Personalized Outreach: Yahoo’s Secret to Talent Acquisition Success

April 1, 2015

I was chatting with a colleague recently about why some recruiters seem to be total talent magnets. You know the ones I’m talking about - they have a way of getting really hot candidates to take their calls. I asked my friend (who is an extremely accomplished professional and has a killer job), “When’s the last time a recruiter impressed you enough that you took the call?” He started laughing and said, “Ironically, just last week. First time I’ve bothered to respond to a recruiter in three years - it was that good.”

Of course, I made him share the details. And now, I’m going to share them with you.

Meet Rachel – A Yahoo recruiter trained in finding superpowers

The recruiter that caught my colleague’s attention is Rachel Saunders, a recruiter, sourcer, and as her LinkedIn profile shares, a ‘superpower identifier’ who focuses on filling a variety of roles for Yahoo. I spoke to Rachel about the focus on 'superpowers' and how that impacts her recruiting strategy. She was kind enough to share the following:

1. Where does the ‘superpower’ focus come from?

Rachel: Our SVP of Talent Acquisition and Development, Sandy Gould, has trained us all to understand our primary goal is to find candidates with the superpowers needed to do the job. To succeed, we first identify what is required to exceed expectations in a role and label these skills as the superpowers needed to be potential fit. Then, we go out and proactively find candidates that have track records of success using these superpowers.

2. Why do you think you are so successful at getting top talent to talk to you?

Rachel: I come from a luxury brand background where it was ingrained in us to focus on a high-touch customer experience. When it comes to recruiting, I see candidates as my customers. I want them to have a very special experience with me, something different and better than what they normally have with other recruiters. I believe it’s important to set yourself apart in recruiting – and this is how I like to do it.

3. How do you approach that first connection with a potential candidate?

Rachel: I invest a lot of time and energy into researching candidates before contacting them. This helps me customize my email outreach in a way that differentiates me from other recruiters.

In my personal experience, the more personalized the email, the better the response rate. For example, when I send a mildly tailored email, I usually get a 25% response rate. However, when I really customize the email and show the candidate I’ve done my homework, the response rate jumps to 60-70%. More importantly, when they do respond to me, I usually get something like, “It’s so refreshing to be contacted by someone who has done their homework.” That’s important to me because it sets the tone for our conversation and gets the candidate more willing to hear about the opportunity I have in mind for them.

4. Can you give an example of how you structure a personalized email?

Rachel: I usually begin by finding something personal about the candidate that they’ve shared on a public social media profile, like a hobby or passion. I’ll then do research and find an article or resource I think they might enjoy that ties to it and share it with them. I’m naturally curious and enjoy getting to know people, so I find starting the email with something more personal helps the candidate see what kind of person I am.

Next, I get specific about their superpower. I highlight the exact skill sets I was drawn to on their profile and why. Finally, I ask if they’d be willing to have a brief call so I could learn more about their career journey. My goal is to make it clear I understand now might not be the right time, but that I’d still like to get to know them better and earn their trust in the event we are a potential fit in the future.

5. Why would you bother talking to them if they aren’t interested in the job right now?

Rachel: Top talent never switch jobs light-heartedly. They do their homework. Besides checking out our company careers page, they also research our company online in other places - like reviewing and following our LinkedIn Careers page. Like savvy shoppers, they kick the tires and look under the hood before they choose to work for you. At Yahoo, we want the best and brightest. That means starting lots of dialogs and earning the trust and respect of the talent we wish to hire. The process can take months. But, when done right, it ensures the candidate joins us with excitement and enthusiasm.

For example…

There was a female software developer we were very interested in. One of our recruiters is a self-proclaimed tech nerd who follows a lot of blogs that discuss cutting-edge projects being worked on at various companies. He saw she was involved in a technology we were using and reached out to her to learn more about her projects and to hear what she thought of the technology. While she wasn’t considering leaving her current role, the recruiter stayed in touch with her by email for two months, exchanging articles and insights.

Eventually, he invited her to come to our campus and tour our facilities to see what we were working on. She agreed. Several months later, she called him and said it was time for her to find a new role because she wanted to work on projects she cared about and had recalled the ones she saw during the tour. She was hired shortly after. It’s that kind of nurturing that helps us find and hire the top talent with the best superpowers.

6. This seems like a great strategy for management level, or tech roles, but what about for more generic positions?

Rachel: In my experience, it doesn’t matter what level of talent you are hiring for, the more personalized you can be with your outreach, the better the response rate. I’d rather spend time identifying and pursuing the right candidates then blasting out generic emails and having to pour through hundreds of applications from candidates that don’t fit. I like to work smarter, not harder.

Final thoughts

While my friend didn’t leave his job (he works for an amazing company), he’s staying in touch with Rachel and he says, "What surprised me is how a mere InMail can changed my perception of Yahoo as an employer."


Because every job is temporary. I think Rachel and Yahoo’s strategy is vital these days for recruiting success. Selling your company’s talent brand is required if you want top talent on your team – and the candidate experience is part of that sales process. Make it high-touch and customized and you too could be hiring the best of the best.


J.T. O’Donnell is Founder & CEO of CAREEREALISM Media which works with companies to help them reveal their true Talent Brands

6 steps to a better personal recruiter brand