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How to Improve Candidate Reply Rate with A/B Testing

Sourcing featured

Most of the time it’s not finding top candidates that poses a challenge to sourcing teams, it’s actually getting those candidates to reply to your messages!

Improving candidate reply rate is at the top of most sourcing managers wishlist. Reply rate is rarely a core KPI for sourcing teams, but it affects pretty much every other metric that your team is measured on. For example, the number of candidates that you qualify (or even hire) directly correlates to the number that you can convince to reply!

Teams that don’t get sufficient replies have to spend more time searching for candidates (longer time-to-hire) and are often lured into the trap of sending unpersonalised mass messages to candidates in order to hit their targets (bad candidate experience & brand damage).

All in all, it’s something to avoid at all costs.

How to improve reply rate

Improving the way that you engage and nurture candidates is a pretty big theme for us over at Beamery, so we have plenty of advice on how to go about improving your reply rate.

Anyone looking to get more responses from top talent should take a quick look through these articles (they're stuffed full of actionable advice and best practices you can share with your team):

The perfect LinkedIn message: a complete guide

Candidate nurture 101: turning passives into applicants

The best time to send emails for replies

How to create the perfect follow up strategy for recruitment

The focus of this piece is slightly different. Whenever you start using a new tactic for candidate outreach, you have no data to tell you whether it will work or not.

It’s difficult to justify investing significant resources in a new initiative without data so, when you’re getting started, you need a way to find indicators of success.

A/B testing is the best way to test new tactics and approaches in a controlled format and make sure that you’re picking the right strategy for your company.

What is A/B testing?

A/B testing (also known as split testing or bucket testing) is a method of comparing two or more versions of an email against each other to determine which one performs better. Statistical analysis is then used to determine which variation performs better for a given conversion goal, in this case replies from candidates.

How to A/B test your emails

A/B testing can get complex fast, but there are a few simple ways that you can start using A/B testing to improve candidate reply rate.

i) Subject lines

The subject lines you choose have a huge impact on your sourcing success - if people don’t open your messages, there’s no way they’re going to hear about your role.

Run a test by picking a particular role that you’re sourcing for and using different subject lines in your outreach. Make sure you use the same email template, the only thing that should differ is the subject line.

After a week or so, compare the data and move forward with the variant that has been the most successful. Ideally, you should run this test whenever you’re hiring for a new role.

ii) Templates

Run an A/B test with a few different email templates to see which are the most persuasive and which are encouraging candidates to reply or apply for jobs.

Track reply rate carefully to see which are the most effective and, after you’re happy that you have a sufficient sample size (we suggest at least 50 emails of each variant), select a winner and move forward.

Standardise the top performing templates across your team to ensure best practices are always used.

Pro tip

Templates get a pretty bad reputation amongst the sourcing community. A big reason for this is the lack of care some recruiters take when sending messages.


The best email templates are the ones that carefully consider the candidate audience (or persona) and are written in a highly engaging and personalised way.

Yes, it is possible to write a personalised email that is sent to more than one person, the trick is to personalise your message based on the things that you know that type of candidate cares about as opposed to individual details from their profile.

If done correctly, this can work incredibly well (we’re talking 97% reply rates here!)

iii) Timing

What time of day should you send your emails if you want more responses from passive candidates? Well, there’s plenty of data out there to guide you, (this post is a great starting point), but the ultimate answer is you need to test different times to find out.

Try sending emails at different times during the morning and afternoon to see what works best for your company. Don’t forget to try scheduling messages for weekends - you’d be surprised how effective that can be!

Tools needed to run A/B tests for recruitment

Running A/B tests for sourcing doesn’t require fancy software. You can continue to send messages from your email client and track the results in a spreadsheet. For this you’ll need to install an extension that tracks email opens and clicks - there are some pretty useful plugins for Gmail users here. (A personal favourite is Yesware)

If you’re more interested in nurturing candidate relationships and engaging passive candidates, Recruitment Marketing software (like Beamery) could be a better fit.

Either way, systematically testing your sourcing outreach is the best way to increase your reply rate and (ultimately) hire more candidates.