Recruiting Outreach: 4 Steps for Messages That Make Candidates Respond

Often, the best way to get what you want in life is to first give it to others. The same is true for tech recruiters. Just as we want ourselves and our work to be seen, so must we approach our interactions with candidates. And it all starts with the right outreach in recruitment.

When we as recruiters first approach a new candidate with genuine curiosity, wanting to know them as a person — with empathy for their hopes, fears and what they’ve been through — candidates pick up on it. They feel we truly want to know them, and more often than not, they pull back the curtain and share those pieces. Sometimes, they reveal more than you might expect.

On the other hand, when we approach a new candidate through the lens of OUR needs (aka the open reqs we’re trying to fill) we’re not making space for that empathetic connection. Instead, the message we’re sending is, “I have a need. Can you fill it?” Or, more directly, “My needs are primary, who you are is only a means to an end. Do YOU satisfy MY needs?”

The latter is the approach candidates encounter more often than not. Couple that with the general lack of understanding most tech recruiters have about the industry and different tech roles, and it’s no wonder that tech recruitment has such a bad reputation.

Pull Energy vs. Push Energy

Every week, software engineers get anywhere from ten to thirty messages from recruiters who have roles to fill. Think about what that must feel like as the candidate: If you received an average of 15 messages a week that were templated, not aligned with your experience or background, and seeking your attention just to meet the senders’ needs, you probably wouldn’t be very excited to get back to any of those messages.

Recruiters who only see a list of experiences, but don’t really see the candidate for who they are, are recruiters who are wasting their time and the time of the candidate. They’re not going to be able to engage with the candidate in a meaningful way.

Effective outreach in recruiting flips the switch from a focus on ‘self’ (OUR needs and filling an open role) to a focus on the candidate’s interests and experiences. This means tailoring the message to be focused on THEIR needs, and crafting it in their language as much as possible, so as to make it compelling.

4 Steps to Effective Outreach Messages

Your goal at this stage of the process is to pique their interest and to get them interested to learn more. It’s not to get them to apply, so don’t push for that. Make the human connection first, then get them to have a conversation where you can start to build the relationship.

Remember, you want to pull, not push.

1) Outline the key elements of your outreach initiative.

  • Understand the role– Why would someone want it and what will they accomplish with the role?
  • Understand the individual– What is their background? What transferable skills might they have?
  • Structure your outreach messages – Prioritize the interests of the candidate. What will get their attention? What will trigger them to respond to your message?

2) Follow a smart structure to format your messages.

  • Get to the point– Who are you and what are you seeking? (Position the role in an enticing way.)
  • Pinpoint a triggerHow did you find the candidate and why you are you contacting them? In the message, share something you found out about them to show you actually read about them and care about what makes them unique.
  • Communicate the opportunity– In one two sentences explain the job by including a title and quick synopsis of the role.
  • Clarify the ask– Don’t assume they are interested or available, and let them know that to communicate the outreach is about their interests, not yours.
  • Call them to action– Ask for a quick 15 minute call or to at least let you know if they are not interested.
  • Add a little something extra– Include a link to your company culture page, blog, social media accounts, Certified Tech Recruiter badge, etc in your signature.

3) Write and review.

Draft your message according to the structure laid out above and review it before sending. (Sure, it may seem simple, but plenty of outreach messages fall short because the recruiter didn’t bother to give things a once-over.)

  • Subject line- Lead Front End Engineering opportunity with Acme, Inc.
  • Reason“Hi, I’m Marcel. Your profile popped up in a search I’m doing for a Senior Front End Engineer”
  • Trigger– “Your twitter profile caught my attention because of the insights you share on front end development and your experience with React.js” OR “Your profile caught my attention because of your experience with both React.js and Node.js at company name& company name”
  • Opportunity– “We’re currently looking for someone who would be a great Front End Lead for our next generation data analytics platform that supports millions of users within the automotive industry.”
  • Ask– “Would you potentially be interested in a role like this? Even if it isn’t the right opportunity at this time, I’m happy to keep an eye on the market for you for similar, or different roles, if you’d like.” OR “I know that you’re probably happy in your current role, but I hope that you might still be open to a conversation.”
  • CTA– “Would you have 15 minutes free to discuss this opportunity in more detail?”

Before you send, run your message through Recruiter Lint. This handy program helps you identify unnecessary words and gives you a score. Aim for an 8 or higher. If certain words are flagged, but are necessary to your message, leave them in.

Also, take the time to look each candidate up on additional mediums like Github, Meetup.com, Twitter, Quora, StackOverflow, and personal blogs. Figure out personal nuggets like what they’re interested in, what they post about, and whether they might have side projects or interests outside of their professions.

All of these data points help you to create a more rounded understanding of the candidate before you make contact. This helps you to make a more educated decision on whether they may be a good fit for the role and gives you personal nuggets for that critical first step in outreach.

4) Be persistent and consistent.

Just because you don’t hear back from your first message, doesn’t mean they the candidate isn’t interested. Much like you, they lead busy lives and manage multiple channels of communication. That’s why, for recruiting outreach, it’s best to structure your messages with multiple touch points. You might want to send a message a day for three days then leave a voice message. Or, send a message every other day and have the hiring manager send a message after the first three.

Don’t ask the candidate to check out your website or attach the job description for their review. That’s not your goal at this initial stage. The goal is to get them interested enough to grab a quick call with you, or to ask for more information.


Take a look in the virtual mirror.

Walkthrough all of your own social media profiles and ask yourself the following:

  • Do they align with what you want tech candidates to perceive of you?
  • Do you seem like someone who is well-connected with solid experience recruiting for tech professionals?
  • Do you post about your company’s tech stack or what your tech team is up to?
  • Do you post tech, business, or innovation articles?
  • Do you have recommendations from past candidates or hiring managers?

If you can say yes to all of these questions, you’re establishing credibility with potential candidates by showing you’re immersed in your work and the industry you recruit in.


Go forth and flip the focus.

If you follow these steps, and take the time to craft authentic messages for each candidate, your recruitment outreach will yield a far better response rate. Sure, it might take more time than a templated mass email, but be honest, how well do those email blasts work anyway? Instead, focus and connect your message to the person you’re targeting, and watch the responses roll in.

For more tips like these, from outreach to hiring for specific tech roles, check out our Tech Recruiting Certification Program. It’s everything you need to know for every piece of the job — all in one place.

Continue Your Learning

What we’ve just covered is merely the tip of the iceberg. We’ve created a handy Tech Cheat Sheet to be an additional resource for you. Our Tech Cheat Sheet goes more in depth on what tools engineers are using, definitions you should know, and how to apply your new tech know-how in conversations with candidates. Download our Tech Cheat Sheet and start making better tech placements today.

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