The Best Guide to Recruiting Outbound Messaging for Startups

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We’ve talked about job postings and sourcing candidates, but you also need to know how to do outbound recruiting effectively. Posting a job where active candidates are searching for a position, or leveraging social media or referrals for sourcing, will, in essence, take care of itself.

However, you have also sourced a list of potential passive talent, so you need to start “marketing” the job opportunity to those prospects – reaching out with an initial message to get their attention and start a dialog.

As in all aspects of hiring, each step is essential. Your outbound recruiting represents embracing the best practices of outbound recruiting marketing, including subject line, content, timing, and other aspects. Keep reading to look at each of these messaging components.

Recruiting Messages

Having identified a list of possible candidates, you need to get your job opportunity in front of them. This is your initial touchpoint. First, you might ask yourself, is it worth reaching out to already employed, passive candidates. They aren’t looking for a job, are they?

Interestingly, Gallup reports that 51% of US employees are actively looking for a new job or watching for new job openings. And there are twice as many “actively disengaged” workers in the world as there are “engaged” workers who love their jobs. Employed workers are a great source of potential candidates.

Whether using email or LinkedIn InMail, the most common messaging techniques, there are some crucial guidelines to follow. According to Monster’s 2018 State of Recruiting Survey, 67% of recruiters “said they felt that they needed to understand marketing to be successful.” And they are right. You need to embrace email marketing best practices.

Subject Lines

Let’s start with the critical subject line. There is lots of clutter in today’s inbox, so getting your message opened is the crucial first step, and the subject line is the key. Here are some thoughts and best practices to keep in mind:

Subject line length is essential. The best subject line length uses as few words as possible to provide the information or incentive that gets the reader to open it (simple, but it needs to be your mantra). The best performers are between thirty and fifty characters, including spaces.

Be specific. Make it relevant. Why should the recipient open this email? A good subject line tells what is inside and drives the call to action. Show the value and ensure it ties to the content—no bait and switch.

Use relevant keywords. Titles and industry-specific terms can help. The first two words in a subject line are essential. Move keywords upfront.

Make it personal. According to multiple sources, the candidate’s name in the subject line can increase an open rate by up to 26%. Referencing other personal data can help even more. As an example, according to Beamery, this is one that they have found effective:

Subject lines framed as a question can perform well. “Interested in a dream Sales Job at [Company]?” as a general example. And adding a sense of urgency is an excellent way to inspire action. “Ruby-on-Rails developer job opening – expires in one week.”

Avoid using promotional phrases or words and punctuation that make it sound spammy, i.e., urgent, $, make money, etc. There are plenty of online resources to help with that, but here is a quick guide from Hubspot , and below are some spam-like wording attached to employment:

  • Additional income
  • Compete for your business
  • Earn extra cash
  • Extra income
  • While you sleep
  • Income from home
  • Home-based
  • Earn per week
  • Expect to earn

Message Content

Now, the actual message. The content of your email needs to be carefully crafted. The essentials:

Include where you heard about them — e.g., “I saw your contribution on GitHub,” “Reviewed your LinkedIn profile and saw you worked at X, which is very complimentary to our company.” You might want to put this first to demonstrate your message isn’t a generic email blast.

According to Glen Cathey, noted expert on recruiting, “My secret weapon was to be incredibly detailed and specific about exactly why I was reaching out to them, which wasn’t [about] the job I was recruiting for, but rather their skills and experience, to show them I understood them.”

You want to offer a brief introduction (who you are and your role) and let your candidates know about your current opening. Include only what’s necessary, but the more personal, the better.

Define what your company is working on and what the job is, how that relates to what the candidate is currently doing, and why what you’re doing would matter to them. Highlight the significant challenges in the job rather than listing skills and “must-haves.” Tell a story.

Key: your purpose is to elicit a response, not share a long story. Keep the message focused on “why they should care” and “how they take action.”  

Consider including a link to the job description. Since you are a startup and there is a chance the candidate hasn’t heard of your company, you might want to include some company information (or, even better, a link to the “About” page on your website).

Include a specific call-to-action, like asking when they would like to schedule a call to discuss the job opportunity, which could either require a reply or a “Let’s Chat” button, or you could provide a link to an open calendar where they can schedule their own call time (using something like Calendly). Or suggest a specific day and time. And a soft sell is usually more suitable: “I’d like to get to know you better and introduce our company to you.” Versus, “Please let me know when you can do a phone interview.”

Depending on the role and if you want to do some screening first, you could also provide a link to the online job application. Situations vary, so think through your process and match your email communications.

People scan emails. Use bullets, bolding, headlines, and underlines to make for easier consumption. So for the overall length, the shorter, the better. Again, your goal is to elicit a response.

And for closing your communication, use what is most appropriate and what you are most comfortable with. Some basics:

Sincerely, Regards, Yours indeed – These are the most straightforward and valuable closings to use in formal business communication.

Best regards, Cordially, and Yours respectfully – These closings are slightly more personal.


Who the email is “from” is something good to test. The company recruiter, the hiring manager? See what works best. Note that reach-outs from founders aren’t intrinsically more valuable unless they’re personal and targeted.


There are no definitive rules on the best time of day to send. Top Echelon says right around mid-morning or mid-afternoon, specifically between 10 and 11 a.m. and 2 and 3 p.m. Those timeframes are generally ideal for recruiters to send out their emails. 

They also suggest not sending at night, before 7 a.m. and after 4 p.m. On the other hand, Yesware data suggests early morning (6 a.m. or 7 a.m.) or evening (8 p.m.) time slots work best. Re. InMails, LinkedIn says there is no magical time of day. Response rates are all the same.  So what should you do? You must test to see what works best for you and your target audience.

During the week, Tuesdays and Thursdays are traditionally the best days for marketing emails, with Tuesday number one. What about weekends? There is conflicting data on this as well.

The Yesware study says the best reply rates are on the weekends.  Beamery says they found Sunday evening works best. Others, like Top Echelon, say don’t send on the weekends. LinkedIn says the day of the week has no impact on the InMail response rate. Again, testing is highly recommended here. See what works best.


Many of your candidates will probably view your message on their phones. Make sure it’s mobile-friendly. It should be responsively designed and, as noted above, as short and scannable as possible.


While reaching out to try to recruit passive talent is best served via direct email/messaging, texting is another way to communicate with candidates.

Jobvite’s 2018 Recruiter Nation Study had some exciting stats about recruiting via texting. According to the study, 43% of recruiters have used texting to reach out to candidates or current applicants, and 88% report positive feedback from the job seeker.

They also note that it works better for a younger talent pool. Texting as a communication channel does have its risks, depending on the audience and the type of message (e.g., one can assume a reminder for a scheduled interview might be better received than an initial cold outreach message). Use your best judgment as to when and how to text.

Metrics and Measurement

Most email platforms have tracking capabilities, and it’s precious to get campaign metrics – open rates, click-through rates, and even conversion rates if you send them to a job application form, for example. Metrics allow you to see the effectiveness of your subject lines (driving open speed) and your message content and design (driving click-throughs).

It’s best to use an email marketing platform to do your sending since analytics is a standard feature. Or look at a recruiting solution like, which has built-in candidate engagement tools and the corresponding email metrics.

Even if you send from your personal Gmail account, though, Google Analytics can be used for tracking email opens (add the Google Analytics tracking code to your Gmail messages). Get as much hiring data as you can so you can measure effectiveness.

Regarding conversion rates, the system you use for your communications will determine what you can track. As noted, it’s possible to look at the job application form submission tied to sends and click-throughs to get actual conversion rates, but you need an analytics system that allows that type of tagging and reporting.

Remember that you can also manually measure success, counting interviews, tendered offers, and accepted job offers, and tie that back to campaigns and messages. You can even look at conversion between each step, from contact to interview to close. Even if it’s manually done, measurement and metrics give you the information you need to optimize your recruiting process.


And that brings us to the last part of this discussion, using that data – i.e., leveraging metrics in testing to optimize performance. In A/B testing, a single element competes against the original (control) version. You use metrics generated through A/B testing to identify the optimal approach (the winner!). For example, basic subject line testing uses two (or more) subject lines to see which gives you the best open rate.

Or, in an email, a new version of a headline might compete against the original headline to know where you get the best click-through. Testing is one of the ongoing outbound recruiting efforts, and the current champion (the winner) can continue to be challenged until a new winner is found, driving even higher performance. It’s classic “test, learn, and optimize.”

Typically, for more extensive lists, a subset of recipients is pulled out, broken into two or more “cells,” the message is sent to all cells with only one test element changed for each, and the results show the winner, which is then sent to the remaining recipients on the list.

In the case of working with smaller lists, you might send half the list one message, half the other, and see which performs best. That will inform your following statement, and you can challenge that winner again. Slowly build your best practices and ratchet up results.

You can test each element of your communications. Besides the subject line, you can try copy length, messaging, HTML vs. text, the close, who it’s “from,” call-to-action, day/time sent, and many other elements. Of course, you must balance the time it takes for testing with the ROI, but at the least, start testing the basics like subject line and length of copy. Test and learn and optimize!

Improve Your Outbound Recruiting Messaging Today

Outbound and inbound recruiting are essential to the recruiting strategy driving your company’s growth. Your communications must be practical and follow the latest in digital marketing best practices. Focus on each piece.

You can send a message to an extremely qualified candidate about the best job offer on the planet, but if the subject line is horrible, that person may never see it. Cold calling can also be effective if you apply the right strategy. Spend the time crafting excellent communications. Remember that outbound recruitment requires patience.

Follow the guidelines above on structuring your subject line and message. Track what is happening and test and optimize. Embrace the proven methods of email marketing to be a great communicator and fill the positions with outstanding candidates as fast as possible.

If you’re still struggling to recruit qualified candidates, contact us today ! We have the recruiting solutions and expertise that you need to grow your business with the best employees.


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