70% of Candidates are Passive. Here’s How to Engage Them.
written by
James Barry
written by
James Barry
February 23, 2021

When I joined Beacon as the first sales hire, I knew nothing about the science behind effective outbound messaging.

I couldn’t tell you what subject lines would stand out in the inbox, the copy that would get a response, or even how to build an outreach program at scale. This begs the question “Why did Beacon even hire me...”, which is simple: We value potential over experience.

A year later, we routinely get 80% open rates and 30% reply rates for all our outbound messaging. In this article, I will outline the approach that we use at Beacon every day to engage and sell candidates on opportunities, at scale.

The Current State of Candidate Outbound 

Candidate outbound messaging is defined as any type of outreach done with the goal of getting someone interested in a job opening at your company.

Messaging candidates is a key strategy for founders, executives, and recruitment teams since 70% of the workforce is made up of candidates who are not job searching, a.k.a. Passive Candidates. To access this large pool of talent, you need an outbound engagement strategy. The only issue though is that building one is a time-intensive process that can be difficult to perfect, especially if you’re starting from scratch.

We can’t solve the time-intensity for you in a blog post (shameless plug: That’s why people work with us), but we can provide an outline to help you think about how to perfect this process by focusing on three key areas:

  1. Our Favorite Outbound Channels
  2. Writing Emails That Get Responses
  3. Standing Out On LinkedIn

Our Favorite Outbound Channels

Any marketing or sales team will tell you that the more touchpoints you use to engage a prospect, the greater the likelihood of getting a response. This also holds true in recruiting, and below is a ranked list of every channel available at your disposal:

#1: Email: The old faithful of outbound channels. For recruitment, for sales, and for the majority of business communication, email is used for everything. This also makes it the most crowded channel due to its popularity and the rise of email automation, so you’re going to need to bring your A-game if you want to get a response.

#2: LinkedIn: The biggest professional network, LinkedIn is a great compliment to email. You can connect, utilize InMails, send direct messages (text, audio, and video), and engage with people’s content, all of which help you stay top of mind. Just like email, it’s an incredibly crowded space.

#3: Calling: Cold calling is the #1 channel for salespeople but in the context of recruiting you run a high risk of turning people off and hurting your employer brand. It’s also quite time intensive. This may be an appropriate channel for some roles, but we’d advise you to tread lightly here.

#4 SMS (Short Message Service): Text messaging is an emerging channel and can work great for some types of roles. We’ve seen the best results when applied to hourly and gig work positions. Similar to cold calling, you can run the risk of turning people through this channel.

#5 Other Social Channels: Clubhouse, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Quora, Github, Webinars, Conferences, Meetups, etc. The list of additional networking platforms and events can go on and on. Given the random nature of these channels, we don’t recommend using it as a core part of a hiring approach, but they can be effective to opportunistically source candidates.

#6 Physical Mail: The black belt of channel engagement. If done right it can have a huge payoff, but the challenges here are 1) It’s hard to get mailing addresses for folks and 2) It can be pretty expensive. The good news is if you want to take a stab at this, there are a growing number of solutions that can streamline and automate this process.

There are many channels to use and explore, but our recommendation is to utilize email and LinkedIn since we have seen the best time-to-value ratios from these two channels.

Writing Emails That Get Responses

How to write a good email can be a blog post itself. Since it’s such a vast topic, we are going to focus on the three core pillars that will get you 80% of the way to being an expert:

  1. Best Practices That Get Replies
  2. Getting The Email Opened (a.k.a. The Inbox Bouncer)
  3. The Importance of Following Up

Email Best Practices

Writing a good email is difficult and takes time. We’ve distilled down a list of general best practices that, if mastered, can make anybody an expert email writer.

Focus On Them: The worst emails spend too much time talking about the sender. How great they are, their accomplishments, what they had for breakfast, etc. Every sentence in your email should focus on what is in it for the reader. Remember, you are reaching out cold asking someone for their most precious resource: Time.

Subject: Subjects should be short and personalized. Ideally, they should create a “pattern interrupt” in the inbox which will cause them to give your email a double-take and increase the odds that they will open the email. Few ones we have seen success with:

  1. [[Name]], leadership position at a Series A Startup?
  2. YC startup hiring founding engineer team.
  3. [[Name]], does $10M of funding and 500% quarterly growth sound interesting?  

Intro: You want to have a hook here in the first 10 words that show you’ve done your research. Few examples you can use:

  1. I came across your Github profile…
  2. Saw your impact on the Android team at…
  3. Since you’ve led the DevOps efforts…

Note: The hook will not only impact if your email will be read but if the recipient will open it at all since you can see the first 5 - 15 words in their inbox quickview. 

Body: Keep this short and to the point. Focus on who you’re reaching out to and highlight why they should be interested in responding. This should flow seamlessly from your intro. Don’t create extra work either, if you’re referencing a job provide a link to the description. 

CTA (“Call To Action”): There should only be one CTA per email. Make it clear and straightforward. Few ones that we like, to use:

  1. Would a call at 2 pm (ET) this Friday work to discuss the opportunity?
  2. Does this sound like it would be of interest?
  3. If you want to find a time to discuss this further, feel free to find a time on my calendar below.

Kill the Buzzwords: Avoid words that have little actual meaning such as: Best In Class, Superstar, Raise The Bar, Circling Back, Game-Changer, Outside-the-box, etc. As a good rule, if the phrase makes your eyes roll into the back of your head, get it out of your email.

The Bottom Line: There is so much that goes into writing a good email that we’ve only scratched the surface. Our friends at Lavender have built their entire business around how to write a better email so we highly recommend giving them a look. If you want to dive in deeper, you can check out their handy email guide here.

The Inbox Bouncer

Now that you’ve written a world-class email, you need to get your recipient to actually open and read it.

This is surprisingly hard to do. We’ve all received so much spam that now every person has a mental filter on which mail to open and which to archive or delete. The key is to construct your email to bypass this mental filter, which we refer to as the Inbox Bouncer. There are two factors that will influence your chances of getting past the Inbox Bouncer: The Subject and Preview Text.

  1. The Subject: This should be short, informative, and stand out in the inbox. An easy way to do this is to use the candidate’s first name, or specific facts about your company (growth, recent raise, etc.).
  2. Preview Text: The first few words will be shown in the inbox. These should have an immediate hook. Never use filler such as “Hope you are well”.
  3. Desktop & Mobile Optimization: Over 50% of emails are read on the phone where there is less space. Just look at the amount of information displayed to the right.

The Importance of Follow Up

I cannot stress the importance of follow-up. The data shows that even 2-3 follow-ups have a dramatic impact on response rate. 

While it’s great to plan to follow up, the only surefire way to ensure you do is to use software. Without automation, you will spend too much time sending out manual emails, other responsibilities will crop up, and eventually your outbound efforts will fall to the bottom of your to-do list.

There are literally dozens of recruitment tools to automate follow-ups. Here is a good review of common candidate sourcing tools, but there is also a large ecosystem of sales-related tools that achieve the same outcome.  

Standing Out On LinkedIn

A good LinkedIn strategy is a great compliment to email. Some candidates may only respond through LinkedIn while others may only respond to emails. At the very least, LinkedIn outreach will remind your candidate that you sent them an email.

Every LinkedIn engagement should start with a Connection Request: The ONLY purpose of a connection request is to get your recipient to accept it. If they accept, you then have the opportunity to send them direct messages (text & audio), videos, and GIFs. 

If you personalize it, they are also much more likely to accept it. Below is a standard template you can use that takes less than one minute to personalize:

Hey [[Candidate Name]], "I was really taken by your profile line about [[Profile Shoutout]], We over here at [[Your Company]] are trying to build that into our culture in 2021. Give me a shot to have 30 minutes to unpack a bit about our culture and how you might fit in."

If they accept, you can then pursue outreach using any of the following methods:

Audio: In the summer of 2018, LinkedIn added an audio message feature to their platform. Using the LinkedIn app, you can send audio messages to potential candidates. Since these are still fairly rare, they are much more likely to get a response.

If opening up the app breaks your workflow, there are software providers out there such as Amplemarket that allow you to send an audio message directly via your desktop.

Video: These can be sent directly through LinkedIn using a number of platforms out there such as Drift, Loom, or SendSpark.

Text: Simple and short, these should be used primarily to tell the candidate what is in it for them if they respond.

Gifs: At the beginning of 2020, LinkedIn added GIFs to the messaging feature on LinkedIn. These should primarily be used to bump messages up in the inbox and the most effective ones incorporate humor (just type “sad” into the GIF box and you should get a few different options to use).

If they don’t accept…

InMails: InMails are great for getting a message across to people who you aren’t connected with. The only issue here is that they scream “I don’t know you”.

Follows: If you follow a candidate on LinkedIn, they’ll get a notification providing another touchpoint and reminder.

Content Engagement: Like and comment on articles or posts that your candidate puts out on LinkedIn. This is one of the best ways to stand out since few recruiters have the bandwidth to do this. There are so many options for LinkedIn engagement that the best approach is to use a consistent strategy and stick to it. At Beacon, we like to use connection requests, audio messages, and GIFs, but based on your approach different methods might work. For candidates that don’t accept, we usually stop outreach at that point since it is not only harder to directly engage with them, but it’s a signal that they are less likely to be searching for a new position.

In Conclusion

Drafting compelling messaging to candidates takes time because it’s difficult, but with these best practices, you’ll be set up for success.

It’s also only one piece of the outbound recruitment puzzle, the other two being: 1) Building lists of qualified candidates and 2) Choosing your recruitment tech stack. We’ll be publishing blog posts on both of these topics later this year, so if you want to stay updated subscribe to our newsletter below.

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