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How To Write Perfect Follow-Up Messages (And Break-Up Emails) To Potential Candidates

You hit send, sit back, and wait. Then nothing. The majority of your emails to potential candidates are destined to never get a response.

You shouldn’t take this personally – people are busy and your message is unlikely to be number one on your ideal candidiate’s priority list.

The recruiters that have the most success are the ones that understand the power of following up, and how to do it well.

It’s the part of the race when most other people stop running, and you’re the only one left. It doesn’t matter how slow you run – you’re going to win because everybody else stopped.

Why follow-up emails (and LinkedIn messages) work

Most people assume that the reason they get a response on the second or third email is because they’ve written something better or more engaging.

More often than not, the reason why people respond to the follow up is very simple… timing.

Your original email came through at the wrong time. Your target candidate was too busy or distracted to take action. Silence doesn’t always mean no!

One of the reasons why passive candidates are less likely to reply to cold emails is that they’re busy. They’re working and haven’t dedicated any mental energy towards a job search. Your follow-up email likely got a reply because it came through when the candidate had time to consciously process and respond to it.

If it’s that simple, you might ask why you even need to send a follow-up email. Shouldn’t the candidate just go back to your first message when they have a little more mental bandwidth?

Sadly not. Emails have an incredibly short lifespan.

90% of emails that receive replies are replied to within two days after they are sent.

This makes your follow up incredibly important. The moment you send your email, the clock starts ticking, and after 48 hours, it’s pretty unlikely that you’ll get a reply.

How many follow ups should you send?

If you’ve already had some kind of interaction with the candidate (and that interaction was not a clear no), then follow up as long as it takes to get a response.

It’s proven that follow-up emails get results even after several messages.

If your first message was completely cold, and you have never had any interaction with the candidate, follow up once or twice, since you don’t have an existing relationship with them.

While you might get a response, you’re more likely to end up as an irritation and provide a poor candidate experience.

Creating your follow-up timeline

Timing is the key to any great follow up campaign. You want to consistently appear in the candidate’s inbox without becoming an irritation.

Every company (and candidate) is different, so we’ve created a simple follow-up formula for you to try. After a little testing, you should be able to settle on a schedule that gives you great results.

The Follow-Up Formula for Success:

  • Day 1: First follow up (+ 2 days)
  • Day 3: Follow up (+ 4 days)
  • Day 7: Follow up (+ 7 days)
  • Day 14: Follow up (+ 14 days)
  • Day 28: Follow up (+ 30 days)
  • Day 58: Follow up (+30 days)

From there on, follow up once per month until the role is filled.

What should you write?

If your prospect reads your initial email, and decides they’re not interested in your company, then nothing you say in a follow-up email is going to turn that around and convert them.

This makes following up simple. Instead of spending time crafting entirely different messages, just send over a slightly modified version of your first email.

Your goal should be to communicate the same message, just in a different format.

Let’s look at the first and second follow ups (arguably the most important given the higher chance of a response).

1. First follow up (1 day after initial email)

If your first cold email was several paragraphs long, reduce the follow up email to two sentences. If your cold message was just two sentences, try a longer email next time.

Don’t write something totally different or add any new attachments.

2. Second follow up (3 days after initial email)

Don’t try to explain your previous message; succinctly restate your call to action.

Ask the candidate to schedule a call, take a look at your opportunity, or respond to your email.

Try: “Hey, when would be a good time for you to discuss this on a short 10-minute call? How about Wednesday or Thursday at 2 p.m. ET?”

Break-up emails: a recruiter’s secret weapon

The break-up email is a secret weapon that can help you kickstart the candidate conversation.

It’s an email in which you say ‘goodbye’, and hope that the candidate’s loss aversion kicks in. This is a psychological principle describing people’s tendency to prefer avoiding losses to acquiring gains.

It’s best to use the break-up email as your final message to candidates who have never replied to your cold email. The best break-up emails have a simple structure:

Reference the fact that you’ve consistently tried to connect with the candidate

Mention that the candidate has never replied

Tell the candidate that this is your final email

Let them know what they’re missing out on

Give them an easy way to get back in touch

Here’s an example: Anatomy of the perfect break up email

Remember, the candidates that you are sending this email to have been totally unresponsive, so you shouldn't expect a huge spike in replies.

However, you can expect more replies from an email like this than a standard template, simply because it’s different. Doing things that other recruiters aren’t is a great way to get better talent through the door.

Bonus break-up tip: Try using humor

Sending a break-up email is a great way to stand out to unresponsive candidates, but if you really want to differentiate yourself, try adding a touch of humor to your final email.

Take a look at this example:

Funny break up emails

This style may not fit with your company ethos, especially if you work at a large corporation. If you do have the freedom to experiment, though, including humor in your break-up emails might be worth a shot.

Candidate Experience: The Complete Playbook

For recruiters, success often comes down to providing an excellent candidate experience. Talent teams of every size can find value in this ebook, but it’s especially targeted at sophisticated teams who want to harness the technology and candidate data at their disposal, to create highly effective hiring programs.

This resource contains eight key steps to providing an awesome candidate experience and meeting the changing expectations of talent.

Read more about recruitment marketing.