What Should You Say When Messaging a Candidate?

Following up on a discussion on response rates that I started about a year ago, I would like to share some new insights. The data is based on 543 prospective candidates I approached, all working in IT, located around the globe.  I’m willing to elaborate on exact methodology in the comments section, but first, let’s dive into the results first.

What to write when you e-mail prospect candidates

I’m very much in favor of sending short personalized e-mails. E-mails that show you’ve actually investigated the person’s profiles and are not generic. Having said that, there’s still lots of variation to be tested within this style.

In his lectures about engaging with (prospect) candidates, Johnny Campbell stresses the importance of a clear call to action in your message. And though I have high regards of everything Johnny says, I decided to test this.

I reached out to candidates by e-mail, using 3 variations in the message:

(1) including a link to the vacancy, ending the message with ‘looking forward to hearing from you’
(2) describing the vacancy briefly without including a link, ending the message with ‘looking forward to hearing from you’
(3) describing the vacancy briefly without including a link, ending  the message with the call to action “can I call you tomorrow to discuss this opportunity”

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To set e-mail as a contact channel in perspective, I’ve also reached out to candidates using twitter. Due the open nature of twitter, I’ve used a conversational approach to start a discussion.

These are the response rates of the various approach types:

Link Can I call you?
Interested: 17% Interested: 26%
No thanks 9% No thanks 9%
Not Now: 9% Not Now: 2%
Total response: 35% Total response: 37%
No Link Conversational
Interested: 21% Interested: 11%
No thanks 12% No thanks 32%
Not Now: 8% Not Now: 11%
Total response: 42% Total response: 54%

Conclusions

  • The approach type that resulted in the most prospect candidates stating they were interested in a conversation about job opportunities is clearly the “can I call you” message. Interestingly, this approach type gets less ‘not now’ responses.  ‘Not now’ responses can be very useful for building a talent pool (something I’ve learned from Marvin Smith at Sourcecon Seatle 2013).
  • Adding a link to the vacancy doesn’t seem to be the best way to go. The conversational style using twitter is more time-consuming and led to less success, though the total response on twitter was the highest.


Of course, there’s much more to be said about how to successfully approach candidates. There’s no silver bullet that works best in all cases. What works best in your particular case might be different than mine. There’s only one way to find out. Measure what you do and keep experimenting.

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9 Comments on “What Should You Say When Messaging a Candidate?

  1. Good test! Thanks for sharing the data!

    While I think that seeing what drives responses is good, there are other tools in the recruiter toolkit that might lead one to include links, in that candidate engagement with messaging can be measured in ways other than pure “responses.”

    For instance, in this case, one could make the case that the reason why people responded was because information about the req was hidden…and as such, people who could not self-disqualify responded, in the end creating more work for the recruiter to later screen them out.

    (Of course, if you have other reqs for which the candidate could be pertinent, then any response might be good, because now you’ve got a live one!)

    So the real metric would be the EVENTUAL CLOSE RATE of these folks.

    Relatedly, there are other ways of instrumenting candidate engagement.

    For instance emails can be instrumented to track opens, link clicks, and so on, and aggregated over time. We’ve built this into TalentBin’s email system, but things like Yesware for Gmail (and others for Outlook), can do something similar.

    So, for instance, if you include a strong call to action like “Based on what I see on your resume / LinkedIn profile / Meetup profile / Github profile, I think that this role for XYZ could be a really interesting fit for you because of ABC. You can see more about the role here: Check it out!”

    If that hyperlink is instrumented, when you reach out to 100 candidates, yes, 35% may respond to you, but another X% will click on that hyperlink. And moreover, they may click on them multiple times.

    A candidate that continues to open your emails and click on that link (they open it first on their iphone and click on the link, then in Gmail on their browser, keep it in their inbox, and then the next day click on the link again) is demonstrating huge engagement with your outreach, and should be targeted for a second, follow up message.

    This of course isn’t to dismiss Jan’s observations, but simply to point up that there are other ways to track prospective candidate engagement than pure responses, and that it’s good to consider the other tools in the toolbox!

    Happy Purple Squirrel Hunting!

    1. Peter,

      You’re absolutely right that there are more ways and aspects to measure. Of course I’m tracking the full funnel including close rate as well. But since the close rates depends on way factors than approach type, I think it makes sense to zoom into this step in isolation as well.

      I’ve also tracked click rates with hyperlinks, but since the overall outcome was that links work less efficiently I’ve let that out fo the equation.

      Overall I haven’t found the perfect system to measure yet, that’s why i’m sticking to a shared google doc for now.

  2. Excellent research Jan; the “first approach” is a complicated step and I’m convinced that the only way to be successful is to test, iterate and test again. This process of “failing fast”, borrowed from agile software development is the only sure-fire way to find a process that works for you (i.e. “You”, the recruiter). The closing line is but one factor but it is interesting to see that it also elicited more “no thanks” responses straight away (as you point out). Either you’ve just saved yourself lots of time by focusing on the warmest candidates first or you’ve closed the door to a more open conversation. I’d be inclined to think the first but the latter does remain a possibility. However if someone says no straight away, I think you can still add them to a talent pool by simply asking if you can connect on LinkedIn etc to stay in touch in case anything more suitable comes up?
    Lastly, I’m thrilled that you added Twitter into this experiment. The response rates should definitely be higher (and faster?) but the composition of the network is largely passive so it doesnt compare against finding someone on LinkedIn or a job board. What was the source of the candidates that you emailed? Were they LinkedIn or another “passive”, non-recruitment social site like Twitter?
    Please keep sharing this kind of stuff Jan; hopefully it will encourage others to share their insights so that we can all learn.

    1. Thanks Johnny,

      The source of the candidates varies. One could argue that in most cases it doesn’t even matter; a lot of people have a twitter, linkedin, stackoverflow, facebook, github, pinterest and twitter account. If you mail/call such a person, does it matter in which one you’ve found him/her? (Usually I’ll just see on which channel the person is most active and refer to that.)

  3. Jan, thank you for using ALL responses to calculate response rate and not just the ‘Yes’ responses, because even No and Not Right Now give you a foot in the door to
    develop a warm connection. For my own purposes, I typically don’t link to a specific req because I don’t want a prospect looking at one opportunity, saying ‘not for me,’ and shutting down the conversation altogether. I give them enough information in my initial outreach to pique interest and then request a response “either way” (which encourages the no’s and not-right-now’s as much as the yes’s).

    In my humble opinion, this is the type of topic to which sourcing professionals need to be paying the most attention, because the search part of our jobs is getting easier and more automated. Where we need to stand above the crowd is in creating compelling messages that grab the interest of our target audience – either with initial outreach or with an awesome job description and strategic placement that will actually do the sourcing for you 🙂

  4. Leaving messages is a crapshoot. To suggest any percent other than one hundred is useful is foolish.

    Your best response in the above scenarios was twenty-six percent. What’s good about that? That means there were seventy-four percent more people you did not speak with who you thought were qualified enough to be messaged but turned you away.

    If you are specializing/recruiting in any industry, it is your long-term goal to know and speak with every professional in that pool, even the one’s who show no interest since they are a source, if nothing else.

    Suggesting a twenty-six percent return on your efforts is a positive metric is overlooking all those who did not respond or turned you away without your having even spoken with them.

    There is no substitute for picking up the phone.

  5. Leaving messages is a crapshoot. To suggest any percent other than one hundred is useful is foolish.

    Your best response in the above scenarios was twenty-six percent. What’s good about that? That means there were seventy-four percent more people you did not speak with who you thought were qualified enough to be messaged but turned you away.

    If you are specializing/recruiting in any industry, it is your long-term goal to know and speak with every professional in that pool, even the one’s who show no interest since they are a source, if nothing else.

    Suggesting a twenty-six percent return on your efforts is a positive metric is overlooking all those who did not respond or turned you away without your having even spoken with them.

    There is no substitute for picking up the phone.

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