Mastering Outbound Recruiting

Sending outreach to prospective candidates is challenging. This post outlines best practices to improve your response rates.

August 5, 2023

Whether you work at a ten-person startup or a Fortune 500 company, sending outreach to prospective candidates is a challenging but integral part of a recruiter’s daily workflow. We will discuss the top of the recruiting funnel, what the progression looks like, and some best practices in this post. We will concentrate on email outreach since it can consistently and scalably deliver higher open and reply rates.

How to Create an Effective Outbound Campaign

The three main components of winning email outbound campaigns that we will focus on are:

  • Open Rate - # candidates that opened an email / # candidates that have been reached, typically ranging 50-80%
  • Response Rate - # candidates that responded / # candidates that have been reached, typically ranging 5-10%
  • Positive Response Rate - # candidates interested in the opportunity / # candidates that have been reached, typically ranging 1-2%

Even small improvements in conversion at each funnel can make a notable impact at the end - in the following sections, we will cover some tips and best practices to help you achieve better campaign conversion.

Maximizing Your Open Rate

For cold outreach emails, a 70% open rate is a good benchmark to aim for, although this can range anywhere from 50% - 80% depending on a number of factors. Open rate is critical, as failure at this step means the rest of your work is wasted. This is also the first indicator to see if you are having technical delivery issues, or if your outreach is getting marked as spam. If you suspect that your outreach emails are going to Spam folder, we have a separate article, which covers different ways to test and edit your email text to prevent further delivery issues.

Subject Line

The subject line is your first impression with a candidate - make it count! Candidates may never read your personalized message if the subject line doesn’t resonate with them, and all your hard work is gone. Here are some considerations for crafting an intriguing subject line.

Things to consider including in a Subject Line:
  • Recipient's Name - Subject lines that include a recipient's name see a 10% increase in open rate.
  • Role - Being direct with the role is best, the role should be visible in the subject line or the email preview.
  • Well Known Names/Brands - A well known brand can drive a 5-20% increase in open rates. If your company does not yet have a big brand, perhaps you can leverage the brand of your investor, a partner or customer that are more recognizable.
  • Read Times - Indicating a read time is a great way to show respect for the candidates time.
Things to avoid in a Subject Line:
  • Poor Grammar - Careless mistakes take away from your credibility.
  • Unnecessary abbreviations - Risk confusing your reader and losing their interest.
  • Run on Subject Lines - Risk losing the reader's attention.
  • Using Urgency - Has shown to not help response rates, it also adds unnecessary stress.
  • Vagueness - People do not like mystery games, be clear and direct.
Subject Line Examples:
  • “Brian, Hireflow is looking for a Director of Product”
  • “Brian, let’s connect?"
  • “Director of SEO at Hireflow (an NEA-backed startup)”
  • “Senior PM Role (3 Mins Read Time)”

The subject line is the beginning of what could be a life changing conversation for your prospect. Remember to make it personal, specific, and interesting. Avoid simple mistakes and unnecessary urgency. Having a good subject line is a crucial part of a successful campaign.

Email Preview

Once the prospect has read your name and subject line, a compelling preview will help push them to open the email. You have less than 4 seconds of a prospect's attention - the message visible in the preview needs to ‘POP’ or spark curiosity, so the candidate wants to open and read the rest of your email. You can use the subject line and email preview strategically to generate interest.

Things to consider including in an Email Preview:
  • Introductions - Introduce the company that is hiring.
  • Opportunity/Role - Mention the role, so the person is not guessing why you are reaching out to them.
  • Personal - Aim to reference the candidates background or previous experience. Look at their LinkedIn to get ideas about what may strike a chord.
Things to avoid in a Email Preview:
  • Wasted Words - Unnecessary intros take away from your opportunity to get the recipients attention. No need to re-introduce yourself, the candidate knows that from the sender part of the message.
  • Irrelevant information - Avoid sharing irrelevant information, it does not compel candidates to open your email.
Email Preview Examples:
  • “I’m the VP of Product at Hireflow, and am so glad...”
  • “I found your profile on the hunt for awesome Product Managers.”
Top Tip:
  • People check emails from different devices (e.g. computer, cellphone, tablet, etc.). If possible, test how your email preview shows up on different devices. Nearly half of emails are opened first on mobile!

Timing is Everything

An often forgotten consideration is what time of day the prospect receives the outreach. Surprisingly, our data gathered from over one million outreach emails shows that candidates are more likely to open emails in the middle of the workday, when they are not occupied with home life. Use email and follow up scheduling to make sure prospects receive the email when they are most likely to open it.

Getting The Best Response Rate

9% response rate is a good benchmark to target, although this number can range from 5% to over 30%.

Response rate is where the largest drop off (as a percent) in the funnel happens. Also, keep in mind that not everyone who respond to the outreach email are interested (we will get more into this topic below), so having a good grasp of what to expect here and how to get the most replies is key to successfully hiring talent.

Great Email Copy

The email body is your shot with the candidate. This is your chance to explain why this opportunity is the one for them and why they should be interested and excited to learn more. Outreach that is personalized and direct has the best potential to get a reply, because it sets your message apart from the rest, and makes the prospect feel valued. Below are some things to consider when crafting your email.

Make it Special

Make the email personal. This is not just getting the candidates name and current employer right, go deeper. Tailor the messaging to what will resonate with the candidate, some ideas below.

  • Area of Study/Research - Tie in the candidates schooling or research to show how and why they are a great fit for the role.
  • Professional Experience - Bring in the candidates relevant work experience and discuss how it relates to the role.
  • Interests or Hobbies - Tie in the candidates interest with the company.
Personalization Examples:
  • “Your Master's Thesis on Cryptocurrency impacts on developing nation GDP growth makes you a great candidate for our Cryptocurrency Economic Policy role”
  • “Your experience scaling engineering organizations at SaaS companies makes you a great fit for this role”
  • “Your interest and experience in automotive racing is a great fit for our F1 partnerships role”
Keep It Tight

It is easy to write a long email that resembles your pitch to potential investors - but fight the urge! A short and sweet message that piques the candidate’s interest is all you need. They will do more research based on the key information you provide.

  • Avoid being too analytical (unless the role you are hiring for is an analytical role). Instead of adding a long list, focus on a couple of key metrics.
  • Avoid being too sales-y! Related to the above, focus on the big picture, share a couple KPIs that pique candidate’s interest enough to get on the phone with you.
  • Link relevant (and the most impactful) articles, rather than summarizing them. That said, you should be thoughtful in the selection as too many links* may increase the likelihood of your emails being flagged as spam.
  • Share product demo videos, especially if your company’s website is light!
  • Rather than sharing a long bio of the hiring manager(s) and founder(s), share a couple of key highlights and link* their profiles.

*Refer to this article for more information on this!

Focus On The Candidate

Shift the focus from “this is why our company is great” to “this is why our company is great for you.” Candidates want to know how the company’s success translates to their own success.

  • Career Growth - Is there room for a step up in title? Are there future growth prospects? What are the learning opportunities?
  • Interesting Work - Will you work on a product that is used by millions? Will you create something meaningful?
  • Visibility - Does the role have leadership buy in and support?
  • Autonomy & Ownership - Will you have the ability to define and deliver impact? What is the team culture like?
  • Flexibility - Do you offer flexibility on WFH or Office?
  • Compensation - Imply the financial, but do not guarantee.
Keep It Light

Do not be afraid to be a bit more casual, and show your authentic side, this makes people more inclined to respond. If it is on-brand with your company culture, you may even want to try to experimenting with some levity by adding a meme or emojis that will help break up the monotony of scrolling through emails (this tends to work well for earlier stage companies).

Remember, casual and authentic does not mean poorly written. Make sure your message is free of typos and simple errors, and you are as specific and crisp as possible.

Follow Up, Follow Up, Follow Up

If you do not receive a response to your first message, it is critical to follow up with the candidate, in fact over 50% of responses are initiated by follow-up emails. Try to vary your messaging in the follow-ups while also keeping it personalized, and make sure to continue to add value through your communication.


  • “In addition to what I’ve already shared with you, I wanted to highlight that ...”
  • “I forgot to mention that we were recognized by Forbes…”

After a total of 4 messages (1 initial + 3 follow-ups), it is safe to conclude that the candidate is not interested at the present time. Be sure to keep their information as situations change, and they may be interested in another role down the line. You may consider sending a final email to encourage keeping in touch.


“I understand that you may not be interested in a new role at this time. I think you’d be a great fit at XYZ, and if you are open to it, I’d love to have a quick chat with you to be better acquainted for future opportunities. Let me know how that sounds!”

You may also experiment with the cadence of follow-ups. A shorter time between follow-ups will create a sense of urgency and may lead to an improved Open Rate; however, allowing a bit more time for the candidate to consider the opportunity may yield a higher response rate.


  • Keep it simple - Make it easier for the candidate to take the next step with a clear call to action and tools like Calendly.
  • Proofread, Proofread, Proofread - Typos and simple errors detract from the message.
  • Length - Long form versus short is an often discussed topic, if each successive part adds value long form is okay.
  • Be Direct - Aim to be crisp and specific as possible instead of vague.
Good Copy Example:

Hi Brian,
I'm, one of the Co-Founders/CPO at Hireflow, and I would love to see if you would be interested in joining my team!
Hireflow is a profitable NEA Ventures backed hiretech startup in San Francisco building products and services to simplify hiring for businesses of all sizes. Our mission is to help businesses hire the best talent, so they can focus on what they do best.
We are looking for an experienced, yet adaptable Director of Product to help define our growth and scale to thousands of customers. Your background stood out to me and I'd love to chat if you're open to learning more.  
Reasons why our team loves working at Hireflow

  • The People - This always comes up in our employee satisfaction surveys
  • The Growth - The ability to grow personally and professionally
  • Community Values - Our commitment to reinvesting in our community

Do you have 15-20 minutes next week to connect?

Positive Response Rate

Out of all the candidates that have been reached, about 1-2% will be interested in learning more about the opportunity you are trying to fill. People respond “Yes” for a variety of reasons from needing a job, to interest in the company/role, to staying up-to-date with the job market.

Positive response rate is important not only because it is the end of the sourcing funnel, but also because it is a way to check your work earlier in the process. If your positive response rate is low, you may be too stringent with your sourcing criteria, or you may have an issue at some point in the overall funnel. If your response rate is very high, you may want to tighten up on your sourcing criteria.


Benchmarks and best practices help you monitor and optimize the steps in the recruiting process. The better you understand drop-offs in the funnel, the better you can address issues, and ultimately make hiring a quality talent easier and faster.

If you find that your campaign metrics are falling below target benchmarks, it would be a good idea to run a diagnostic and try a different approach.

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