This Recruiting Leader Swears by 7 Email Tactics to Grab Candidates' Attention

April 26, 2018

Jeremy Schmidt had found the “golden ticket” of recruiting. As the former Director of Recruiting at a young tech company, Care Otter, he got to build a superstar team from scratch—no rules, no set processes, and a blank check to help him find the best of the best.

Of course, there was a catch—more than one, actually.  

First, Care Otter’s parent company wanted to keep their product under wraps so their competition wouldn’t know what they were building. That meant Jeremy couldn’t rely on marketing, employer branding, or even job postings to boost his efforts.

Second, Care Otter’s headquarters are located in a tiny Illinois town, in what Jeremy lovingly calls “Sili-Corn Valley.” There’s next to zero tech talent in the area, and it can be tough to convince coastal developers to relocate to the cornfields.

But Jeremy knew he had one weapon in his arsenal that he could always rely on: what he calls his “bomb-ass” emails.

At Talent Connect 2017, Jeremy shared his seven tips for crafting engaging emails that speak to candidates’ wishes in order to grab their attention (and get them to respond). Here they are:

1. Entice candidates by calling out the things they’re looking for in a job

According to Jeremy, one of the most basic mistakes that recruiters make is to focus their candidate messages on the role they need to fill—and the characteristics they’re looking for in a stellar candidate. While that might seem sensible, it can result in boring, vanilla emails that are all about you—the recruiter—without any mention of the candidate’s wish list.

It looks something like the message below—here’s what not to do (note: the graphic text on the left is the subject line):

Instead, your next step should be to put yourself in their shoes. Try to figure out what they’re really looking for in their careers so that your messages are tailored to their needs and desires, not yours.

Consider this actual email that Jeremy sent to talented developers:

From its attention-grabbing subject line (“I’m holding your dream job hostage”) to its focus on the candidate’s desires—rather than CareOtter’s or Jeremy’s—this creative email led to extremely high response rates for some of the hardest roles the company had to fill.

“If you make it about the candidate, they are much more likely to respond,” says Jeremy. “Even if they’re not looking for a job, you can start a conversation.”

2. Use humor in your subject lines and emails to pique candidates’ interest

Humor is like a magic powder that turns awkward, obnoxious, or uncomfortable situations into an opportunity for real, human connection. Don’t be afraid to use it in your own messaging, even if the jokes are a bit on the corny side. If you can make a candidate laugh with just your subject line, your response rates are going to shoot way up.

For example, Jeremy never gets tired of a classic Chuck Norris joke:

Based on the high response rate he’s gotten with this email template, it seems candidates don’t get tired of corny jokes, either. Besides increasing open rates, this email accomplishes three huge goals for every message:

  • It shows that Care Otter is not just a faceless company, but a team with a real personality.
  • It provides a specific glimpse into the exciting work their team is doing.
  • It establishes credibility with a link to a video Microsoft posted about Care Otter’s work.

But for Jeremy, there’s another great reason to go with the humorous option. “The best part?” he says. “All the Chuck Norris jokes I get back from the candidates.”

3. Don’t be afraid to admit to your weaknesses and ask candidates for help

In business as in life, most people want to be helpful. When your company’s looking to fill a role, it’s because they need someone else’s help to move their mission to the next stage—and admitting that to candidates can go a long way.

For example, here’s an email written and sent by Jeremy, which practically pleads for the candidate’s help:

Jeremy’s response rate for this particular message was almost 100%. He believes that’s because he openly admitted that he has no experience in this particular area—social media and marketing—and that he needed the help of a talented expert.

A couple of other semi-sneaky tactics made this particular message a winner. First, Jeremy directly called out Care Otter’s huge audience of 11 million users—a juicy, attractive number for a marketer who will be generating content and creative ideas for that audience.

Second, he included the original message from the hiring manager in his email to the candidate. Not only does this show the candidate that the hiring manager knows what they’re looking for—which, as any experienced recruiter knows, is not always the case—but it also indicates that they’d be working for an understanding, helpful boss.

4. Research your competitor’s weaknesses so that you can use them in your messaging

For recruiters, knowing your competition’s weaknesses is just as important as knowing your own company’s strengths. Just as you might use employee surveys and online employee reviews to measure your own performance, you can also read through employee reviews of your competitors to get an inside look at what passive candidates don’t like about their current employers—then tailor your pitch to address those weaknesses.

When Jeremy was hiring engineers, he had his team research the most common “cons” cited by employees working for their competitors. He noted patterns—for example, many didn’t see a path to a promotion at their existing jobs.

He then asked Care Otter employees what they liked most about their jobs and used their responses in his emails, including the ability to “thrive creatively and professionally” and opportunities for “career advancement.”

The messages touched a nerve and led to tons of responses.

5. Take advantage of mutual connections to increase your response rate

One of the most effective ways to bump up your response rates is to leverage a connection between the candidate and someone at your company.

If you notice a mutual connection on LinkedIn or other professional sites, it’s always a good idea to have that team member send out the message, rather than simply mentioning them in your own email—you can even compose the message for them. When Jeremy sends messages to candidates through a mutual friend or colleague, his response rate is close to 100%.

6. When a candidate isn’t responding, think outside the box

Sometimes a candidate simply won’t respond, even after you’ve sent them two, three, or seven great messages. Many recruiters give up at this point—but that’s a mistake in Jeremy’s eyes. When a candidate won’t bite, it’s simply a sign that you need to get more creative.

In fact, Jeremy has been known to send a funny, silly poem to the most evasive candidates. Like his Chuck Norris jokes, the unexpected goofiness gives candidates a sense of his team’s personality. Plus, if you go a step further and personalize those couplets, most candidates will feel compelled to reply, if only to show their appreciation for your creativity.

“I mean, come on,” says Jeremy. “Who isn’t going to respond to the recruiter that sends them a poem?”

Of course, you don’t actually have to go all William Shakespeare to get a candidate’s attention. The idea is to tap into your right brain and think up an original, individualized message that the reader simply can’t ignore. Even if they’re not interested in the job, you’ll kick off a conversation and start a relationship. Then, when they’re ready for a change, you’ll be their first call—all because of that funny, unforgettable email.

7. It’s alright to be persistent when a candidate has their walls up

Top talent is used to being inundated with messages from recruiters, so their default reaction is often simply to ignore your messages.

“Candidates have steel walls up to keep the bad recruiters out,” says Jeremy. To get past these barriers, a little persistence goes a long way.

In fact, one of Jeremy’s team members recently sent out their ninth message to an unresponsive candidate. The talent finally responded and ended up joining the team at Care Otter.

He’ll even take this strategy a step further with what he calls “light stalking.” After sourcing a stellar candidate, he’ll do some quick research to find out what professional events or conferences they’ll be attending so he can “bump into them” in person. Because relationship-building is so important, he’ll always be honest and transparent about why he’s there—and more often than not, his persistence pays off.

Many years ago, Jeremy’s first manager told him he’d never be a successful recruiter for one simple reason: because he “cares too much” about his candidates. Today, his consistent success has proven that assessment wrong. Building genuine relationships via messaging has been the key to his success.

“The relationships that you generate have a huge effect on whether a candidate will accept your job, especially in today’s competitive marketplace, where candidates almost always have multiple offers, ” says Jeremy. “And that relationship starts with the very first message you send them.”

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

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