What Should You Say When Messaging a Candidate?

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Feb 7, 2014

Following up on a discussion on response rates that I started about a year ago, I would like to share some new insights. The data is based on 543 prospective candidates I approached, all working in IT, located around the globe.  I’m willing to elaborate on exact methodology in the comments section, but first, let’s dive into the results first.

What to write when you e-mail prospect candidates

I’m very much in favor of sending short personalized e-mails. E-mails that show you’ve actually investigated the person’s profiles and are not generic. Having said that, there’s still lots of variation to be tested within this style.

In his lectures about engaging with (prospect) candidates, Johnny Campbell stresses the importance of a clear call to action in your message. And though I have high regards of everything Johnny says, I decided to test this.

I reached out to candidates by e-mail, using 3 variations in the message:

(1) including a link to the vacancy, ending the message with ‘looking forward to hearing from you’
(2) describing the vacancy briefly without including a link, ending the message with ‘looking forward to hearing from you’
(3) describing the vacancy briefly without including a link, ending  the message with the call to action “can I call you tomorrow to discuss this opportunity”

To set e-mail as a contact channel in perspective, I’ve also reached out to candidates using twitter. Due the open nature of twitter, I’ve used a conversational approach to start a discussion.

These are the response rates of the various approach types:

LinkCan I call you?
No thanks9%No thanks9%
Not Now:9%Not Now:2%
Total response:35%Total response:37%
No LinkConversational
No thanks12%No thanks32%
Not Now:8%Not Now:11%
Total response:42%Total response:54%


  • The approach type that resulted in the most prospect candidates stating they were interested in a conversation about job opportunities is clearly the “can I call you” message. Interestingly, this approach type gets less ‘not now’ responses.  ‘Not now’ responses can be very useful for building a talent pool (something I’ve learned from Marvin Smith at Sourcecon Seatle 2013).
  • Adding a link to the vacancy doesn’t seem to be the best way to go. The conversational style using twitter is more time-consuming and led to less success, though the total response on twitter was the highest.

Of course, there’s much more to be said about how to successfully approach candidates. There’s no silver bullet that works best in all cases. What works best in your particular case might be different than mine. There’s only one way to find out. Measure what you do and keep experimenting.

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