-appreciated e-mails I have ever received. I usually don't respond to these, but I felt compelled to here, given how much time and thought you put into personalizing this note."

Because of the connection made in that outreach message, Mills says she is sure that the individual will consider Indeed when he's looking for a new opportunity. That's because "I'm not one of those recruiters who is going to send the same e-mail out to 60 people. I treat each individual like a person." 

Tips for Crafting Recruiting Queries People Will Read

Be original. The absolute worst thing a recruiter can do is use "Job Opportunity" in the subject line, Mills said. "People get so many of those e-mails. If nothing else, I'll say 'Reaching out from sunny Austin.' Try to be creative and think of something else other than 'Want a new role?' "

Talk about accomplishments. "Who doesn't like to hear how great they are and be told something they did was noticed?" she asked. "I look at the person's resume and look for some accomplishment, whether it's an award or if they hit their sales quota, or implemented a new product or strategy at their company." You can also point out conferences they have spoken at or attended, she said.

Mention school affiliations. Mills will drop a reference to the person's alma mater in the subject line, like "Go State" or "Go OSU," before beginning her message by revealing that she's an alumna of the University of Michigan. "But if I had said 'Go Blue,' you wouldn't have opened my e-mail," she continues. "Typically people respond back; they think it's funny and it starts a conversation."

Deliver a call to action. "I will end my message with times when I'm available to chat," she said. "I feel that this is effective for people who are really busy, and the chances of them responding and picking a time for a call are greater."

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