How to Write Recruiting Emails People Will Actually Open

If you’ve never been in charge of mass-marketing email sends, you probably feel no guilt as you hit delete on yet another promo code. But if you’ve been an email marketer, you know what it takes to go from idea to email. Writing a marketing email comes with a lot of stress no one discusses. There are a million tiny little details that go into it, every one an opportunity for a mishap that could go viral. 

Each one will also keep you up at night. I say from personal experience. 

First, it’s the call-to-action. Email marketers start most of their work by convincing someone the necessity or sending an email in the first place. “It’s worth it,” whatever that means. Then it’s writing the content, coding the display, and designing every single custom element down to the page alignment and font color. There are buttons and links, style requests, and wrapping graphics. Oh, and don’t get me started on version testing. 

Email marketing truly is one part art and one part science. 

And the final touch? A subject line. After all that work, it comes down to six words. What will we say to make this email irresistible to open among the other 2,000 messages people see every single day? 

Recruiting — Not Marketing — Changes Lives

If all that sounds easy, you’re crazy or a masterful email marketer. For most of us, the whole idea is a stressful predicament. Especially the idea that it all comes down to the subject line. After all that work, you’re telling me that 97% of people will never see all the other things that took me a week to create? Ouch. 

I know the pain of it all. I was a marketer. I have sent thousands of emails that inspired the same panic and insomnia. You would think it gets more comfortable, but that’s a lie. I still make midnight edits before an email goes out. 

Here’s the bottom line: I still think marketers have it much easier than recruiters. 

While the sending techniques are far more complicated to code and there are more broad consequences for mistakes, recruiters have people’s lives in their hands. There’s a lot more on the line when talking about someone’s career instead of their couch or some other gimmick. 

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Marketers get to test ideas and call it a success when they send 1 million emails to convince 1,000 people to do something. Recruiters start with an unlimited pool of talent and narrow it down to one person. The recruiter’s job is much harder than any marketing gig.

In recruiting, the “buyer” is a human we have to convince to change. Whether someone decides to search and apply for a job or take your call, it’s a confession of sorts. They admit that they want to change their lives and are willing to change everything to make it happen. When someone clicks on a marketing promotion, it’s rarely that meaningful. 

Subject-Line Lessons for Recruiting Email Outreach 

Still, recruiters and marketers can still learn from each other. Even if there’s not a lot on the line in comparison, sending a million marketing emails does offer one prominent perk: data you’d never get from 1-1 candidate outreach, especially when it comes to subject lines. 

Here are a few of the subject-line lessons I learned as an email marketer, lessons that have worked for scheduling automation and creating one-off candidate outreach emails. 

  • Ask yes/no questions. If the answer is no, OK. Delete the email. If the answer is yes, you’ll get their attention. 
  • Clarity over creativity. I know you think you’re funny, but don’t lead with a joke or a “get it” moment. Instead, tell someone the intel you’d offer your best friend about the next steps, why they should be interested, and what it will take to succeed. 
  • Personalization matters. Many recruiters overthink personalization, going deep into the well to create a subject line that borders on creepy details. You can boost open rates by up to 40% with the most simple personalization of all — first name in the subject line. 
  • Tie your subject line into the first sentence. One of the best performing emails I’ve ever written started with the subject line: “Your next accounting job is…” The first sentence tie? “If you’re clicking on a subject line like this, we should probably talk.” That email had a 90% response rate and made passive candidates working at the top four accounting firms respond within an hour. 
  • Use visual elements to stand out. Remember that your email is delivered alongside 20 to 2,000 other messages per day, depending on the person. Use emojis or unique spacing to stand out in their inbox.
  • Keep it short and preview often. There’s nothing worse than a word getting cut off and having a bad word as your preview. I won’t tell you how I learned that. 

Spending time on subject lines will make the time you spend crafting the perfect email content worth it. Use these tips to create clear, concise subject lines that make candidates want to open — and respond. 

Katrina Kibben believes your first impression on candidates starts at the job post. Many small businesses and companies struggle to find their recruiting voice and craft less-than appealing job postings. As CEO of Three Ears Media and a featured expert in recruiting and HR, Katrina takes a unique, strategic approach to help companies rewrite candidate experience content, overhaul job descriptions, and attract more qualified applicants.

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