Recruiting Best Practices

Webinar Follow-Up: Outreach Best Practices and Signaling Inclusion

Lauren Shufran

Lauren Shufran

Content Strategist

Posted on

June 30, 2020

Last week, Gem hosted a webinar called Candidate Outreach: Best Practices & How to Signal a Culture of Inclusion. Here's the follow-up Q&A from that event.

Last week, Gem hosted a webinar called Candidate Outreach: Best Practices & How to Signal a Culture of Inclusion. Viet Nguyen, our Head of Customer Talent Advisory, talked about best practices for candidate outreach. Then our very own Georgena Frazier (Recruiting Program Manager) and Darwin Irby (Sales Operations Analyst) discussed how recruiters can signal what inclusion and belonging look like in their respective organizations in their outreach, so that underrepresented talent feel theirs is a company worth considering. We fielded a lot of great questions from participants, and we weren’t able to get to all of them during the webinar. But we promised you a follow-up; so here goes:

Q. Do you provide a position description or link to a JD in your initial outreaches? Would you recommend hyperlinking to a job description?

You certainly can link to a JD in your outreach; but generally, we don’t recommend it. The goal of initial outreach isn’t to overload prospective candidates with information; it’s to get them intrigued or excited enough to get on the phone with you. And the reality is that the job description isn’t a particularly interesting or exciting genre. The worst JDs are loaded down with requirements (which passive talent doesn’t need to read—you reached out to them; so presumably you think they’re qualified). And even the best JDs are going to be relatively uninteresting to passive candidates, because they don’t speak the things talent wants to know about first: What’s the company culture like? What does “a day in the life” in the role look like? What are the perks and benefits associated with the role? What’s the organization’s mission? What would prospective candidates’ career trajectories look like if they came to work with you?

You can give them the details of the job down the line. But in those early outreaches, hook them with the juicy stuff.

‍Q. Seth Godin says we need to send "me" mails—in other words, the email should be about the person receiving the email and not about us. If this is true, what is your advice to focus on the recipient and not so much about the job or your company?

This is a great question. One thing we’re paying close attention to at Gem is surveys about what prospective candidates want to know about the companies reaching out to them. We said some of this in the answer above; but recent surveys from LinkedIn suggest that candidates want to know things like: What would a “day in the life” look like if they took on a role with you? What might their career trajectory be? What are your employees saying about the company and their experience there?

Employee perspectives are so important; they allow prospective talent to put themselves in the shoes of their (potentially) future coworkers. Which ultimately makes the outreach about “them.”Of course, it helps if you’ve done your research. What have you learned about the candidate (past and current projects, interests, etc.) that suggests they’d thrive at your company? How can you speak to what they clearly care about or are interested in, and the ways it would align with what they’d be up to if they were to fill your open role?

Q. How much time do you wait before sending the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th email?

As with all best practices, we recommend testing sequence cadence yourself to see what’s most effective for your prospective candidates. But we dug into our customers’ data at Gem and found that the median number of days between messages is 5-6-6 (5 days between the first and second email, 6 days between the second and third email, 6 days between the third and fourth email.) A 5-6-6 cadence leads to email delivery on a different day of the week throughout the sequence, increasing the chances that you’ll catch prospects on a less-busy day. That said, many of our customers do send more than four messages to prospective talent—but they let enough time lapse between stages so as not to overwhelm or agitate prospects, or injure their talent brand.

This is a longer-term nurture mindset; but it takes into account the fact that a four-stage sequence spread out over 2-3 weeks catches talent during a small and specific window in their lives. Maybe—as Viet mentioned in the webinar—your fourth email is a “breakup email” that tells talent you’ll be reaching out again 6 months down the road… and you do. This gives talent time to consider the offer being extended, and leaves enough room for their lives or career plans to change between messages.

Q. You show that response rates increase after more follow-up mails. Do you also know what the % of positive responses is?

Gem’s data shows that 5- and 6-email sequences see even better response rates than 4-email sequences do. The reason we recommend a 4-email sequence is that, when we break out responses by “interested” vs “not interested,” anything beyond 4 emails starts to see diminishing returns. A 4-stage sequence strikes the right balance between connecting with talent and preserving employer brand.

Q. What if you don't have their email address? Tracking down email addresses is a big lift.

We’re glad you asked! At Gem, we know that tracking down email addresses is a big lift; which is why our platform automatically finds and serves up email addresses for you the moment you download a PDF resume from LinkedIn. If you’re not using Gem, there are free extensions out there that can help you find emails, such as ContactOut.

Q. What about Sales vs Eng? I feel salespeople do check their InMail and I get more responses via InMail vs email.

Success by channel varies by role, for sure. 40% of tech talent have their InMail notifications turned off, which makes email a much better option for technical roles. Sales folks are spending time on LinkedIn by virtue of their roles, so you’re more likely to catch them there than you are tech talent. Still, we recommend reaching out to sales talent via email rather than InMail for a number of reasons:

  • InMail follow-ups are manual and can’t be tracked without a spreadsheet, meaning recruiters and sales leaders who’ve taken on recruiting roles are much less likely to remember to follow up after that first attempt.

  • You can’t track your outreach in InMail... but you can with Gem. Gem tracks open rates, click-through rates, reply rates, interested rates, and content stats. This means sales recruiters and leaders can dig in, discover best practices, and optimize their outreach to capture the sales talent whose attention they most want to get.

  • Gem + email allows you to send-on-behalf-of (SOBO), 4x-ing response rates. With Gem, you can even send on behalf of multiple teammates in the same sequence for a very high-touch engagement strategy. You simply can’t do that with InMail.

Q. How do you navigate sharing with candidates that your company may not be very diverse while not turning the candidate off to the company because they don't see people like them represented? You mentioned sharing pictures of the team. Some companies are not as diverse as they'd like to be, but they are actively trying to be. However, if they include a photo of their company which is not diverse it could put-off the diverse candidate. It seems that POC are judging companies to see if there are other POC at a company, but just because there aren't doesn't mean they aren't trying. It seems like a matter of which comes first? Chicken or the egg?

We’ll answer these two questions together. Rule #1 is always to be honest with prospective candidates about everything—and that includes the current demographic makeup of your team, your hopes and goals for a more diverse team in the future, and what you’re doing to get there. If your team is not particularly diverse right now, it’s worth remembering that there are two other elements of DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) that you can speak to. Maybe your team has no people of color right now, or no one with a physical disability yet; but do you have structures in place that ensure that as soon as those folks do arrive, they’ll feel they belong?

For example, it’s never too early to start unconscious bias trainings, or to ensure your employee benefits are inclusive of all talent, or to ensure that your company offsites and events are inclusive of everyone who works there, or to start ally groups, or to have mentorship and sponsorship initiatives in place so that everyone who arrives has opportunities for growth and development. Share industry data such as salary trends with underrepresented prospects, so they know your company is committed to equity and fair pay. Invite them to events so that they feel like they’re already included—even if no one on your team looks like them (yet).

Q. Is there data around effectiveness and response rates from hiring managers?

We don’t have aggregate data around what happens to response rates when hiring managers jump into the conversation or send outreach themselves; but we do have evidence that send-on-behalf-of (SOBO) in Gem is remarkably effective. Talent loves to hear that more than the recruiter is rooting for them—and that includes the person they might eventually be reporting to (and who may be a name in the industry). 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 from the Director of Sales, and stage 4 from the VP of Sales. Now you’ve got a very high-touch engagement strategy from multiple people, who might even reference a conversation they had about the prospective candidate in those messages to make it feel extra personal. Our customers have seen response rates quadruple with SOBO.

Q. Earlier you mentioned that 90% of people prefer to receive an email instead of an InMail (or phone). How did you measure this? And what do you think is an explanation for this, because InMail also ends up in your mailbox?

We know; that seems like a self-serving statistic… but it’s actually not ours; it’s data from the Applicant Tracking System Greenhouse. We suspect there are a number of reasons for email preference. Phone calls can sometimes feel like an intrusion into private space for those on the receiving end of the call—if talent picks up, which they won’t often do if they don’t recognize the number. InMail doesn’t always end up in prospects’ inboxes, since LinkedIn users can opt to turn off their notifications (in fact, 40% of tech talent has their notifications turned off). And even when talent does receive a notification to their email, they have to log into LinkedIn to answer it—there’s no easy “reply” button that keeps them in their email platform to keep the communication going. Email is where we all “live,” no matter what other platforms we’re on. And people tend to want to be found where they already are.

Q. What are some resources for finding senior/ mid-level software engineers?

[Viet] Frankly, I don’t do anything that’s groundbreaking. I use LinkedIn to search and use Gem to reach out to engineers. I focus my efforts on trying to stand out through my outreach emails. Leveraging your engineering team for referrals and helping with outreach is a really effective strategy. Lastly, you can also search on GitHub to find engineers who use specific, novel technologies such as Vue.js.

Q. Do you find that telling your story is effective with Engineering candidates? Or more sticking to the data and what they would be building?

[Viet] Yes, absolutely. I share my story and/or perspective to convey the culture. For example, “Gem is the most customer-centric company I’ve been part of. I’ve seen our engineers meet with customers, collect feedback, and deliver feature requests overnight. It’s incredible.”

Q. When you send as the CEO in the third email and offer their time, do they actually take the initial call if the person responds?

[Viet] Ideally, yes. I’ve also had the CEO respond asking for the candidate’s availability a few weeks out as well as asking the candidate to speak to a recruiter to get basic info about the company in the meantime.

Q. Any recommended sources or practices for remote companies with fewer resources to open their searches to other communities? I heard Georgina mentioning meetups, but as a remote employee, that may not be an option.

Meetups are definitely still happening—they’re just happening virtually these days (take a look at or Eventbrite). Other strategies you might consider include following organizations and joining LinkedIn groups that are relevant to your diversity targets, diversifying your keyword searches on LinkedIn, enhancing your referral program or asking for underrepresented referrals, organizing a “source-a-thon” with your entire team, and leveraging other social networks using hashtags, keywords, and locations (Holberton School or Hackbright Academy, for instance, if you’re looking for underrepresented tech talent). If you want to dive in in more detail, we’ve written about sourcing underrepresented talent at length in Diversity Sourcing at the Top of the Funnel and in our blog post about untapped (or less-frequently-tapped) sources for recruiting passive talent.

Q. What about stats on texts vs emails?

We don’t have stats on response rates for texts since texts aren’t among the primary methods of outreach for any of our customers—or for most of the industry yet. In fact, according to a recent survey we based our 2020 Recruiting Trends Report on, nearly 90% of recruiters said that either email or InMail was their primary method of prospective candidate outreach. Only 1% said text was their primary outreach channel. Still, 21% of recruiters say that they do resort to text occasionally; and this may very well be a trend that will continue. The trouble with text, of course, is that there are no automated follow-ups, send-on-behalf-of options, or metrics you can pull to determine best practices. Until those things are possible (if they ever are), email is likely to see much better response rates than texts—because you can set-and-forget email follow-ups and keep optimizing your outreach strategies over that channel.

Q. Is there any data you have around response rates with emojis and proving it to get better response rates?

We don’t... mostly because our customers would have to A/B test the exact same subject line—one with an emoji and one without—so that the emoji was the only variable. It’s not a test our customers tend to perform… but if you’re up for experimenting, we’d love to hear what you discover! If we were to make a best-guess at Gem, we’d bet that the subject lines that see the best open rates have the most compelling language in them; but—as Viet mentioned in his talk—the thing about emojis is that they’ll draw prospective candidates’ eyes to your message in their inboxes. Once you have their attention, you’ve got to draw them in with a great subject line.

Q. Are sourced candidates 2x more hired compared to all regular applicants, or to all qualified regular candidates? How did you measure this?

That data point—that sourced candidates are 2x more efficient to hire than active applicants—is from Zippia. At Gem, our data suggests even more efficiency: some of our customers have seen roles filled up to four times faster with sourcing. This makes sense for so many reasons. The big one is that sourcing generates a ready pipeline, which means you’re not starting a search from scratch every time a new req comes in. Because sourcing nurtures relationships with talent long before the need to fill a role arises, you’ve got a pipeline of pre-qualified, vetted talent to reach out to when something opens up, shortening the cycle and filling roles quickly after they’re identified. You’re no longer sitting around waiting for the right person to apply; and you’ve already started the “screening process”—after all, you reached out to them based on information on their LinkedIn profiles, or what you saw of their open source projects or design portfolios.

There are plenty of other reasons for this efficiency, of course—for example, passive talent is not likely to be interviewing elsewhere, which means they won’t draw the process out to make their decision, because yours is the only offer.

Q. Would you recommend the same tactics within different industries? (i.e. pharma/biotech might not be as responsive to the same things as tech)

Viet discussed utilizing email over InMail, creating attention-grabbing subject lines, aiming for concision, optimizing for mobile, avoiding generic language, using simple language, understanding what’s top-of-mind for your recipient, personalizing, balancing inspiration and information in the body copy, and sending more than one email to ensure you catch talent. These are all great best practices, no matter the industry.


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