In talent acquisition, we tend to think about email outreach mostly in the context of sourcing.
The shift of realities in the talent market, however, mean that we need to recruit by building relationships. We must speak to candidates at every step of the long journey before they actually apply to a role.
Comms along the journey: what changes and what stays the same
The guidelines of successful outreach remain loosely the same along that journey: you want to be clear about your purpose and what you want from the candidate, and to offer something of value in exchange for their time and attention. From a more practical standpoint, you also want to reach out at a time and in a manner that is most likely to yield a response.
How these constraints play out might differ from one stage of the candidate journey to the other, but only a little, and only in the execution of your outreach, not in the strategy itself.
The more targeted and personalized your recruiting efforts are, the better the response from candidates, and that is true at any stage. This is why successful communication in any form, including recruiting emails, starts with creating candidate personas.
Recruiters rely on building candidate personas to know how to attract and engage with each person in their pipeline. A persona is an imaginary ideal target, with a collection of social, professional and behavioral traits that make them more likely to behave one way rather than another.
You might consider using the template below to build personas:
Having candidates tagged by persona in your talent CRM means you know what is likely to engage or interest them. You might send an invitation to a casual local meetup to a junior marketer, but a CMO or Marketing VP would probably be more interested in information about your company’s expansion plans and the exciting marketing challenges it will be taking on. In that way, candidate personas are a piece of the puzzle that doesn’t change throughout the candidate journey.
Another element of your recruiting email that will stay the same throughout is your employer branding. You might adapt your tone and language to the level of seniority of your candidates, but your email communications should all reflect who you are as an employer, using visual elements in newsletters, for example, or using the same tone of voice across all channels.
Other elements are likely to change depending on where you are in the funnel. The most obvious one is the content you share, or the subject of your communications. The longer you’ve interacted with the candidate, the more specific or targeted you can get. You know what content they’ve already interacted with, and what is most likely to resonate.
Channel is another one.
It is unclear how some of the most tactical advice for writing emails, subject lines, call-to-actions or follow-ups changes depending on where the candidate stands in their journey, but it is worth exploring the different tactics that email marketers and sales teams regularly use.
For instance, research by Sendgrid in 2015 shows that, with subject lines, shorter seems to be better, be it a “Let’s talk Golang” cold email to a backend software engineer, or a “London Design happy hour!” to a designer subscribed to your Talent Network.
It also shows a random collection of observations, some of which might seem counterintuitive. For example, email subject lines with the word “free” in them register lower engagement than ones without, and ones with the word “soon” or “yesterday outperform ones with the word “now”.
Subject lines with #hashtags or URLs in them also do rather badly, but then, that might not be nearly as unexpected. Thankfully, less than 1% of the email subject lines in that sample study had a #hashtag or URL in them, so we are probably not in danger of seeing that becoming common practice.
The important piece here is to note that we can’t rely purely on gut feeling in our communications with candidates. It is important to A/B test at different points in the journey: do candidates engage more with clearer subject lines earlier in the journey, but are more interested in shorter and to the point communications later on?
This applies to other best practices that might change throughout the funnel. Follow-ups, for example, probably don’t follow the same rules depending on the state of your relationship with the candidate, or the actual content of the email. An initial outreach might necessitate multiple follow-ups during the same month, but that same practice could sour an initially good relationship with a candidate that has been engaged with your content over the last two years.
Or it might not. The point, again, is to test it out. Most talent acquisition platforms offer the kind of backend support necessary for simple A/B tests, so take advantage of them, even if you have to manually split a candidate pool in two and tag the halves A and B to conduct your tests.
Recruitment email best practices
You can find here some guidance on subject lines to add to the data points mentioned above, and learn more about ensuring your email actually gets delivered. The body of the email, with its content and its call to action, is your next step.
Follow-ups, of course, are a world of their own. Not only do you have to determine how many of them you should send, you only need to decide what will trigger a follow-up. Will it be the time elapsed? Will they be triggered by candidate behaviors or by events in the company? These are all questions worth examining.