Data-Driven Recruiting

2022 benchmarks and best practices for recruiting email outreach

Lauren Shufran

Lauren Shufran

Content Strategist

Posted on

November 9, 2022

Amidst the market downturn of 2022—and regardless of what might be going on elsewhere in their organizations—recruiting teams are acutely aware of one thing: the roles they’re hiring for are as competitive as ever. 80% of separations are now initiated by employees (for context, it was 40% in 2020). More than 4 million workers have quit jobs of their own volition every month in the U.S. for most of 2022, including—most recently—4.18 million in July, 4.2 million in August, and 4.06 million in September. It’s a trend that’s set to continue for the foreseeable future.

As talent—most of whom aren’t actively looking, but are sought out—voluntarily quit their jobs for better opportunities elsewhere, the talent shortage is here to stay. Yes, freezes and layoffs are happening; but regardless of macroeconomic conditions, many roles remain competitive. And you’re likely reading this because yours are among them.

It now takes more than it’s ever taken to engage with, and hold the attention of, talent. Of course, recruiting technologies (like Gem!) now exist that automate outreach and centrally track top-of-funnel work, giving teams visibility into email open rates, click-through rates, response rates, and interested rates. With this data, every talent acquisition team can examine and analyze the impact of its own unique efforts, and reiterate on and refine future outreach. 

Still, it can be invaluable to see outreach benchmarks and best practices across industries, for a broader story—backed by an abundance of data—of whatworks. That’s why we’ve republished “The definitive guide for recruiting email outreach,” at a time when outreach to passive talent—and the employer branding efforts it sustains—means more than ever before. The insights and best practices are drawn from nearly 8 million outreach sequences, sent from June 1, 2021 to May 31, 2022. Here’s some of what we found:

Recruiting email outreach: aggregate benchmarks

  • 78.3% of outreach sequences are opened

  • 21.3% of outreach sequences see replies

  • 7.9% of sequences see interested replies

Aggregate recruiting outreach benchmarks

Number of stages in a recruiting email sequence

  • The first email sees a 61.4% open rate, an 8.3% reply rate, and a 3.9% interested rate

  • By the second email, most sequences have cumulatively seen a 73.5% open rate, a 15.8% reply rate, and a 6.2% interested rate

  • … by the fifth email, most sequences have cumulatively seen a 78.3% open rate, a 21.3% reply rate, and a 7.9% interested rate

The data points completely flatten after Stage 5: any sequence of 6 or more stages still sees a 78.3% open rate, a 21.3% reply rate, and a 7.9% interested rate. 

open and reply rates

Recruiting email best practice: a 4-stage outreach sequence

The takeaway? Send follow-ups! They’ll exponentially increase your response rates and interested rates. As a general rule, the total number of responses goes up as the number of emails in a sequence increases. A three-stage sequence, for example, sees more-than-2x the replies and nearly 2x the number of interested candidates as a one-off email does. 

Remember that passive candidates are less likely to respond to that first (or second, or third) email for one simple reason: they’re employed. Follow-up messages are effective because they let you experiment with timing, eventually catching prospects when they can process what you’re offering. 

That said, by stage three, most opens, replies, and interested replies have been captured; though we see incremental gains from sending a fourth stage (“the breakup email”). Anything beyond a fourth stage has little to no benefit. A four-stage sequence strikes the right balance between connecting with talent and preserving employer brand. 

“The difference between a great sourcer and a sub-par sourcer is in how much discipline someone has in following up, in not wasting productivity cycles. Response rates on that initial outreach might be 15%, but they might be 50% on the follow-up.”

- Angela Miller, Head of Recruiting @ Instabase

Spacing recruiting outreach cadence

Our data shows that outreach cadence has remained fairly consistent over the last few years: sourcers most often allow 6 days between emails 1 and 2, and another 6 days between emails 2 and 3. We suspect this cadence is so often used because it leads to email delivery on a different day of the week throughout the sequence, and because it gives talent time between stages to consider the opportunity that’s being offered. 

That said, open rates are highest when the sourcer or recruiter instills a sense of urgency by only waiting a day between sends. When recruiters send stage 2 the day after stage 1, those emails see a 15.1% open rate; and when recruiters send stage 3 the day after stage 2, those emails see a 7.3% open rate. 

However, interested rates are highest when there are 6 days between stages 1 and 2, and 6 days between stages 2 and 3.

recruiting outreach cadence

Recruiting outreach sequence best practice: experiment with 1 and 6 days

Our takeaway from the above data? When experimenting with cadence, try 1 OR 6 days between stages 1 and 2, and again between stages 2 and 3. 1 day will instill a sense of urgency and/or excitement, and is likely to see the highest open rates; while 6 days gives prospective candidates time to contemplate your offer, and is likely to see the highest interested rates.  

“One pattern our team at Dropbox observed is that six days was a bit of a magic number when it came to email outreach cadence. It meant we were always catching the prospect on a different day of the week, which increased our chances of eventually hearing back from them. It also meant we were allowing enough breathing space between touches to give the prospect time to turn over what we were offering.”

- Mike Moriarty, Operating Partner, Talent @ Human Capital (formerly Global Head of Talent Acquisition @ Dropbox)

Subject lines

For best practices on this outreach element, we pulled data on our customers’ token usage, then combed through millions of subject lines and observed the characteristics of those that saw the highest open rates. 

Gem’s tokens represent values that are either auto-captured from the prospect’s LinkedIn profile (i.e. {{company}}) or manually entered by a sourcer (i.e. {{reason}}). These variables can be dropped anywhere in subject lines or message copy when the sourcer is creating the email sequence. The value will automatically populate the email, replacing the token when the outreach is sent. In short, tokens offer the best of both worlds: personalization and automation.

subject line tokens and open rates

Best practice for recruiting email subject lines

Personalize! Based on Gem’s open rate data, teams should generally include at least one token in their subject lines. It can make a nearly 5% (4.8%) difference in open rates, and which tokens work best for you will be well worth testing. Prospects have years’ worth of digital footprints trailing them. Do your due diligence and research them—on LinkedIn, Twitter, GitHub, Medium, and elsewhere. Then drive opens with a personalization token—or if you don’t use Gem, a manually-personalized subject line.

What’s more, use Outreach Stats to inform your subject lines. If it’s worked before, it’ll likely work again. Dig into your own data and see what’s most resonated with prospective candidates in the past—whether for yourself or for teammates in your org. In Gem, it’s as simple as filtering sequences to those with the highest open rates, and discovering your own best practices from there.

Outreach Stats

Words most often used in top-performing recruitment subject lines

The following cloud contains the words Gem’s customers use in subject lines that see 80%+ open rates ({{first_name}}, {{company}}, and {{title}} are tokens that auto-populate when the message sends). A few trends we’ve noted:

  • Calling out funding/backers right away (“first round,” “Series B,” “VC,” “YC,” “$200M,” “raised,” “funded,” “venture,” “pre-IPO”)

  • Mentioning role/seniority (“Manager,” “VP,” “Executive,” “leadership,” “Senior,” “CTO,” “COO”)

  • Leading with verbs (“start,” “impact,” “build,” “scale,” “help,” “head,” “grow,” “join”) 

  • Invoking enthusiasm (“exciting,” “growth,” “future,” “first,” “early,” “founding,” “revenue,” “unicorn,” “pre-IPO,” “strategic,” “global,” “flexible,” “fully remote”)

subject line word cloud

“From” names 

Over 25% of outreach sequences sent through Gem contain a message sent on behalf of someone else. Our data shows that sending on behalf of (SOBO-ing) a hiring manager or executive in the company over the course of a sequence increases open and response rates. (In fact, some of our customers have seen tripled and quadrupled response rates with SOBO.) 

With Gem, you can send on behalf of multiple teammates in the same sequence: stages 1 and 2 might come from the recruiter, stage 3 could come from the hiring manager, and stage 4 could come from the Director of Engineering, for example. The manager and director can decide whether they want the replies to come directly to their inboxes so they can personally continue the conversation, or to go back to the recruiter, who then stays in control of the correspondence.

Best practice: vary your sender—especially for hard-to-fill roles

A best practice is to have at least thefirst email come from a recruiter, and to wait until the second email (or beyond) to send on behalf of a hiring manager or executive. The narrative this generates is that the recruiter is excited enough about them to have personally brought their name up to leadership. What’s more, talent is more likely to respond when they know that more than one person—at least one of them in a high-level role—awaits a response.

SOBO data

“We use SOBO very intentionally for things like leadership hires and key individual contributors, and we take it seriously. With Gem, gone are the days of needing to ask senior leaders to send emails for us. The efficiency we’ve achieved with the SOBO feature is fantastic.”

- Joe Gillespie, Head of Technical Recruitment @ Robinhood

“When it’s done well, SOBO is super advantageous. We use it for director and senior manager roles. And I’ll typically personalize it. For example, I recently combed my network and gave a recruiter 20 or so referrals. And I was like, This person I met at a conference; this person I’ve had multiple conversations with; so when you reach out on behalf of me, please say this. When someone responds, I get a copy of that reply. And then I have a back-and-forth with them.” 

- Arquay Harris, VP of Engineering @ Webflow

Send times

  • Monday sees the best overall open rates (61.6%), followed by Sunday (61.4%)

  • Still, there’s little variation in open rates from Sunday-Friday (61.2% - 61.6%)

  • Saturday sees the worst overall open rates (58.3%) 

Open rates by send day

That said, “best times” were more nuanced when we dug in by role. After all, different roles have different relationships to email; and it may be worth it to hypothesize why some of the following numbers are what they are. (For example, we imagine that weekdays—as opposed to Sundays—are likely great times for recruiting outreach because recruiters are already on email all day. They may be regularly switching between their work email and personal email to see what’s happening there.)

Best send days and times by role

It’s worth noting how few recruiters send outreach on Sundays (see the purple bars in the chart above), despite how well the data shows those messages perform. If you have the ability to set-and-forget outreach, we recommend experimenting with sending on Sundays. You’ll either catch talent that afternoon/evening while they’re preparing for the week ahead, or first thing Monday morning as they’re cleaning out their inboxes in preparation for the days to come. 

The best best practice: always be testing

“One critical practice is asking about our messaging after hiring someone. We're asking, “Hey, what attracted you? Why did you respond to this outreach?” I'll even ask, “Why did you click on this link but didn’t open the second email?” The answers to those questions help us create future iterations of our outreach.” 

- Michael Franco, Senior Director of Recruiting @ Yext

“Our CTO recently did a podcast about tech at Wheel; we put that in our outreach and Gem tracked clickthrough rates. That behavioral data showed passive talent was more interested in that podcast than a lot of other things we’ve linked to in the past. I took that data to Chris and said, now we know you need to do more podcasts. Clearly this is a powerful talent attraction strategy for us. You see tangible results in Gem that literally inform your employer branding strategy. It’s not like, well, my instinct says this is working, but I have nothing to show for it.”

- Greg Troxell, Recruiting Manager @ Wheel

The definitive guide for recruiting email outreach

There are a lot more benchmarks and best practices where these came from, including:

  • Best (and worst!) send times broken down by day-of-week, hour-of-day, tech vs. non-tech, and even more granularly by role

  • Best practices for message length and content, along with the words most often used in outreach that elicits responses

  • Diversity outreach benchmarks—as a way of keeping your team thoughtful about whom it’s reaching out to to fill those pipelines 

  • Plenty of examples of recruiting email outreach, along with insights from leading-edge talent acquisition professionals on their most effective messaging practices

Check out The 2022 definitive guide for recruiting email outreach today!


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