Back to basics: how to write a recruiting email

New sourcing tools, social media recruiting and employee referral programs make it easier to source interesting candidates than ever before. But, finding good people is only the first step. Getting them interested is the second, harder challenge. To succeed, you need excellent communication skills, starting with a compelling recruiting email.

What to write

Research first

Your sourcing strategy should begin long before you decide to write a recruiting email subject line. You could look into your pool of past, qualified candidates, use social media recruiting and ask your current employees for referrals. No matter how you first find a potential candidate, it’s a good idea to gather as much information about them as you can, before you decide to get in touch.

(When researching EU candidates, please refer to guidance on using social media for recruiting and collecting candidate information as per the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR.)

It’s best not to rely on the first thing you discover about a candidate (for example, a project on GitHub). Most recruiters will start and end there. You can differentiate your recruiting email by digging a little deeper. What was their contribution to that specific project? How is it related to their overall background of the job you’re sourcing for? And what skills do they demonstrate that are relevant to your open position’s duties? Answering these questions will require some background research and cross-referencing. But ultimately, research pays off, even if it seems simple:

Thorough research can help you avoid communicating with someone who isn’t a good fit (for example, a past candidate who has gone through a career change and is currently working on something totally different.) By researching before outreach, you can picture your candidate at your company and get an idea of whether they match your requirements and whether they would be a good ‘culture add.’ And, just as importantly, the more research you do, the more personalized your message will be.

Start typing

As with any writing assignment, thinking from the reader’s perspective is a good place to start. What would you want to know if you were receiving a recruiting email? What would spark (and keep) your interest? What would leave a good impression?

First of all, it’s a good idea to introduce yourself and your company and explain how you found out about your recipient. If you’re writing to a referral, mention your mutual connection. And, if you met in-person at an event, remind them. If they applied to another role at your company in the past, mention how the new position seems like a better fit. Or, if you’ve never met them before, but their tweets caught your eye, tell them that’s why you’re contacting them. The more transparent you are about how you found them, the better.

Now it’s time to focus on your candidate and the reasons why you decided to send them an email. Let them know about your job opening – don’t leave it vague. Writing something like “we have a new job opportunity that I think you’ll find interesting” sounds suspiciously vague – it’s best to add a link to a job description, or, at the very least, mention an official job title and include a short, clear description of the role and seniority level. Otherwise, people probably won’t bother to reply to you.

The key to a successful recruiting email is pointing out what your candidate has to gain. If their skill set is in high demand on the job market, they probably receive a lot of recruiting emails. To make your email stand out, you should try something more specific and creative than ‘It’s a great opportunity for a web designer to develop and work in an exciting environment.’ If you want your candidate to consider your job, or at least reply to you, you’ve got to give them a good reason. Your previous research will help you here. Draw your candidate’s attention with an upcoming project or campaign that they’ll probably find interesting, based on their background and field of expertise.

Our team is preparing to launch a new mobile application. Based on your work on [X app/project], I think your experience would be very relevant.

Your email will be incomplete without a clear ‘call to action.’ Even if you write a pleasant, intriguing message, your candidate won’t take the initiative to schedule next steps; that’s your job. Don’t just ask them to send over a resume or apply for your job opening, if it’s the first time you communicate. You want to initiate a dialogue, so it’s best to suggest a specific time you could schedule a call for, or ask for some clarifications on a piece of work they published.

Finish your email by thanking your candidate for their time. You don’t have to sound too formal, but showing some appreciation for people’s personal time is usually a nice touch. There’s no need to be apologetic, though. If you’ve done your research properly, then it’s probably in your candidate’s best interest to see what you have to say. If this candidate is a European resident, you should also link to your privacy notice to comply with GDPR.

How to write a recruitment email

The number one rule you should follow when crafting your first recruiting emails is that it’s an email – not a letter. That said, you should opt for a short, but professional message. Forget super formal structures and letter formats (e.g. including your physical address.) Your email signature contains all contact information your recipient might need. Strict language also tends to be off-putting. You want to keep your recipient’s attention and prompt them to send a reply.

It’s best to go for a casual tone. Start your email with “Hi / Hello [candidate’s first name].” There’s a difference between casual and relaxed when it comes to your first communication. “Hey, Rob! How are you?” would be a good first line when writing to a friend, but slightly inappropriate when you don’t personally know your recipient. Before making any assumptions, use their full name (‘Robert’ in this example) and wait to see how they sign-off in their reply email, before abbreviating their name. You should also avoid emojis and use exclamation points sparingly, if you want to sound professional.

Most people read their emails on their smartphones, on the go. So, make your email easy to read. Get straight to the point and avoid anything that could be discussed later on. Show you respect your reader’s time: Include all important information (who you are, why you’re sending an email, why it’s important to your recipient and what you’re asking them to do next) in a format that takes less than one minute to read. If you’re sending your email from a mobile device, you also might want to double-check your signature settings. There’s usually a default mobile signature that says something like ‘Sent from my [mobile device]’ or ‘Get Outlook for iOS.’ This could mislead your recipient into thinking that you’re just sending a quick message while waiting in a queue. It’s best to turn this setting off to make your email look more professional.

RelatedWhat makes candidates respond to recruiting emails?

There’s a reason recruiting emails are also known as cold emails. ‘Cold’ as in impersonal, bulk, aggressive. The differentiating factor that will make your email ‘warmer’ is personalization. Your message should make it crystal clear to your potential candidate that you’re sending this email to them, specifically. Don’t write something generic that you could easily send to anyone with a similar skill set, like “I am impressed by your background in sales.” Instead, you could comment on things you find interesting about their background – things that apply to them individually, like their personal blog, their specific industry experience, a panel they spoke at or a side project they devote time to. By pointing out your candidates’ work, you’ll show them that you’re interested in more than just filling a job. To stand out from your competition and keep your candidates intrigued, try to find out what would be interesting and challenging to them. A flexible work schedule might sound like a given for someone working at a startup, but a vacation bonus could be a more tempting and fresh idea. Use some templates for inspiration and then craft your emails for each candidate individually.

Final touch

When you’ve finished writing, proofread your email for typos. Nothing screams ‘rushed’ more than misspelling your recipient’s name. And, if you choose to ‘copy and paste’ their name (to be on the safe side) – make sure all the font sizes and styles in your emails match up – because mismatched text styles are another tell-tale sign of a rushed email.

Also, check your language again to spot jargon phrases that could be off-putting. A ‘rock star developer’ or a ‘ninja engineer’ are just buzzwords that don’t really explain what you’re looking for or why you decided to reach out to a specific candidate. Simplify your phrasing and make your writing as clear as possible. You could ask a co-worker (or, better yet, the hiring manager) to take a look at your email, if you have doubts about industry-specific terms. There are also a lot of useful tools that can help you improve your writing by highlighting spelling errors, grammar mistakes, common buzzwords and calculating your email’s readability.

Finally, before hitting ‘send’, make sure your email is a natural read. You’re writing to real people so your message should feel like a casual conversation. If there’s something you wouldn’t say to someone in person, it’s best to delete it.

And remember: Rejection happens. It doesn’t mean you should stop sending recruiting emails if your candidates don’t reply immediately. In some cases, it’s simply because of ‘bad timing’ or a spam filter setting. Try to follow-up a few days later to check if your candidate received your email. You could also send a second and third email or try to communicate via another channel before ruling a candidate out, but don’t overdo it. Sometimes, silence just means ‘no.’ Email management tools and applications (like followup.cc, rebump.cc and boomeranggmail.com) can help you organize your passive candidate follow-up strategy. Just experiment with different styles, measure your results and find the approach that works best for you. If you’re still hesitating to click ‘send’, take an email IQ test to make sure you’re writing the best recruiting emails possible.

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