Talent acquisition professionals are swamped, dealing with hard-to-fill positions in a tight candidate’s market – one that’s red-hot, in some industries and locations. We’re sending as many emails and InMails as possible to potential candidates, just trying to get their attention in a sea of competition. The majority of recruiters don’t come anywhere near a 50% response rate. Most are closer to 25%. There’s a saying about doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result. Do we really want to keep doing this?

Is it a problem with your outreach? Well, maybe. But let’s start by assuming your outreach is already pretty good, and that the problem lies elsewhere. (And we’ll get to making ‘good’ better in just a moment.)

The biggest issue on the candidate side is outreach fatigue. Message overload. Especially an overabundance of fantastically bad messages. This is the worst news I have to share with you. Even if your outreach is perfect, you’re competing for share of mind (and space in an inbox) with a lot of outreach that is far from it. If you think you can stomach a firsthand look at what you’re up against, check out some of the stories people post in the RecruitingHell subreddit. Talented people are just done. They’re frustrated with stock copy/paste messages from recruiters who clearly haven’t even read their profile; recruiters who are just doing keyword searches and firing a boilerplate message to every hit they get. Lather, rinse, repeat. It’s no surprise people have become cynical. We can be honest about this here, since I know for a fact that you’re not one of the people doing this.

If that’s the problem, what’s the solution? It’s not rocket science, and you probably won’t read anything below that you don’t already know. Just like you know you should eat more veggies and less pizza. Sometimes it helps to be gently reminded to do the right things more consistently, though, so here we are.

Be real, be human.

That person you’re trying to reach is exactly that: a person. When you’re scanning a seemingly endless number of candidate profiles, it’s surprisingly easy to forget that. Or, at least, to forget to treat them like they are. Think about how you like other people to approach you, and how you don’t. Again, in the course of a really busy day, it’s shockingly easy to treat other people in ways that we’re not really all that keen on ourselves. Take a step back, look at how you’re approaching people, and ask yourself if you’d respond to yourself. Authenticity really counts at first contact. A human touch means showing a bit of yourself, and showing that you really see the other person behind the email address or profile.

Be different, be unique.

Almost anyone can tell when an email sent to them was copied and pasted from the last 183 emails in the sent folder. Yes, I know it’s easi- … er, I mean, more efficient. We can do better, and it starts by beginning with the end in mind. Is your goal to send messages to the highest number of candidates? Or is your goal to reach and connect with the highest number of candidates? If it’s the latter, then it just makes more sense to take a bit of time to do it right. Last, but not least: for the love of all that’s holy, do not let your CRM send anything that begins, “Dear *Candidate_Name* …”.

Be smart, be informed.

Repeat after me, a bit louder for the folks in the back: read the darned profiles. In TA, your job is to know the role, and understand the fit. And I know you do. So we can all do better than generic “you’re perfect for this role” messages. Find a genuine connection, and use your outreach message to explicitly connect the dots. That alone differentiates a message from 90% of the others. Look for something unique in a candidate’s profile, or maybe on other social media platforms if they’re active there, and reference it in one of the messages. Show them that you’re committed and informed, that you’ve done your due diligence, and that they’re more than ‘candidate #291’. It takes a few more moments, yes, but – beginning with the end in mind – if your objective is truly to reach and connect, this investment of time will increase your success rate.

Be persistent, be systematic.

We all know that one outreach message is almost never enough, so it just makes sense to plan for this. Design a system for follow up, and work that plan. Structure the plan accounting for three separate ‘touches’. Some TA pros will tell you to use three different platforms, and that can work in some cases. Just be aware that some candidates are really not crazy about outreach on personal social media, so tread lightly. It makes no difference at all if your system relies on checkmarks on a whiteboard, or automated reminders pushed from a database. Just have a system. Change up your messaging at each stage – don’t just resend the same message (“Just bumping this to the top of your inbox …”. Ugh.). And don’t shy away from using FOMO in the last message – letting someone know they’re about to lose their chance for something great can be surprisingly effective. If you really want to get scientific about it (and who doesn’t like a bit of science), do some A/B testing. Try one kind of message for a week, then a different one for the next. Measure the outcome diligently, and let the results inform your approach. Experiment, fail, adjust, experiment again.

25% is not a great outreach response rate. Shoot for the stars: even a 50% response rate puts you head and shoulders above most of the industry. You already know what to do; like eating your veggies, it’s just a matter of doing it. Dig in.


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Aspiring Full-Stack Human Being. Marketer.