How To Get A 5X Response Rate From Passive Candidates

Dec 07, 20216 minutes read

Finding the perfect candidate for an important role is far from easy. Even more difficult is when you find that perfect candidate but they don’t reply to your emails. Here we share six top tips to optimize your cold email and get a 5x response rate based on our own experience working with passive candidates. 

What is passive recruiting?

Passive recruiting is about finding great candidates who aren’t looking to change jobs and getting them excited about the role you have to offer. It offers you the chance to find the best talent long before they appear on the active job market. Most people spend some time dissatisfied with their jobs before actively starting their job search. With only 17.3% of developers actively looking for a job, passive candidates are an essential resource for tech recruiting and other fields.

6 tips to improve your passive candidate response rate

Cold emails to potential hires typically have a response rate of 5-8%. Taking a more thoughtful approach can elicit response rates closer to 30%! Here is how to make it happen:

1. Hyper-personalize your email

Passive recruitment isn’t novel to your candidates. They are familiar with recruiters emailing them about vacancies… and doing it badly. They’re tired of generic messages, clearly sent in bulk and with little personalization. Much like in online dating, you can stand out from the crowd by paying attention and showing genuine interest.

You don’t just want to find your ideal candidate. You need to show them that you know they’re your ideal candidate and make them feel special.

Here are the key ingredients of a personalized message, and what message you’re trying to send to potential new hires:

  • Start your email by highlighting their top qualification relevant to your job. (Your message: I’ve read your profile and I’m impressed.)
  • Discuss specific experiences, expertise, and skills they have that will be valuable for the opportunity, and express your interest in discussing further. (Your message: I didn’t just skim your profile. I looked at the details and thought about why you’re a great fit.)
  • Mention why you think that now might be good timing for them to move on from their current role. (Your message: I want to support your career development and help you reach your potential.) 
  • Talk about the team they would potentially be joining. Explain what this team/role would be offering to them, as well as how you see them adding value to the company. Highlight any commonalities, such as previous companies or schools, with other team members. (Your message: Joining the company would be a mutual fit.)

As you can imagine, personalized emails of this caliber can take a great deal of time and effort to produce. This means that you have to focus your efforts on candidates who are a great fit for the role.

Finding and approaching top-quality talent is business-critical, yet incredibly time-consuming and challenging. Consider leveraging an AI-powered solution, like, to get a head start on personalized candidate engagement at scale. 

How to Get a 5X Response Rate From Passive Candidates

2. Nail your subject line

The most personalized and persuasive approach in the world won’t help your recruitment if your target talent doesn’t read your emails. Your subject line shouldn’t be an afterthought. It’s the first impression your passive candidate will have of you.

First things first, make sure your subject line attracts your reader’s interest — personalized, and pitch. For instance, if you’re looking for a specialist in APIs, you may wish to call out this skill set as well as the key selling points of the organization: 

‘Rapid-growth biotechnology company looking for API experts’

Other examples of effective pitch points could be exceptional funding, backing by top VCs, a trendy domain (such as green energy or fintech), and use of exciting new technologies, or great benefits. Highlight these in the subject to showcase the values upfront such as:

‘Principal Engineer at B2B Fintech / Series B / Top VC-Backed / Remote Opportunity’.

3. Follow up with candidates

One extremely effective way to make your recruiting effort go further is to send follow-up emails to candidates.

Follow-ups are opportunities to pitch again (and differently). Maybe your candidate wasn’t impressed by the first version or didn’t even read it. Luckily, you have a second and third chance to sell them! According to our data, about 2/3 of candidate replies come from follow-ups of the initial outreach email.

Here are some practical tips for best results from our own experience:

  • Leave 2-4 days between emails. If a candidate is undecided, a couple of days will give them time to think it over and potentially be more receptive to the next attempt at persuasion. Or, perhaps the email will simply arrive at a more convenient time.
  • Send emails from multiple team members. Hearing from a hiring manager and other teammates can reinforce candidates’ impression that you’re truly interested in them and envision them as part of the team.
  • Send up to 3 follow-ups in total. While there may be the occasional candidate willing to reply to a fifth or sixth email, excessive reminder emails provide diminishing returns and might annoy candidates whom you would like to contact in the future.
How to get a 5X response rate from passive candidates

4. Think about the timing of your emails

Emails are asynchronous communication, but the timing still matters. Think about how you approach your inbox. Emails that have arrived overnight, for example, can get lost in a busy morning. Try to put yourself in your candidate’s shoes to decide when to reach out.

Remember to consider factors such as holidays, weekends, and time zones. If you are targeting candidates with diverse cultural backgrounds, make sure to check out global holidays. Seasonal greetings and post-holiday messages are great ways to keep your candidates engaged.

And don’t forget to use analytics to understand how timing affects your click-through rates.

5. Analyze, optimize and test

When it comes to improving your response rate, analytics are your new best friend. You’re trying to target your ideal talent, so the most effective strategy will be specific to your company, or the one you’re recruiting for.

Tools such as Hubspot, or InterSeller allow you to track your open rate (perfect for evaluating subject lines) and click-through rate. Once you know what encourages your ideal candidates to click on a job advert, the faster your response rates will rise.

Try a couple of different formats or approaches and see which works best. You’ll want to test out the subject line, the snippet text, as well as the type of introduction — does a question work best? Even once you hit what seems like a winning approach, keep experimenting and optimizing your passive recruiting further.

6. Be responsive

Passive candidates aren’t actively looking for new opportunities. They may be less willing to put in additional effort to research your company for themselves. This often means that they have more questions than you might expect.

Make sure that you respond quickly and warmly to their inquiries. It can also be helpful to provide a digital brochure or a slide deck to candidates with tailored information. Your approach aims to show candidates that you actively want them on your team, a message which is reinforced by positive engagement. And, if they respond with no interest in the role, always make sure to thank them for their time and let me know they can reach out to you in the future too.

The time and effort you put into passive recruiting can pay dividends, as you gain access to high-quality candidates who would never have crossed your path otherwise

Working with can take the pain out of passive recruiting. We offer automated, hyper-personalized outreach at scale. Schedule a call to see how easy it can be to find your ideal candidates, whether they’re looking for you or not.

How To Get A 5X Response Rate From Passive Candidates


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