How to Write Cold Recruitment Emails That Get Replies (2018 Update)

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Eight do’s and don’ts, three tools, and three examples to help you write cold recruitment emails that get – earn – replies from potential candidates.

Illustration by Christian De Pape of birds-eye view of hands typing an email that reads "Are you interested?"

Credit: Christian De Pape

How do you initiate a conversation with a promising but passive potential candidate? Usually, a cold email or LinkedIn message.

Gosh, they’re tough to get right.

First off, you need to get the person to open your message. It isn’t easy; a 2017 survey by The Radicati Group found that the average office worker receives 121 emails per day, almost half of which are spam. That’s a lot of email demanding attention; you’re just adding to the pile. Your message better stand out.

Second, you need to spark your reader’s interest so they hit “reply.” If half of the email they receive is unsolicited, you can bet your message faces a skeptical audience. eager to hit “delete” and be done with your imposition of their time.

Writing successful cold reach-out emails is a tricky business, but it can be done. The following techniques, tips, and examples will help you do it, increase your response rate, and get passive candidates excited about your roles.

8 do’s and don’ts


5 do’s that’ll up your response rate

Do personalize the email. If you take one insight from this list, make it this one. Don’t just copy-paste a generic template and call it a day. Use the person’s name. Refer to part of their work experience. Compliment a piece in their portfolio. Comment on one of their recent tweets or LinkedIn updates. Why? You’ll make it clear you’ve done your homework, you’re serious about connecting, and what you have to say is relevant to them.

Do keep it short, simple, and focused. Get to the point. Give your message one focused purpose. Ask the recipient to answer one specific, easy-to-respond-to question (give them answer options) or take one low-barrier next step (“Can we chat on the phone for 5 minutes?”). Why? Fewer words = faster to read, easier to understand, and more likely you get the outcome you want.

Do compose the subject line with care. Spend as much time on it as you spend drafting the message itself. The subject line will decide whether or not the recipient opens your email. It’s got to hook them. How do you do that? Keep it short. Focus on the recipient (use their name!). Tease their curiosity (“Why I’ve been snooping your LinkedIn”) or reference something they care about (“Top-10 workplace”).

Do diffuse possible objections. Did they start their current job just a few months ago? Would the role you’re pitching move them halfway across the country? Don’t shirk away from the possible hurdles you might face. Bring them up now and tell the potential candidate why they should still consider the opportunity. Why? You’re removing reasons for them to shut down all conversation. They’ll be more likely to hear you out.

Do write like you. Be yourself. Don’t be afraid to show a little personality. Keep it conversational; write it as you’d speak it. Don’t be scared to show vulnerability (“I’m not sure this will interest you, but …”). Humor can be useful, too – just make sure it suits your audience. Why? If the person is worth approaching, you can bet you’re not the only one contacting them. Not only do you want your message to stand out, but you also want it to be the most inviting. You want them to think you, of all the recruiters reaching out, are the one they would want to talk to.


3 don’ts that’ll turn off talent

Don’t spam. Generic mass emails, sent to anyone and everyone who might, maybe, possibly be interested in the role? Thumbs down. Waste of time. Not to mention, what a way to destroy your reputation in the talent market.

Don’t make it all about you, your company, and what you need or are looking for. Self-centered = no thanks. An easy trick for avoiding this is to make sure you use the second-person pronouns “you” and “your” more often than you use the first-person pronouns “I,” “me,” “us,” and “we.”

Don’t include the full job description. Most job descriptions break that last don’t. Additionally, your message’s specific purpose will get lost under all that extra information. Link to it, sure, but don’t muddle your message with a laundry list of requirements.

3 tools

Grammarly app logo

Grammarly is a free proofreading tool. It checks grammar, spelling, punctuation, word-choice, and style. Use it to make sure your emails are mistake-free.

Hemingway Editor app logo

Hemingway App is like a spell-checker for style. It helps you simplify sentences, remove needless words, and write clearly. Use it to make your emails easy to read.

HubSpot Sales product logo

HubSpot Sales adds email tracking to Gmail or Outlook. It tells you when the recipient opens an email. Use it to track your response rate and test your message templates.

3 examples

OK hand sign

Example 1: to the point

Much email-performance research has been conducted over the last few years. The results are consistent: the shorter your email, the more likely you’ll get a reply. This example makes every word – all 49 of them – count.

Subject: Kemi + Top 10 workplace in Ontario

Hi Kemi,

➊ Your 3 years at HiLo Finance and bilingual skills make you a match for the Workforce Analyst opening at BigBuck Banking’s headquarters in Don Mills.

➋ Are you open to learning about the position, the benefits, and what makes us one of Ontario’s 10 Most Admired Corporate Cultures?

[Sign off]

Answer “Why are they emailing me?” with specific details.

Keep the barrier to a yes low (“open to learning about”) and connect what the candidate cares about most to your key selling points.

Hands raised in celebration

Example 2: the detailed pitch

Who are you reaching out to? Different personality types respond better to different email formats. Long? Short? Clever and curiosity-inducing? Utilitarian and to the point? Often a person’s field of work hints at their likely disposition; consider how sales professionals differ from software engineers. This longer example uses both novelty and detail to connect with a recipient who likes attention.

Subject: Hi Dilma! Why I’ve been snooping

Hi Dilma,

➊ You might have noticed my interest in your LinkedIn profile.

➋ I’ve looked it over a few times this past week, and finally decided it was time to reach out! I’m impressed with your experience and your Dribbble portfolio. So are a few of the designers here at Ka-Boom Marketing, the digital agency I recruit for.

➌ We’re actually looking to hire a UX Designer. This position would …

    1. Create interface solutions that address business, brand, and user requirements for big global brands
    2. Collaborate with the UI design team to establish design guidelines and templates for perfect flows
    3. Lead user testing and research to uncover customer and business needs

Ka-Boom Marketing is a Webby Award-winning digital agency headquartered in Atlanta. We have 350 employees in 4 offices across the U.S. and Canada.

➍ This might be a long shot …

➎ Are you open to making a career move, and hearing a little more about the role? If the timing isn’t right, I definitely understand. Let me know when you have a moment.

[Sign off]

Peak the reader’s curiosity and hook their attention.

Stroke the recipient’s ego – butter ’em up!

Introduce the opportunity and identify 3 details about it that specifically appeal to the candidate’s interests.

Build dramatic tension before the big ask.

Ask them to self-qualify (“open to making a career move”) and keep the next step as low-commitment as possible (“hearing a little more about the role“).

Flexed bicep

Example 3: Asking for a “referral”

Approaching a potential candidate by asking them to refer a colleague is an old headhunting trick. You give them an easy out, and hey: they might just recommend someone else even better suited to the role.

Subject: Kareem, bet you know someone!

Hey Kareem,

➊ Hopefully it’s a beautiful spring day in Seattle!

➋ I just came across your Linkedin and, noticing your current role as VP of Customer Service at CashMonies and your solid background in the fintech space, I decided to reach out.

➌ Do you know any colleagues who might be interested in joining one of Washington’s Top 20 Employers of 2017, as SVP of Customer Experience?

See, I’m with Chingching, a financial services software company, and we’re hiring. Here is the job posting:

➍ If you can suggest someone, great. If not, that’s cool too!

➎ Talk soon Kareem,

[Sign off]

Use a conversational and personalized opening to connect with the prospect.

Tell the candidate why you are reaching out to them in particular.

Tempt them by using a key selling point to describe the opportunity.

Offer an easy way to politely decline and increase the likelihood of a reply.

Use the prospect’s name more than once – as Dale Carnegie pointed out, “A person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”

Explore more resources

Christian De Pape, Recruiting Social’s Head of Marketing and Content
About the author

Christian De Pape is the head of brand experience at Recruiting Social. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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