By: Lars Schmidt
You’re looking for a job—which means you’re networking your pants off. Wisely, you’re focusing on contacting recruiters and human-resources folks in particular, and you’re (just as wisely) taking a two-pronged approach: paging through LinkedIn for all it’s worth, and piecing together the email addresses of the contacts you identify, whenever you’re unable to send them an InMail message.
You realize it’s a bit of a crapshoot, since a lot of the time, this means reaching out to people you don’t know, so it’s all the more crucial that you nail your introductory message. But how do you do that? Recruiters and HR professionals receive loads of unsolicited notes from jobseekers, and yours needs to stand out.
So Fast Company asked five recruiters which types of messages—via email and LinkedIn alike—make them reach for “delete”, and which ones they actually respond to. Here’s what they said.
What They Ignore
Questions that five minutes of research can answer. “Are you hiring?” “What jobs should I apply to?” “What’s the best way to apply?” These are all straightforward questions that take mere minutes to answer just by checking out a company’s careers page. If you pose an easy question to a recruiter, it sends the message that you may not be willing to put in the effort needed to perform at their company.
Anything too generic. Don’t fire off an obvious mass email—to a recruiter or anyone. While recruiters may rely on template emails themselves, that’s all the more reason why they’ll spot yours in a second. Sure, you might cry hypocrisy here, but the fact is that if you’re shotgunning canned messages and hoping for a response, don’t expect to get one.
Instead, do a bit of homework on the recruiter you’re contacting. Do you have any shared connections, alumni, or interests? “Personalized, tailored outreach with a warm intro is easier than ever with data at our fingertips,” LinkedIn’s VP for global talent acquisition Brendan Browne points out. That means there’s no excuse for errors. “I received a few recent ones saying, ‘Your experience at Google is impressive’—I never worked at Google.”
Show recruiters you take networking seriously enough to deserve their attention. Also, be sure to check the recruiter’s profile to see if they list the types of roles they recruit for (sales, tech, etc.) so you can target recruiters who actually work in your field.
Anything that makes them look up basic info on you. Just as you need to take the initiative to do your homework on them, don’t make recruiters hunt down easy-to-find data on you. When you reach out, always cover the basics: Say who you are, where you work, and what you’re looking to do next.
Anything too long. Don’t write an essay: Be brief and get to the point. “The great messages that get my attention are short, sweet, convey genuine interest, and clearly connect their background to our hiring needs,” says Duo Security senior recruiter Jasmine Burns. Pro tip: Adding hyperlinks lets you add more content and context without adding length.
Blanket requests for job-search help. Not all recruiters are the same. Agency and executive recruiters represent candidates and help connect them with employers; corporate recruiters focus mainly on hiring for their own organizations. That distinction matters. “I’m a corporate recruiter, not a headhunter,” says Pete Radloff, principal technical recruiter at the media analytics company comScore. “While I’d love to help everyone find a job, asking me to generically ‘help with your job search’ isn’t realistic.”
What They Respond To
A clear objective, request, or call to action. Don’t be vague about why you’re connecting. On LinkedIn, it isn’t rude to send a connection request and then immediately follow up with an ask or a pitch as soon as it’s accepted. Same goes for email: Include a call to action in your very first message. Most recruiters are turned off by vague messages that dance around the point they know you want to make. Be clear about why you’re getting in touch and what you hope to gain.
Modesty. Check your ego. If you include awards or accolades on your LinkedIn profile, trust that recruiters will see them. Lead instead with your work and what you offer, otherwise it’ll sound like an oversell. As Lyst’s head of talent Matt Buckland puts it, “It’s important to maintain a calm certainty of your own skills and how they’ll benefit the company.” There’s a balance here, he explains: “Too modest and you risk sounding needy or desperate, too far in the other direction and you may sound arrogant.” So stick to the facts. “Tell us what you did, how you did it, and what you learned. Your skills will become obvious, and you’ll sound measured and confident.”
Messages that are personal, accurate, and specific. Be specific about the type of job you’re interested in (even if you haven’t spotted an opening for that precise role), and why you feel your background and experience would benefit the company. “I prefer [candidates being] very specific on parameters, such as why they’re interested in my company’s stage, location, and scope of job,” says Anna Ott, an HR expert at the incubator hub:raum.
Mentioning outright that you’re excited to work in an organization that’s in the middle of a “restructuring phase” or “growth/scaling,” Ott explains, combined with your “functional skills and/or industry expertise, helps me gauge alignment.” Recruiters get a lot of outreach emails, so the sooner you can get to your value proposition, the more likely your message is to be read.
A measure of polish. Your initial outreach is all a recruiter may have to make an initial assessment of you. That means typos, punctuation, and grammar matter. This shouldn’t really need saying, but recruiters say they encounter basic writing errors all the time. So take a moment to perfect your message. Proofread it twice—or even ask a friend for help—because you probably only have one shot.