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The Anatomy of the Perfect Recruiting Email

There’s no such thing as a ‘one size fits all’ message for candidates that your team is sourcing – candidates typically respond best to messages that have been personalized and written specifically for them.

Despite this, there are a few general rules that you can follow if you want to consistently get candidates to open, click and reply to your messages.

1. Subject lines

When you sit down at your desk every morning and sift through your unread emails and LinkedIn messages, how do you decide which ones to open and which ones to delete?

The subject line.

The words you use here can have an enormous effect on open rates; in fact, as many as 35% of recipients will only open your message if the subject line resonates with them.

The question is: how do you optimize your subject line to encourage candidates to ‘click’ and read? Here are a couple of best practices that can make a big difference:


The subject line is your first opportunity to stand out from competitors and show candidates that you’ve done a little research and that you’re genuinely interested in talking to them.

The easiest way to do this? A little extra thought and research.

Simply mentioning the candidate’s name will increase your open rate by as much as 20%.

The subject line and start of your message are your “icebreakers”. Start the conversation off on a good note by referencing personal details about candidates that other recruiters most likely ignore (e.g. do a little digging on their social media).

Try referencing things like:

  • Charitable work (extra-curricular projects that a candidate mentions on LinkedIn)
  • Content and published work (look out for any blogs or articles that a candidate has written)
  • School and university achievements (these are towards the bottom of the LinkedIn profile, and are usually ignored as a result)
  • Sporting affiliations (favorite teams or players)
  • Horoscopes, Spirit Animals (anything fun that a candidate references on social media – if it’s important to them, it’s often a great conversation starter).

This personalization is a beautifully simple process but shows the candidate that you’ve done your homework.

Mention shared connections

If you have any friends in common, don’t wait until the main body of the message to highlight them. Mentioning a mutual connection in your subject line will increase your chance of getting a response by as much as 27%.

The reason for this is simple. The candidate may not have heard of you or your company, but by mentioning one of their friends, colleagues or acquaintances in the email subject line, you’re providing an endorsement of sorts, and giving them a reason to speak to you.

How much more likely are you to watch a film or visit a restaurant that a friend has endorsed? That seal of approval makes a huge difference to your decision-making process. You can tap into that same impulse to get more opens and replies when you’re recruiting.

Be honest

It can be tough to get top talent to open and engage with your messages, so there’s always a temptation to game the system and try to “trick” people into thinking they’ve spoken to you before.

Subject lines that suggest to candidates that you’ve already spoken or use “re.” to imply that your message is part of a pre-existing email chain might get a few clicks, but they damage your brand and often ensure that candidates won’t apply, so resist that temptation and just be honest in your subject line.

Subject line length: does it matter?

With 3.5 million emails sent every second, there are a ton of contrasting opinions and data out there about the kind of subject lines that are most effective.

We’ve always found that keeping subject lines short and sweet has the best results. Most people get a LOT of emails. They need to know whether your message is worth reading with just a quick glance.

Keep in mind too that 40% of people say that their mobile phone is the primary device they use to check their email. So you need to make sure that your subject line is short enough for candidates to get the full picture on the smaller screen.

2. Personalize the message content

Personalization is important in the actual content of the message itself – not just in the subject line.

We’ve all become experts at ignoring messages that aren’t specifically for us. Most of us rarely engage with marketing messages, filtering out anything that feels generic or automated. Mass recruiting emails have the same effect on potential candidates. If a candidate sees that the message wasn’t written specifically for them, they are more likely to dismiss it quickly.

Make sure that you always address candidates by name, and try to customize the message content to show that you’ve looked at their LinkedIn profile and reviewed their past experience. Anything you can do to be different will put you ahead of the pack.

Some sourcers and recruiters even inject a little bit of humor and personality into their messages to stand out from the crowd of generic (and downright boring) recruiting messages. It’s worth giving a try!

3. CTA & Sign-Off

Every email you send needs to have a clear call to action. The way you sign off each message is crucial. You need to give candidates a clear next step.

You’re sending a message for a specific reason, usually to draw attention to a job or opportunity, so make sure the candidate knows that. Possible next steps could involve:

  • A simple ‘reply’
  • A follow-up call
  • An in-person or virtual meeting
  • A formal interview

Being vague won’t help you convince a great candidate to come in for an interview. According to research by psychologist Robert Sutton, people are more responsive and willing to help if they’ve been given clear directions.

4. Following up

The majority of your emails are destined to never get a response, so although a follow-up is technically not part of the anatomy of a perfect recruiting email, it’s a crucial part of any good sourcing strategy.

The recruiters that have the most success are the ones that understand the power of the follow-up. 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 likely going to win... because everybody else stopped!

Despite this, the follow-up often doesn’t get the attention it deserves.

There are 3 key reasons for this:

1. No one has time: Recruiters tend to be pretty busy and, while most understand that following up is important, it often slips through the gaps.

2. No one wants to appear pushy: It’s easy to tell yourself if the person really wants your job, they will reply themselves. Fall into this mindset, and you may feel pushy following up.

3. No one likes getting rejected: If your attempts at following up are unsuccessful, it’s not uncommon to suffer feelings of rejection.

(Studies show that rejection affects the human brain in the same way as physical pain – understandably something recruiters would want to avoid.)

There are a number of legitimate reasons why a candidate hasn’t replied to your message.

For starters, they’re busy. Replying to your message probably isn’t their number one priority, particularly if they already have a job. It’s also equally possible that they didn’t see your first message. Top candidates have a pretty full inbox and your message may well have gone unnoticed.

Why follow-up emails work

Most people assume that when they get a response on the second or third email it’s because they’ve written something more engaging. More often than not, though, the real reason why people respond to your follow-up email is very simple: timing.

Your original email probably came through at the wrong time. Your target candidate was too busy or distracted to take action and reply. Silence does not always mean no.

Note that one of the reasons passive candidates are less likely to reply to cold emails is that they’re busy a higher proportion of the time – they’re already working and most likely haven’t dedicated any real mental energy towards a job search.

Your follow-up email got a reply because it came through when the candidate had time to consciously process and respond to it. It could be as simple as that.

Now, 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’ve got a little more mental bandwidth free? Sadly not. Emails have an incredibly short lifespan.

90% of emails that receive replies are replied to within one day after they are opened.

And exactly how many follow-up emails should you send? Unless you are asked to stop, never stop following up.

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.

Research clearly shows that follow-up emails (even by email 10) get results.

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If you’re looking for more information on how to build and scale an outstanding talent acquisition strategy, our website is full of content to help you step up your recruiting and hiring game. We have an entire section on our website dedicated to recruitment marketing and employer branding.