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Cold emails are a common tactic for recruiters trying to attract new talent. Once your personal network is exhausted, you’ll likely turn to the world of social media and other extended networks to find the talent you’re looking for. That means exposing yourself to candidates you’ve never met before. A quick email should, theoretically, grab the attention of any somewhat interested candidate – but the reality is most cold emails are ignored.

Still, if your cold email is effective, you should expect to see at least some percentage of replies. If you aren’t getting anything substantial, it likely means there is an issue with your approach. So what could be happening?

Here are a few common reasons why cold emails fail:

There’s No Hook

If you want your recipient to reply, you first need to seize their attention. The way to do that is with some kind of hook – preferably in the subject line, because almost half of all email recipients choose to open emails based on subject lines alone.

What kind of hook should you have? That depends on whom you’re targeting and what you’re targeting them for. If you think you can offer a candidate a higher-paying opportunity, use that angle to craft a subject line they can’t ignore, like: “Get the salary you deserve at ____ Corp.” If you want to appeal to the application of their talents, you could use a line like: “Put your talent to better use.” Figure out what your prospect wants, and then find a way to give it to them.

Your Email Is Formulaic

If you’re using the same tired template to email every candidate you find, it’s no wonder you aren’t getting more responses. If people feel like they’re one of 10,000 other people who already received this email, they won’t be motivated to take action. There are a lot of free templates for cold recruiting emails, but you can bet each of them has been used thousands of times. If you really want to stand out, you should use a custom layout with a custom message. Not only will it help you differentiate yourself, but it will also make you seem more approachable, thereby increasing your response rates.

Your Emails Look Like Spam

SpamIf your email looks like spam in any way, it’s not going to get opened, let alone responded to. If you include sensationalized subject lines – such as ones that promise your candidates will make tons of money or ones that use excessive exclamation points – your emails are probably going to be caught by the majority of spam filters. Your message needs to be substantive with as much straightforward description as possible to avoid coming across like a spammer or schemer.

You Aren’t Customizing the Message

Are you writing each email specifically to the individual person you’re trying to target? If not, your response rates will suffer. Do your research in advance and cater to your individual prospect’s needs in your message. Greet them by name and mention a handful of details that show you’ve done your homework. Note where they currently work, what their area of specialty is, and any special accomplishments they’ve had over the past few years. It proves that your interest is genuine and flatters your prospect at the same time.

If you customize your messages, you’re far more likely to be taken seriously – and you’ll end up attracting more responses.

The Call to Action Isn’t Appealing (or Doesn’t Exist!)

Do your cold emails have a call to action that makes people eager to respond? If not, that may be why they’re failing. Somewhere in your email, usually toward the end, you’ll need to tell your prospect what to do next and why they need to do it. Usually, your call to action will be something along the lines of, “If you want to discuss things further, let’s have a phone call. Email me back with your schedule, and we’ll put something on the calendar.” You’ll also want to describe the incentive, possibly reminding your candidate what they stand to gain by talking with you.

Cold emails certainly aren’t a dead strategy, and in some cases, they’re your only option to get to the next level of conversation with a given prospect. However, without the right approach, your cold emails will invariably fall flat. Writing custom emails and calls to action is time-consuming, but the alternative – relying on mass-marketed templates – won’t earn you nearly as impressive results. Keep making improvements as you go. Eventually, you’ll settle into an approach that works.

Larry Alton is an independent business consultant specializing in tech, social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.



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