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The Perfect LinkedIn Message: A Complete Guide

“The people you want to reach the most are the ones who, by default, delete emails.” (Seth Godin)

How many messages do you think top candidates get from recruiters every day?

Hint: It’s a lot.

LinkedIn has democratized recruiting, and suddenly everyone is accessible. Any recruiter can bulk buy InMails and send messages to whomever they want.

This makes it difficult to avoid reducing candidate outreach to a numbers game. Some recruiters have developed the mindset that if they send enough messages, they’ll get results.

LinkedIn is essentially encouraging this mentality with the metrics that it highlights: The LinkedIn sales department will tell you that you’re hitting it out the park if you get a 38% InMail open rate. But hold on: That’s a 62% failure rate. If you were unsuccessful almost two thirds of the time in any other business function, would your boss be happy?

There’s another important detail here too: around a third of candidates might be opening your messages, but the actual response rate is far lower.

What’s the result?

The best candidates are literally swamped.

Some top developers get hundreds of messages every week. Most of them are just the same recycled template, and as a result, many great candidates have become completely desensitized to recruiters.

Ironically, sometimes these messages are so untargeted that recruiters end up sending them to other recruiters!

We need to use more advanced messaging techniques, and take the time to craft templates that at least seem personalized.

What are the tactics you need to start using to prevent candidates from ignoring your messages?

1. Great messages start with great subject lines

When you sit down at your desk every morning and sift through your 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. Up to 35% of recipients will only open your message if the subject line resonates with them.

If you’re sending an unsolicited, cold message, the subject line is even more important. You need to make the most of it, and grab the candidate’s attention.

Here are some tactics to help you write subject lines that get results:

Mention any shared connections

This is the gold standard for unsolicited messages.

Use LinkedIn’s ‘How You’re Connected’ feature to see if you have any shared connections with a candidate.

If you do, try mentioning your mutual acquaintance in the subject line to get the candidate to sit up and take notice.

Pro tip: Ask your shared connection for a direct introduction to the candidate. This is an even more effective tactic.

Remind the candidate you’ve met before

If you’ve met the candidate before, make sure you mention that.

Don’t assume that they’ll remember you from your name alone. Adding a quick reminder of who you are in the subject line can make all the difference.

Make sure you’re very specific with your reminder. Try something along the lines of: “It was great to meet you at [event name] in [month].”

Mention the candidate’s name or personal achievements

Including personal information in your subject line proves that you’re not sending a generic message.

Ideally you should try and mention the recipient’s first name, their company, or a particular project they were involved in. Check their LinkedIn profile to see if they’ve published any recent posts and do a quick Google search to see if their company has any recent news.

2. Keep your message short and sweet

Brevity is one of the keys to a successful LinkedIn message — you need to keep it short and sweet!

There are a few ways you can make sure you don’t end up writing each candidate an essay:

Get rid of your personal introduction

Your name will appear in the header of the message, so the candidate can see exactly who you are. Candidates can also click on your LinkedIn profile to see more information on you if they want.

Instead, use the first sentence to grab their attention. Browse their LinkedIn profile to see if they’ve shared any recent achievements that would be worth mentioning.

Referencing these at the start of your message is far more effective than a standard, “Hi, I’m….” introduction.

Kill the generic flattery

It probably felt nice the first time a passive candidate was complimented on their LinkedIn profile by a recruiter.

The problem is, everyone does this now. It’s part of most generic recruiter templates, and it can come across as insincere.

Unless you’re going to be specific with your flattery and reference particular things that a candidate has done, leave it out altogether.

Make sure you get to the point quickly

The average reader spends 10 seconds scanning your message. If you don’t get to the point quickly, you’re going to lose them.

How much can recipients digest in that time? Well, the average English reader takes about 20 seconds to scan 50 words.

If the average reader is only spending 10 seconds scanning your message, it’s essential you tackle the important stuff at the beginning. This gives you the best chance to keep the candidate’s attention.

Don’t be afraid to dive straight in and tell the recipient exactly why you’re getting in touch, and give them a brief overview of your opportunity to get the best result.

3. Go for quality over quantity

This might sound obvious, but only message candidates who are suitable for the role you’re trying to fill.

LinkedIn makes it so easy to find candidates that it’s pretty tempting to go for broke with your messages and cast a wide net.

Recruiters can get better results if they focus on a smaller group of individuals, as opposed to playing a numbers game.

If you’re hiring for a specific skill, make sure that anyone you message has that particular skill. As straightforward as this sounds, if you stick to this policy, you’re more likely to create a relationship with candidates.

They may not be interested right now, but at least they know you send relevant opportunities, and they’ll be more likely to open your messages in the future.

You also have the added bonus that if you limit the number of messages you send, you will have more time to make the content of each message personalized and engaging.

Pro tip: Try and engage candidates on social media before you message them. LinkedIn data suggests that candidates are 46% more likely to accept your InMail if they are already connected to you or someone at your company.

4. Make the next step clear

The way you sign off each message is crucial. You need to give candidates a clear next step.

You’re sending that message for a specific reason — usually to draw attention to a job or opportunity, so make sure the candidate knows that.

Some possible next steps are:

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

Being vague won’t help you convince a great candidate to come in for an interview. People are generally more responsive if they’ve been given clear directions.

How can you put this into action?

Be specific. If you’d like to arrange a call, provide a few times that work and ask the candidate to select one. This reduces the mental energy that candidates need to expend answering your message, and it’s more likely that they’ll respond.

5. Make sure you follow up

Like every great salesperson, great recruiters know the power of following up. It’s often the key to successful messaging on LinkedIn.

Despite this, the follow up doesn’t always get the attention it deserves. There are two primary reasons for this:

No one wants to appear pushy

It’s easy to tell yourself if the person really wants the job, they will reply. If you fall into this mindset, you may feel like you’re being ‘pushy’ by following up.

No one likes getting rejected

If your attempts at following up are unsuccessful, it’s common to suffer feelings of rejection. Scientists have studied how our brains process rejection, and have discovered that rejection is processed similarly to physical pain. It’s understandable that recruiters would want to avoid it.

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 top priority, particularly if they already have a job.

It’s also equally possible that they didn’t see your first message. Top candidates have pretty full LinkedIn inboxes, and your message may have gone unnoticed.

How often should you follow up?

If your first message was completely cold and you have never had any interaction with the candidate, follow up once or twice. You really don’t have a relationship that gives you permission to do much more than that.

If you’ve already had some positive interaction with them , then follow up as long as it takes to get a response.

Here’s a great follow-up timeline that you can use as a guide:

  • 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.

LinkedIn messages are a powerful recruitment tool. If they’re used thoughtfully, they can be an enormously effective way to connect with top candidates.

We’ve outlined the steps to creating LinkedIn messages that get results in this blog post, but you might want to learn more outbound sourcing techniques and tools.

Read more about the 10 most important best practices of sourcing candidates, or check out The Definitive Guide to Recruitment Marketing.