Top 12 Email Secrets (or Strategies) to Engage Passive Candidates

by | How To, Sourcing

Writing emails to candidates takes time, practice, and patience. You’re competing with possibly 100+ other emails that all land in a person’s inbox on any given day. You must stand out and grab their attention before they hit the “delete” button.

But how?

In a previous blog, we gave email strategies to use if you’re working with software engineers, but in this post, we want to give you helpful, effective tips on how to write emails for passive candidates that you’re trying to engage with.

Before you send out your next email, keep in mind these top 12 email secrets:

1. Write a catchy subject line. You want to entice your candidates so much that they feel compelled to open your email. To do this, you must make yours stand out. People are inundated with emails on a daily basis. How many times have you deleted an email because the subject line just didn’t draw your attention or tell you what was inside quick enough?

However much time you spend crafting your message, take that much time to craft your subject line. Make a list of 10 and try using different ones to see which subject lines get the best open rates. Keep it short (50 characters or less), don’t make it all about you, and focus on them by personalizing it (use their name!). Make them curious (“Why I noticed you on LinkedIn”), mention something they care about (“Top 5 Resume Tips”) or be upfront with the benefit for them (“Nancy – I’ve found a great job opportunity in your area”). The first thing you want candidates to know is that your email is not spam.

You can also use free tools like CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer and the rating tool on Just type in your subject line to get feedback. This helps recruiters better understand what will generate a response.

2. Keep the message focused. The last thing a potential candidate wants to read is a lot of jumble or a long story. Keep it short and sweet and get to the point quickly. Stick to just one focused purpose. Time is precious these days and the faster someone gets through your email, the better chance you have of them contacting you.

Try to keep your messages to 6-8 sentences, break up paragraphs so it’s not one big block of text that is hard to read (many people just skim emails), and keep the read time to 30-60 seconds. If you can’t capture their attention in this amount of space, then they are already moving onto the next email.

3. Personalize. Gone are the days of formal communication of “To Whom It May Concern” or “Dear Candidate.” As you write your message, notice the tone you are using, and then ask yourself how you would talk at a business conference. You want to be professional but not off-putting or impersonal. Use clear, friendly, inviting language, as if you’re speaking to a professional colleague in a casual tone. Don’t lose sight of yourself – be personal and be you.

Personalize your emails, but don’t repeat people’s name too often because it makes you sound like a call center script. Also, Google the candidate. See if you can reference something they’ve done, a special project, speaking event, etc. Compliment their portfolio. Clearly call out what about their profile/resume/experiences are of interest to you. Comment on their latest LinkedIn update or tweet. Remember, you’re building trust and rapport so make them feel special and show them that you went the extra mile to learn more about them because you care.

4. Show respect, and say “please” and “thank you.” As mentioned above, you want to be casual and inviting in your tone, but you also want to be polite. Don’t demand actions from candidates, but ask or request nicely. Respect people’s time by keeping the email short and to the point. And if someone shows disinterest in your job opportunity, respect their decision and don’t keep emailing them, especially if they tell you they aren’t interested or ask you to stop sending them your communications.

5. Identify yourself clearly. As with any relationship, you need to introduce yourself so the other person can get to know you. In a brief introduction, state your title, who you work for, and your purpose. Keep it concise in just a few sentences. Also, keep in mind that a good recruiter email does not make the message all about them, their company, or the job, but instead focuses on the candidate. Don’t become overzealous or braggy.

6. Don’t include a job description. Most job descriptions are often poorly written and not motivating. Instead, define the opportunity by giving a couple of sentences about what this role will accomplish and how you think this person would be a great fit. Then, you can provide a link to the job description and not take up space in the email with a long laundry list of requirements. And again, make it all about them, not the job.

7. Proofread. Don’t sabotage yourself by forgetting to proofread your email messages before you hit the “send” button. Spelling and grammatical errors are killers! It’s one of the fastest ways to lose credibility and make an overall bad impression on candidates. It shows your emails were rushed and put together sloppily. Take your time and read carefully through your email. Or, ask a fellow colleague to read it and give their feedback. Sometimes they can see what you might possibly have missed. Two sets of eyes on all messaging is always better than one.

8. Always add a clear call-to-action (CTA) before you send an email. The reader needs to know what to do next – call you, make an appointment, click a link to see the job description, etc. Keep your instructions short, simple, and clear so the reader understands what is requested of them. Also, remember to give them a timeframe with a sense of urgency so that they do not sit on the email too long.

Also, keep the decision to a minimum. You don’t want to overload your prospects with too many requests so that they get too confused on what to do and ultimately, just end up deleting your email because it’s too complicated. Keep your CTA to one action step.

9. Avoid attachments. It may seem like a logical method to keep your emails short and sweet but then send the job description or any other information as an attachment. DON’T!

Think about how many emails you get from people that you don’t know. Would you open an attachment from them? Most likely you wouldn’t so expect passive candidates to do the same. They need to get to know you first, build trust and a rapport with you, and then they may be open to receiving further info via attachments.

Also, you could run into security and deliverability issues. Many spammers used to send malware as attachments and once the recipient opened the email, their computer was infected. Therefore, most people today are very leery of opening anything from people or businesses they do not know. Or, your email might not even make it to the prospect’s inbox because their email provider detected your email (with attachment) as spam and sent it straight to the junk folder, so now your emails aren’t even being seen.

You can also run into file size problems, your document or PDF could be too big to send via email. Or, the candidate may not have the programs required to open and view your attachment. And finally, you need to think about how your emails are being viewed. The majority of people today use mobile devices to check email and they may not be able to open and/or view attachments on their cell phones.

10. The goal is to get a candidate on the phone. Ultimately, you want to speak with the prospect about the job opportunity. This is a great way to screen through large pools of potential candidates. By getting people on the phone, it helps recruiters confirm the level of interest, match core skills, and assess if candidates will be a good “cultural fit” for the hiring company.

11. Don’t forget to follow-up. Emails should not be seen as “set it and forget it” types of communication. It’s a good idea to check back in with candidates if you are not hearing from them. Ideally, wait 5-10 days before following up with candidates. You want to be polite with your next message, so keep in mind to be persistent but not insistent. You don’t want to scare off potential candidates by emailing them too much.

You can also softly reach out to them by connecting with them on LinkedIn or other social media platforms, send them a direct message via social media (if you’re already connected) or ask a mutual connection to reach out to them to show that you’re genuinely interested. But you also want to respect their time and space. A good rule is to send two follow-ups.

12. Review email metrics. If you’re not checking your email metrics, then how can you improve your email messages? You need to know what is working and what isn’t. Do some A/B testing and try changing different aspects of the email – subject lines, tone, short vs. long, etc. Always be experimenting to see what resonates the most with prospects. Then, track how many people respond, the day of the week you send emails, the time of day, the time of year you reach out to passive candidates. All of these details will help you craft better emails and know when to send them.

Also, keep in mind that it’s not only important to know your open rate but to know other metrics to review as well – click rates (how many people are clicking on links you provide in the email), bounce rates (how many people aren’t even getting your email) and opt-out rates (how many people are choosing to unsubscribe or request to be taken off your email list).

As always, if you’re not getting the awesome, passive candidate to respond, give us a call at We consistently recruit the best talent or your money back. Put us to work as an extension of your employment brand. 


Contact The Experts