the best recruiters – followup

the best recruiters

Of the 530 emails directed to Pete London, there were a few standouts. Thirty-seven emails contained personalization, role, and company information but within that group, just 5 recruiters went beyond an occasional detail and spent a minimum of three paragraphs explaining the team’s priorities, charting the company’s trajectory, and describing why Pete’s background set the perfect stage for a new opportunity.

The best recruiters

According to these metrics, the extraordinary recruiting folks who represent that top 1% are:

Andrea Canova


Brad Fuellenbach

Ronda Woodcox

Tony Lindley

what’s their secret?

I’ve re-read Pete’s emails multiple times and analyzed the best recruiters’ tips and tricks. Here’s my attempt to articulate the unspoken rules of a fantastic recruiter email:

2nd person

Tip #1. You, your, and yours

The most common mistake a recruiter makes is framing the opportunity from their perspective instead of the candidate’s: “Hi, I’m a recruiter, I’ve got a great position for you. We’re doing amazing things. Call me!”.

Ronda and Brad’s brilliant emails stood out for one simple thing — the predominant use of the second person. Instead of selling the company and listing its virtues in “I, me, we” language, they paint the position from Pete’s perspective with “you, your, yours” language:

“This opportunity would take you more in the direction of new media… it would give you the opportunity to really stretch your skills… you’ll have the chance to learn SproutCore directly from the guy who developed it…”Ronda Woodcox

“Specifically I have you in mind as Software Engineer for our Application Development team which is responsible for building and scaling innovative features for <company&#62. You’d be responsible for seeing projects through from inception to development, production, and rapid post-production iteration. You’d be working on UI to the meaty challenges in back-end scalability, optimization, and performance primarily in Javascript and PHP…”Brad Fuellenbach

By adopting the second person, the potential benefits to Pete are more apparent and the recruiters become a storyteller instead of a salesman.


Tip #2. First impressions…

Though everyone wants their emails to stand out, most email openers fall into one of three categories: 1) 35% “Hi, I am a recruiter” 2) 22% “I came across your profile and was impressed, and 3) 7% “Sorry to bother you but…”

None of these greetings is ideal. The most common introduction, “Hi, I’m a recruiter, ” or “Hi, my name is and I work with…,” seems like a harmless and polite opener, but it’s not necessary (your name is already in the to header) and it immediately puts the focus on your status as a recruiter instead of the candidate’s potential opportunity.

The second category, “I came across your profile and was impressed,” isn’t specific and once you’ve received 100 recruiter emails that are similarly impressed, the flattery falls flat.

And finally, the apology. There’s no reason to apologize for being a recruiter or for a cold email. An organization is nothing without its people and your role is to leave no stone unturned on your quest to match an opportunity with an ideal candidate. If your email is strong and well-written, there’s no need to start your outreach from a weak and tentative position.

For contrast, consider these approaches:

1) “I’m reaching out to you given your strong front-end development experience, particularly with Javascript.”
2) “Your unique mix of front-end and back-end knowledge and experience really caught the attention of our current Web Developer manager.”
3) “I see that you have experience with large scale software development involving distributed systems that lines up nicely with the work being done in our Cloud Technology Team”

In all three cases, the author’s recruiter role is implied, the flattery is specific, and the critical opening sentence is not wasted on frivolous social niceties.

Of the five top emails, only one began with a “I saw your profile and was impressed.” The other four began with a specific compliment or a non-standard opener.

follow-up don't spam

Tip #3. Follow up; don’t spam

Within the 172 organizations who reached out to Pete, 44% of those emails could have referenced a previous email or colleague, “Pete, I wanted to reach out again…” However, the actual number was much lower – just 12%.

When recruiters reference previous emails, they maintain the conversation and history. When a subsequent email is sent without referencing the previous outreach, it’s worse than starting over. The ignored history implies that regardless of what the recruiter says, the candidate is unmemorable and the recruiter’s words read insincere.

And beyond mentioning a personal follow-up, just 1 recruiter picked up the torch for their team member by name, “It’s been a few month since my colleague, Thomas, reached out to you.” Teamwork brownie points go to: Ryan Eriksson (Expanxion).

blah blah blah

Tip #4: The limelight belongs to the candidate

External recruiting firms and VC’s are especially likely to justify their outreach by talking about their firm, their firm’s specialty, years of experience, previous LinkedIn testimonials, etc. A laundry list of credentials doesn’t prove you are a great recruiter — the proof is in the email where the focus should be on the candidate’s qualifications, not your own.

The top five recruiters take a different tact and show a friendly, insatiable curiosity to learn more about Pete while never mentioning anything about their role or title:

“From what I gather, you’re a JavaScript and front-end expert, having worked on web applications that scale to millions.  I also noted, however, that your skills go beyond front-end work, demonstrated by your experience at Plaxo in C/C++ (and even violin!).  What I take from this is that you are really an engineering generalist, although maybe having some obvious strengths and likes, with a clear understanding of the web.  I thought I would get in touch with you in hopes of learning about your situation and sharing some info from my end.”Bill Umoff

“…I am extremely impressed with the experience you’ve gained from Meebo, Plaxo and Disney … but primarily your passion of “scaling applications to millions, and pushing the bounds of what’s possible on the Web” … Well, I’d love to learn some more about you and your interests and am curious if you’d be open to having a chat with us here at <company? either tomorrow or Wednesday…”Brad Fuellenbach


One last tidbit, recruiters don’t read blogs. Surprisingly, Pete’s inbox has continued flowing since the initial honeypot email post — roughly one ping every 31 hours — with no signs of dwindling. While the field attracts a wide range of talent, this shouldn’t detract from the amazing recruiters who are getting recruiting right.

A special thanks to Bill Umoff, Brad Fuellenbach, and Ronda Woodcox for allowing their non-anonymized emails to be reprinted.

Happy team-building,

22 responses to “the best recruiters – followup”

  1. Feedback to recruiters is similar to feedback I give to candidates – customize your approach.

    One thing I would add, however, is if you’re not recruiting for one of the Big Dudes, make sure to give a bit of info about the company you recruit for! There are soooo many startups, and people are interested not just in the technical work but also in the product overall. One of my clients is in photography and hey, we want people who think that’s cool, not just who want to do Dev work.

    PS – awww c’mon, some recruiters do read blogs – you’re hearing from one right here 🙂 Good recruiters do read blogs (if you go to, you’ll see uber numbers of recruiters responding to posts there) , but the problem is many don’t go onto technical blogs enough and engage in a genuine way.

  2. Worst approach I’ve seen, and it’s happened to me multiple times, is something like “Hey, I’m following up on our earlier conversation” or “I’ve got another one for you” or putting “Re:” in the subject line, all when we’ve never met and I’ve never contacted them before.

  3. I’ve seen so many lazy recruiters who actually didn’t even scan my resume. They just spread out such emails to who a certain program has found by search keywords. Some of them had no idea where I live. A lot of them find mea totally new role that I’ve never experienced. Worst case is that they get back to me after more than 5 years andalltalk about my past era. How simple they make their lives!

  4. This is such a great article. I think what most people don’t realize is that recruiters want to be better. I know I spend 20% of my time doing research and learning new technologies and approaches. Simply because I want to be better, and I want to create the best experience for candidates. Frankly, because who wants to do a crappy job?

    The one area I wish you would have addressed is subject line? I am not looking for cheap tricks, but how do I show someone in a subject line that I have a real opportunity that is within their skill set? I feel like a good subject line is 80% of the work that needs to go into a great email approach.

  5. Great article. The point about “you, yours” instead of “me, mine, I” cannot be overstated enough. Once you show true empathy and understanding of the candidate, the entire relationship of candidate to recruiter changes dramatically. Good sales people use this technique extremely effectively as well, and recruiting is essentially sales.

  6. Hi Andrew – great question about the subject line. The subject lines have less variety than the greeting. They almost universally fall into two camps: 1) “hello from ” (especially popular with large companies) and 2) Front End Engineering Opportunity at .

    There were a few exceptions. A few people who were good at following-up (like Graham Watts), changed their subject line to “Follow-up from ” in their subsequent emails. A few people also tried something more action-oriented: “Could we connect?” or “Quick question…”

    Personally, I prefer more descriptive to generic subject lines (i.e. Job opportunity at new start-up). And I also liked the question/action-oriented subject lines (even though they are fairly generic). The questions felt like a more genuine interaction. However, because I didn’t have any data to be able to back this up or any strong take-aways, I decided not to write about it. Glad you asked!

  7. Elaine, I think you should continue writing more recruitment/talent hunting related blogs. Not only because it’s great information but it seems you’ve gained quite the following particularly from people in the recruitment industry 🙂

    131 comments in your last post in 30days! I imagine the viewcount should be pretty high too?

  8. What do you think about messaging engineers on social sites like Facebook and G+, as long as it relates to them directly and it isn’t spam?

  9. Thanks for the kind words everyone. Due to the low barrier to entry in the field, it’s tough for the best recruiters to stand out and that’s a shame. The very first problem any entrepreneur has is how to build a team – it’s especially pronounced for first-time entrepreneurs who haven’t built out a network, who are competing against VP’s at established companies for talent, and who perhaps haven’t even managed before. It’s a tough spot to start. And because the profession is geared towards monetary incentives, it’s tough for first-time entrepreneurs to partner with a great recruiter who would be interested in upfront equity.

    Shoshannah, I’ve been asked this a lot over the past few weeks. I don’t have a strong opinion but my initial thinking says that if your goal is to get a response, you’re better off trying to get an introduction to them through another person. Obviously that’s a lot of work to do if you’re trying to reach out to a hundred candidates per week so it makes sense to modify your approach based upon the strength of the potential fit — prioritize the folks that you really want to talk with and if they don’t respond, look for friendly introductions on the most appropriate communication platform.

    Good luck!

  10. I followed up your article with one on my experiences of people trying to get hold of me, which covers more of the things recruiters should do including research, go through shared contacts and never say “do you know someone else”

    And a week later, someone from Skype breaks nearly every recommendation, including, as you pointed out, read the blog:

  11. I appreciate the efforts you’ve gone to in collecting this data, crunching the numbers (and impressions) and taking the time to put it all in writing.

    I’m really impressed with the entire project, and not just because you quoted me (thank you very much for that), but because it’s excellent feedback and good critical analysis of the recruiting industry. My hope is that it will influence many of us as to how we conduct our business. I’ve certainly learned ways that I can improve, and for that I thank you.

  12. Your Pete London experiment was genius; I kept chuckling at all the examples, as I’ve gotten at least a few of each.

    The fact that you took the time to crunch these numbers and analyze an industry which in theory is not “your field” shows how much you care about hiring the right people. Perhaps if more recruiters made this investment in understanding their own industry, there would be some improvements, or the right ones would stand out.

    Another question I have is, why don’t recruiters ever ask me -the potential candidate- how to catch my attention? Because we all have recruiting stories to share, both good and bad… I can tell you the ONLY recruiter I’ve responded to is one who a) made it extremely clear that he had browsed my entire portfolio, not just linkedIn and/or resume, but my actual work and b) did not immediately throw out a “juicy” position or company, just a chance to talk, in person, about what I wanted in a company and where I wanted to go in my career. This type of personalization and care immediately caught my eye.

  13. Hi Elaine,
    Your creative approach is so awesome and the insights are spot-on and so interesting! Thank you for sharing, can’t wait for more. It’s a testament that there is much good practice that can be implemented to the hiring side.
    Just for chuckles, below is something I got from a head hunter I had met years back when they heard our company was getting acquired. The copy was so insensitive and I could hear the cash register ringing in his mind, I didn’t even reply. And this person works with companies on contingency basis most of the time so the least he could do was to mention a few opportunities that might be a fit. Talk about burning bridges 😉

    Hey – saw the acquisition news.

    are you staying? heard acquirer is getting rid of most sales and marketing..

    If you are interested in looking outside – we should chat.


  14. Solid article and good feedback. I understand the topic here is “email follow up and greetings, however the missing ingredient is picking up the phone first.

    My approach is to always call 1st, and if I have to leave a message. I see this as an opportunity to differentiate myself and the opportunity. My voice message closes with next steps, “look for my email outlining our opportunity and my contact information. Maybe I’m old school but my return calls and emails approach close to 65% which isn’t too bad!

    I have trained many recruiters and preach “why should they choose your/my messaging over the other 10 they have in their inbox? Give them a reason, stand out in the crowd, personalize your messaging (starting with the subject-question/action-oriented subject lines )and be a great story teller!

    3 point contact method
    1. call
    2. follow up w/email message
    3. follow up call

    Chances are if you don’t get a call back or email using this method, they are either very busy or traveling, not interested/found a new opportunity or isn’t a priority for them at this time-

  15. A hiring manager needs to stand out just as much as a job seeker does (maybe even more). Having a personalized approach and focusing on the candidate instead of what the recruiter is looking for is great advice.

    Thanks for sharing,


  16. Wow. I really liked reading your blog about your fake candidate. I have a lot to think about and will need to rethink some of my prior strategies that seemed to be working for me. I want to get better and this experiment of yours has clicked on a light bulb. By the way, I know why recruiters don’t spend a large amount of time on blogs and spend a lot of time on LinkedIn. I just spent about 30 minutes searching on Google to find an old resume with old contact information. I went to LinkedIn and found his current information. LinkedIn gets results quicker than a blog or by sifting through the results of a Boolean search on various search engines. We have to devide our time so that we are reaching the most people quickly. That is really putting it more simply than it is, but that is why a lot of time is not spent on blogs or sifting through the false positive results in a search. I understand why the fake candidate received so many results from Job boards would have resulted in an insane amount of hits as well. I loved the information you shared about the successful emails, too. The wheels are turning for me on how to improve my strategy for reaching the most candidates quickly while also connecting personally with them. Thank you for getting the recruiting strategy wheels turning for me. It’s been a while since I have seen something that is so new, specific, and real.

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