Finding the Elusive Passive Candidate:

Ten Ways to Warm Up Your Prospecting Emails

Let’s talk about email. You know, those emails that flood your inbox every day. The ones that are getting more and more clever about making you an offer you can’t refuse. Turns out email marketers are using all sorts of data points and new engagement technologies to get smarter about engaging you through email. So, if your job involves recruiting passive candidates, you’ll need to work even harder to get a good response. Because passive candidates aren’t passive. They’re busy people–usually rocking their current jobs. To reach them, you need to think like a marketer and have a very clear idea of who you’re contacting, why you’re contacting them, and what story you want to tell them.

We know cold prospecting is no fun. Here are some ways to warm up potential candidates.

1. Start off by realizing you’re a person writing to a person.

A lot of the emails we receive every day are informed by some pretty sophisticated metrics, more often than not gleaned by some pretty sophisticated machine learning techniques. That’s hard to compete with, but you do have one secret weapon: your own voice. That’s something that can’t be replicated. So use it to reach beyond the clutter and make a connection. Be professional, but let your personality shine through. Consider asking questions that are relevant to the prospect’s experience and the role you’re trying to fill. Most importantly, make the email feel personal – no one wants to feel like they received the exact same email as 10 other people.

2. Understand the job you’re recruiting for.

Better yet, understand how this position fits into a longer career path. While some passive candidates are interested in making a lateral move, they are more likely to leave their current position if a new one advances their careers. Talk to your hiring manager to find out as much as you can about what the job entails and how “success” will be evaluated. If you understand what the organization expects, you’ll be better able to use those goals to generate interest and excitement in your email.

3. Tailor your message to the candidate.

Good communication is about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. That means understanding as much as you can about the passive candidates you’re trying to recruit. Look for evidence of accomplishments that you can acknowledge in your email. Start with LinkedIn, paying close attention to what they post, the experience and projects they list, and what their LinkedIn references say about them. If you express interest in their accomplishments and remark on their potential, you’ll likely capture their interest.

4. Tailor your message to the opportunity.

It’s important that you understand every detail of the job description, but you don’t have to communicate all of those details to a passive candidate. Because it’s not about the job description, it’s about why this opportunity can’t be missed. And that requires a story. What will the candidate be able to accomplish in this new position that she can’t accomplish where she is? Why will that matter to the company? Build a compelling narrative and your candidate will want to jump right into the story.

5. Get to the point.

Wait, what? You just told me to tell a story! Yep, telling a story is essential. But so is telling it quickly. That means getting disciplined about your writing. Copywriters talk a lot about the “hook, hold, and payoff” framework. Hook your audience with a compelling detail, hold their attention by laying out what’s in it for them, and close with an irresistible call-to-action. And all this means being upfront about the company and position you’re recruiting for. Nothing turns off a passive candidate faster than vague promises of an unspecified “great opportunity.”

6. Mastering the email subject line.

We can all recognize a bad subject line: half-truths, exclamation points, misdirection. A good subject line is short, clear, and relevant. A best practice is to keep subject lines between 50-75 characters, since many people view emails on a mobile device. Marketers today rely on personalization and location-specific information to target prospects. Using your candidate’s name in the subject line could increase open rates by as much as 26%. Highlight a mutual connection. Focus on a benefit to the candidate (what’s in it for them?). Or ask a question. Above all, be honest and accurate. And don’t forget to avoid using all caps, excessive punctuation, and other phrases or words that can get your email caught up in spam filters.

7. Experiment.

Good email marketers spend time doing A/B testing—simply put, trying out what works and what doesn’t, element by element. You can start small by testing your subject lines, headers, and email copy, or get more daring and experiment with video, microsites, or interactive features. Consider testing the time of day you send emails to help increase response rates. Put yourself in the candidate’s shoes: for example, are they more likely to respond to your email over their lunch break, early in the morning before they start working, or late in the workday as they are wrapping things up for the day? It takes guts but if you experiment successfully, you could beat the competition by miles.

8. Don’t forget the close.

If you want a response, you have to ask for it. A good call-to-action focuses on value (what’s the immediate pay-off?), addresses any concerns the recipient might have (am I going to get phone calls at work?), and makes it simple to respond (try embedded links). Try to motivate the prospect to respond by using strong action words and phrases. And don’t forget: it’s okay to take “no” for an answer. Today’s disinterested passive candidate could be tomorrow’s hot lead, so treat every potential candidate with respect.

9. What about passive candidate email templates?

There are plenty out there, but templates can feel cold and impersonal. Take a look at templates for ideas about length, structure, and flow. But don’t rely on them for your content. Email templates get old fast and they can’t compete with being a real person with a real message.

10. Does every email have to be cold?

There are cold emails and there are absolutely frigid emails. Research is key to warming up your emails and creating personalized content that will be relevant to a passive candidate. With sourcing solutions like SkillSurvey Source™, you can create a database of warm candidate leads, building a talent pipeline with all the information you need to find the right candidate quickly and reach out effectively when a new position opens up. That’s the real secret to more powerful emails.

Ready to learn more?

SkillSurvey Source, an extension of SkillSurvey’s online reference checking solution, helps decrease time-to-fill and increase your pipeline quality by providing a larger pipeline of warm candidate leads right at your fingertips. Create talent pipelines and set alerts to receive notifications when new candidates match specific skill sets or geographic locations. Reach contacts faster by emailing targeted messages to candidates to promote open positions. Watch a short video demo for an inside look at SkillSurvey Source.


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