Your company’s “job” is to convince talented people that they should spend their professional lives working for you.
The way you communicate your brand and jobs then, becomes the most important weapon in beating out the competition and bringing the best candidates onboard. Effective communication becomes the bedrock on which a successful recruiting strategy is built.
Communication is not just about optimizing your recruiting strategy though – the only impression that a candidate has of your culture and your brand in general, is the one you provide by the way you speak to them.
Recruiters are on the frontline of your brand – they have enormous power when it comes to building (or destroying) a candidate’s perception of your company.
Every time you contact a candidate you have a chance to build a relationship and advance the conversation. This playbook guides you through the process of crafting an effective recruiting strategy, and covers the kinds of emails that your recruiting team should send, as well as how to nurture and engage candidates that aren’t ready to apply.
The tough part of sourcing used to be the search. Once you found a candidate, they were generally amenable to hearing what you had to say. The search is still hard, but the ever-expanding social web gives the average sourcer plenty of shortcuts when it comes to tracking down relevant candidates.
Candidates are also more socially aware. Most understand the need to maintain an online professional presence, which makes it all to easy for recruiters to tap into online communities and locate qualified talent.
Throw in a flock of new extensions and plugins to help you find candidate data and contact information, and you’re all set. You might not be able to find every possible candidate for a role, but you’ll certainly be able to find enough high quality candidates to make sure you make a great hire.
The real difficulty now often comes with engaging the candidate. Just getting someone to open, read and reply to your message is fast becoming an art form.
Nowadays, candidates are less likely to reply to your message than ever before.
If you really think about it, this isn’t too surprising. The modern world is all about attention. Social giants like Facebook, advertisers, marketers friends, family and recruiters are all competing for candidate attention.
Getting emails from people outside your address book used to be a novelty, now candidates are drowning in them.
For sourcers, who are charged with making first contact with new candidates, to ability to engage passive talent effectively and get responses is crucial. Sourcing is no longer just about the search, it’s about engagement (the thing that happens when you’ve actually found a candidate).
The anatomy of the perfect sourcing message
There’s no such thing as a “one size fits all” message for prospects that your team is sourcing – every candidate responds best to messages that have been written specifically for them.
If you’re interested in consistently connecting with top candidates though, there are a few rules to follow. These tricks will enable your team to create a recruiting strategy that gets prospects to open, click and reply.
i) 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 to you optimise your subject line to encourage candidates to ‘click’ and read. Here are a couple of best practices that can make a big difference:
- Personalization: Adding a personal touch to your subject line can make a big difference. For example, mentioning the candidate’s name in your subject line can increase open rates by as much as 26%!
- Shared connections: Use LinkedIn’s ‘How You’re Connected’ feature to see if you have any shared connections with a candidate.
Pro tip: 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.
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 never apply!
We’ve all become experts at ignoring messages that aren’t specifically for us. We rarely engage with marketing messages, filtering out anything the feels generic or automated. Mass recruiting emails have the same effect. If candidates see that the message wasn’t written specifically for them, they give it less importance.
Make sure that you always address candidates by name, and try to customise the message content to show that you’ve looked at their LinkedIn profile and reviewed their past experience.
Pro tip: Formatting matters
Stay away from branding and polished screenshots, messages that are simple and direct help recruiters establish a “human-human” connection with candidates and are far more effective at generating positive replies.
iii) CTA & Signoff
Every email you send needs to have a clear next 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 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.
iv) Following up
The majority of your emails are destined to never get a response.
You shouldn’t take this personally, people are busy and your message is unlikely to be number one on their priority list.
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 going to win because everybody else stopped!
Like every great salesperson, every great recruiter knows the power of the follow up. It’s often the key to messaging candidates on LinkedIn.
Despite this, the follow up often gets ignored when you’re building a recruiting strategy. There are 3 key reasons for this:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 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 a pretty full inbox, your message may well have gone unnoticed.
Why follow up emails work
Most people assume that the reason they get a response on the 2nd or 3rd email is 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 came through at the wrong time. Your target candidate was too busy or distracted to take action and reply. Silence does not 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 working and haven’t dedicated any 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. That’s all. 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 one day after they are opened. This makes your follow up incredibly important. The moment you send your email the clock starts ticking, and after 24 hours you know it’s pretty unlikely that you’ll get a reply.
Never stop following up. It’s as simple as that.
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!
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 contact them more often than that.
2. Candidate nurture
“Top talent is searching for a company the same way they would any other purchasing decision” – Matt Charney, Recruiting Daily
Many of the candidates that you speak to won’t be ready to move. This doesn’t mean that you should just ignore them though. We live in a fast paced, “job-hopping” society – within a year or two it’s more than likely that they’ll be on the move again.
By nurturing these candidates with timely messages and content, you can keep these candidates engaged and keep the relationship moving on the right track. According to Forrester research, it can take as many as 8 brand touchpoints to influence a decision, so this is a long term investment – you have to persevere with it to convince candidates to apply.
The key to successful candidate nurture is understanding how to engage candidates in a time efficient way, without overloading them with messages, being irritating or spammy. It can be a delicate balance to strike!
The candidate lifecycle (image below) is the process candidates go through to become aware of, evaluate, and apply to a new job. To be successful, you need to treat people in each stage differently (i.e. candidates that are just becoming aware of your brand should be nurtured in a totally different way to applicants).
Instead of just blasting out the same email to your whole candidate database, think carefully about the stage that different candidates are at and try to segment your recruiting strategy accordingly.
Not only will this provide a better candidate experience, but you’re positive response rate will be considerably higher.
Here are a few examples of the types of content to send to nurture candidates effectively, as well as where it fits into the candidate journey:
i) Invite candidates to join a Talent network
Not every candidate that comes to your website is ready to apply. This is where talent networks come in. They offer passive candidates the chance to sign up for job updates and company news – in other words, people sign up to be “nurtured”.
Talent networks should solely be used to capture leads on your website though, they can be an effective tool to get candidates to “opt-in” to marketing communication from your team.
Who should you target?
Most of the candidates that join your talent community will do so through your website so you don’t need to invite them yourself. You should invite unsuccessful applicants and high quality passive candidates that aren’t actively looking for new roles to your talent network though – it’s a great way to keep them engaged.
ii) Invite candidates to events
Events can work particularly well if your goal is to attract niche talent or hit diversity targets – for example, many technology companies run events to attract and engage with female engineers.
Events are a great way to build brand awareness and generate new leads for your hiring team, but they’re also a useful tactic to nurture candidates that are further through the candidate lifecycle. Anyone attending gets to interact with your team on a less formal basis – they can ask questions, raise ideas and get to know your team. “Human-human” interactions like this are very effective at accelerating a candidate’s decision on whether to apply or accept an offer.
Who should you target?
Whenever you run or attend an event, you should have a particular goal in mind – for example, you could be looking to connect with top graduates.
Once you’ve narrowed down the persona that you want to connect with, reach out to similar candidates that already exist in your database – if we use the same example, it would be worth reaching out to students or recent graduates that you have spoken to before.
If you’re running an event that focuses on a particular job function, (sales and engineering tend to be the most popular here), contact leads or former applicants that fit the bill.
iii) Send candidates relevant jobs
Sending candidates information on new opportunities is an important part of any good nurture strategy.
It’s critical that any opportunities that you send are highly relevant, (i.e. only send sales opportunities to candidates that you know are interested in sales roles), and that you’re careful about how regular your job blasts are.
Who should you target?
It’s ok to message passive candidates about relevant opportunities as long as you don’t do it too often – they’re at a stage of the candidate lifecycle where marketing and branding content tends to be more effective.
You should send a higher volume of job related emails to candidates that you know are interested – this might include people that have specifically requested job alerts and previous applicants that you want to re-engage for different roles.
iv) Send Marketing and Branding content
This is the most widely used form of candidate nurture. By consistently sending candidates information about your company, your culture and your brand, your goal is to move them through the candidate lifecycle towards a future application.
Again it’s important that it’s targeted. If you want to share the news that your sales team has had a monster quarter, make sure that you’re only sharing it with sales candidates. (This particular tactic works well as sales people like to join successful teams).
Who should you target?
Focus on sending marketing and branding content to everyone in your database that isn’t a current applicant. The best format for this tends to be a monthly newsletter, and content that performs well here includes major company news (e.g. funding announcements if you’re a startup) and employee generated content like testimonials or videos.
v) Send Surveys
Candidate experience is a top priority for a growing number of companies, but few have a good way to measure it accurately. Using well-timed surveys to capture candidate feedback during your hiring process can give you real time data on what candidates really think.
Not only are surveys a great way to measure Employer Branding ROI, they’re also a great nurture touchpoint. They show candidates that you care about their opinion, and give you an opportunity to touch base with candidates that have dropped out of your hiring process.
Surveys don’t have to be overly complex. Just collecting a simple rating from candidates can be hugely effective, and help you build out things like NPS scoring down the road.
Who should you target?
You should send surveys to candidates at all stages of your hiring process if you want a clear picture of the kind of candidate experience that you’re providing.
As a nurture touchpoint, they’re best used to re-engage unsuccessful applicants. If these candidates speak positively of your company, consider inviting them to apply for other roles.
When your team is tasked with filling a new role, the first instinct for most recruiters is to create a job ad or start trawling through LinkedIn profiles. This is the status quo for a reason. It gets results.
The best talent teams are supplementing these “outbound” methods of candidate acquisition. They’re making use of pre-existing relationships to fill roles in a faster and more cost effective manner.
The ATS goldmine
Your ATS data might be static, but the people stored there certainly aren’t.
The candidates that you have rejected in the past are often great fits for roles that you’re currently struggling to fill. Candidates are passed over for a multitude of different reasons ranging from timing, to experience, to competition – there are likely to be hundreds that would make fantastic employees just sitting there.
You’ve already invested significant resources to attract these candidates and speak to them in the past – why let that go to waste?
Most ATS systems are more focused on application processing than search and candidate management though, so if you’re looking to re-engage candidates effectively you need CRM software that enables you to identify and re-engage the talent that’s most relevant.
Re-engagement: the quick wins
Successful candidate re-engagement can provide crystal clear ROI – it’s part of every fine tuned recruiting strategy and can make a big difference to the bottom line.
i) Reduced cost of hire
Typically whenever you have a new role to fill you’re immediately on the back foot. You’re forced to be reactive – you spend money on job boards, ads, and (if you’re a corporate) agencies.
You may not fill the role from recycled ATS contacts, but by treating past applicants as a large group of leads available to your recruiters at all times, you’ll have a great free resource to look at before you turn to paid channels.
You may still need look externally, but by mining your ATS for gold and creating talent pools you might just be able to fill the role for free in a matter of days. Recent research actually shows that this tactic might cut costs by as much as 50%!
ii) Reduce time to hire
The beauty of recycling ATS data and using talent pools is that you already have relevant candidates that your team are in engaging whenever you have a new role to fill.
This means that the time-consuming work of screening, selecting and pre-qualifying candidates is done on a rolling basis.
You can then move quickly to fill open roles with the right candidates, reducing the strain on your team. Research has found that 50% of organisations using talent pools reduced their time to hire.
Of course, a shorter time to hire also impacts your bottom line. There’s less lost productivity from vacant roles and you’re saving a good deal of recruiter time.
Re-engagement: Creating a successful recruiting strategy
Generic email blasts to your database about new jobs are not an effective way to re-engage candidates. Bear in mind that many people you have sitting in your ATS haven’t been contacted for years – would you respond to a job blast that comes totally out of the blue?
Successful re-engagement relies on a taking a more strategic approach. Here are some of the best reasons to reach out to candidates:
No matter how stellar your candidate experience, some application drop-off is inevitable. People either get tired of filling out forms, lose interest at the early stages or miss assessments. Drop-off isn’t an indication of candidate quality, there’s plenty of great talent that simply “falls out” of your application process.
You can re-engage these candidates in a few different ways. The first is very simple. Sending people who abandon your application process reminders to go back and finish is hugely effective at widening your funnel and improving conversion.
Alternatively, send job updates to these candidates when you’re trying to fill similar roles, or even just get one of your team to reach out to them directly.
Use location as a key parameter in your re-engagement campaigns. Candidates are far more likely to be interested in roles that are close to where they live.
For retail companies, location is a huge factor in re-engagement. Many people that you turn down might be prepared to apply to a similar role at a nearby store, so if you redirect these candidates effectively then you’ll be able to give your team more talent to review without spending money on advertising.
Similarly, whenever you have a new store opening, you can reach out to all past applicants that live in the area to generate immediate interest.
iii) In-demand skills
Re-engagement is a great tactic whenever you’re faced with a role that requires a specific skills set.
Foreign language fluency is a great example here. You may need Italian speakers for your customer service team. Instead of trying to locate Italian speakers through LinkedIn (tough if you’re not in Italy), search for candidates in your database that have this skill and re-engage them.
We firmly believe in the power of effective communication when it comes to creating a successful recruiting strategy. Not only can smart engagement help your team when it comes building relationships with candidates and hitting hiring KPIs, but it also ensures that every interaction a candidate has with your company is positive.
Rolling out an effective recruiting strategy is not something that happens overnight. There are often multiple stakeholders involved, and your messaging will require some careful initial planning. You need to sync up with other departments like marketing to make sure that the content that you send is on-brand and that you’re following company guidelines.
All that said, this is the first step to making candidate engagement a priority. The journey begins here.