Passive candidate email templates that result in a 30%+ response rate

Apr 28, 202213 minutes read

Recruiters, and particularly tech recruiters, have acquired an unfortunate reputation for inundating candidates with a deluge of poorly-targeted and irrelevant messages.

However, as tech recruiters obsessed with candidate experience and making great connections, we want to change that reputation by offering free passive candidate email templates.

We’ve relied on our talent acquisition team’s expertise to gather all of our best tips for crafting a cold recruiting email that passive candidates will react to like this.

How do you reach out to passive candidates?

It’s not easy to find great candidates to fill your open position, and even harder to persuade great candidates to reply to your cold recruiting email, particularly if they are already happy at their current position.

recruiting meme

We feel your pain! 

Startups will often lose on paper to bigger companies if you’re just comparing fact to fact — what you’re paying, how established you are, the size of your backers. However, we’ve seen early startups successfully beat out the biggest, wealthiest companies for top talent. 

How do they do it? 

By telling candidates a personalized story about why they should work with you.

If you can convince a potential candidate that your job opportunity and company culture are aligned with their values, career goals and trajectory, you can win over a big name or large paycheck almost every time. 

We’ve found that this approach can result in a 30-60% response rates for tech candidates, far higher than the recruiting industry average of 10-25% for the average LinkedIn InMail.

We’ve detailed these techniques below. We’ve also asked our teammates for examples of highly effective personalized recruiting email templates that have produced real results and shared them for you to use and supercharge your reply rate. 

Step 1: Craft your email subject line

The average tech worker receives 121 emails in a day. How many of those emails do you open, let alone reply to? 

If your candidate doesn’t read the email, they will be impervious to your persuasive and well-crafted messaging pitch. That’s why putting thought (and strategy) into a great subject line is so essential.

Here are some strategies that we’ve found help to increase open rate of cold emails:

​Personalize: James – join the team at

By personalizing your subject line, you signal to a candidate that your message is specifically directed towards them, and more likely to be actually relevant.

While you can personalize by simply adding the candidate’s name, you can also reference the tech skills or domain experience they are well versed in, or their geographic location.

Personalizing your subject line is one of the most effective techniques for boosting your open rate, leading to 50% better results.

Flatter: I’m impressed by your background, James!

You might think that your tech candidates are too clever to be swayed by a bit of flattery — but actually, we are all susceptible to flattery.

According to a study by Scientific American, even obvious flattery is remarkably effective for marketing purposes. 

The authors found that even when participants dismissed compliments as being manipulative or insincere, on the implicit level, positive associations were still being created outside of their awareness.

By appealing to your candidate’s ego, you can increase the chances that they’ll feel good about clicking on your message — even if they’re aware you’re flattering them.

Pitch: James – Remote Tech Lead @YC-backed Fintech startup (new Series B)

You can showcase the value of your job opportunity right away by quickly calling out pitch points in your subject line.

While passive candidates may receive job opportunities all the time, perhaps they don’t receive Senior-level Founding Machine Learning Engineer opportunities every day.

Examples of effective pitch points are remote work, exceptional funding, backing by top VCs, a trendy domain (such as green energy or fintech), the use of exciting new technologies or particular skills, unique benefits, rapid growth, and media attention, and big tech “name” customers. 

Intrigue: Up for a quick chat James?

Interestingly, the opposite strategy can also work well.

Keeping your subject line ambiguous can make your potential candidates curious enough to start reading your email, giving you more time to sell and pitch in the body of the message.

Of course, you can’t use all of these strategies in the same subject line. So, how do you decide which elements to include while crafting a great subject line?

passive candidate outreach

Tip #1: Complement the body of your email

If you use a vague and intriguing subject line, it can be most effective to launch right into pitching and personalizing. 

On the other hand, if you use a pitch point subject line, try creating a story in the body of the email to create a connection with your reader.

Tip #2: Consider your audience

If a passive candidate has been in a position for 3-4 years and is more likely to be looking for a change, pitching can work well.

However, in a highly competitive field such as software engineering, it often makes sense to keep a subject line vague and include flattery (particularly for senior positions).

Tip #3: A/B test different subject lines

Testing, comparing, and iterating on your subject lines will ultimately produce the best results. 

By running multiple email campaigns and tracking your open rate, reply rate, and interest rate metrics, you can use the power of data to optimize your outreach.

If you can boost your reply rate by even 25%, that’s 1 out of 4 candidates less to find in a day!

Step 2: Establish commonalities in the body of your cold recruiting email template

One way to create a quick mutual connection with a candidate is to point out something you or a member of your team have in common.

When you mention that you went to the same school, live in the same town, or know the same person, you instantly transform from “yet another pushy recruiter” to a fellow alum, neighbor, or another member of their social circle.

Common background to reference:

Education“With your education at Duke University you’d be a great addition to our team! (I might be biased as a Blue Devil myself 😉 )” 

Work History“I’m impressed by your background at Pinterest! Some of our team members worked there as well.”

Geographic LocationI see you are currently located in Berkeley — our office location is just two blocks away from Rockridge BART.

Mutual ConnectionsI noticed on your LinkedIn profile that you’re currently working with my former roommate Sarah — what a coincidence!

You can also get creative about mentioning other details that a candidate has shared on their LinkedIn profile such as hobbies, preferences, and opinions — signaling to a candidate that you’ve fully read their profile and are targeting your message to them in particular.

Step 3: Explain how they would be the best fit

The most important thing to accomplish with your email is to tell a compelling story to your candidate about how an opportunity is aligned with their values and career aspirations. 

Millennials who will make up 75% of the workforce in 2025 increasingly value career alignment, flexibility, and company culture over salary. 

And it’s not just Millennials — Glassdoor found that 4 in 5 of all employees prefer benefits or perks such as remote work and unlimited vacation.

passive candidate

Here’s what to highlight in passive candidate emails:

Positive signals such as educational background, work experience at selective companies, rapid career growth, or specific accomplishments.

Domain experience such as cloud computing, fintech, or business intelligence for an application developer, SMB, B2B SaaS, or Enterprise experience for a sales team member.

Specific technical skills in the job description that they possess, such as Python/Django for a backend engineer, AWS for a cloud engineer, or React for a frontend engineer.

Previous company type and size — you may want to highlight previous rapid growth startup experience for a candidate to join a seed-stage company, or acknowledge that a candidate is working at a large company but may find it rewarding to make a change.

Seniority is also important to acknowledge as you build a story around why this opportunity is an appealing and logical next step for your candidate to make.

Another benefit of telling your candidate why you thought they would be a great fit is to set up the rest of the interview process for success. 

By creating a great first impression, wowing them with a personalized pitch, and creating a positive and mutually respectful atmosphere, you’ll start off your hiring process on a great foot with a candidate — and set the tone for your future interactions.

Step 4: Follow up

One great way to multiply your recruiting efforts is to send follow-up emails. 

According to our own data, about two-thirds of our candidate replies come from follow-up emails. It’s crazy how many more interested replies you can get just by following up!

A quick reply to the original email works well:

recruiting email templates
  • We find that spacing emails 2-4 days apart is optimal to strike the balance of seeming very interested but not overly aggressive. 
  • It can also be helpful to give your potential candidate a couple of days to think over your message and potentially become more receptive to a call to action.
  • You might also consider adding new information to your follow-up, such as a pitch point you “forgot” to mention or a link to a job description.
  • In the interest of not alienating candidates whom you may want to contact in the future, we find that 2-3 follow-ups are a good rule to stick to. 


Speaking of playing the long game, even when you receive a “no”, don’t be discouraged —  with the talent shortage and difficulty recruiters face getting in-demand candidates to reply, getting a soft “no” as this one can still be a promising opportunity.

Passive Candidate Recruiting Template

Keep track of candidates such as this one, and ask permission to message them again in 6 months — perhaps something will have changed! And they will be flattered and impressed that you remembered.

Our favorite hyper-personalized cold recruiting email templates

With all of these strategies and tips in mind, how do you actually craft your email? Here are some of our favorite cold recruiting email templates that members of our team have successfully used to recruit and hire real candidates.

We’ve broken them down to show why they work and how you can replicate their success. For more information on’s hyper-personalized candidate outreach, check out our blog post.

Passive Candidate Email Template #1: 

Subject line: remote BDR role at hypergrowth innovative AI recruiting startup

Hi [Candidate First Name],

[greeting and self intro] 

Hope you are staying healthy. I’m [Name, Role, Company Name].

[company pitch] 

We are a rapidly accelerating recruiting startup with a talent graph of all product and engineering talent in the US, which is then combined with a matching algorithm to identify the best candidates. We then use NLP AI to engage these candidates in a highly personalized way automatically.

Our customers only need to sit back and receive a pipeline of highly qualified AI-matched candidates who want to interview. 

[opportunity narrative]

We’re doubling revenue every quarter and expanding the GTM team quickly. Having scaled up our closing team, we are now looking to add a stellar team of BDRs to be our future closers. Our goal is to create a path for the first BDRs we hire to grow to an AE role by [timeframe]. With our product-market fit, velocity sales cycle, and insane demand we’re seeing, we are looking to build a team of capable and ambitious BDRs to be our future sales leaders.

[personalized candidate pitch]

I see that you’re about to finish your first year at [Company Name] and thought you might not mind taking a look when something exciting like our team comes along. With your strong sales record at [Company Name], success driving revenue at both a large enterprise like [Company Name] and at high growth startups (not to mention your B2B SaaS and recruiting domain experience) you’d be a great addition to 

This passive candidate email template works by using the subject line to start pitching right away. Then, you build a narrative to draw the candidate into the company’s vision and explain what value they would be adding and what the team/role is offering to them.


Passive Candidate Email Template #2:

Subject line: [Candidate First Name]- join the team at

Hi [Candidate First Name]

[personalized greeting]

I came across your profile while looking for exceptional engineers like you to join our team. I understand you’re probably happy at [Company Name], but figured that with your four years coming up you might be wondering what other new and exciting opportunities are out there. 

[company explanation] has developed a talent graph of all product and engineering talent in the US, combined with a matching algorithm to identify the best candidates. We then use NLP AI to engage these candidates in a highly personalized way automatically. In fact, you’re experiencing the platform right now. 

[candidate role match]

With your ML and engineering accomplishments at [Company Name] and [Company Name], stellar education at [University], and expertise in Python, Deep Learning, NLP, Scikit-Learn and TensorFlow, I thought there would be a good mutual fit.

[opportunity pitch and mutual background]

Our team is founded by ex-[Founders’ Company Names] executives, alums from top schools like [University] and your alma mater [University], and ex-Google engineers who are experts in delivering data/ML-driven products. Our company is in hypergrowth with dozens of happy annual customers including [Customer] and [Customer].

[call to action]

I’ve attached a job description. I’d really appreciate it if you could find some time for a quick call with us! Looking forward to hearing from you.

This passive candidate email template reverses the design of the first. After creating intrigue with a deliberately vague yet personalized subject line, we keep the focus on the candidate throughout the email – envisioning their state of mind and feelings about making a move, calling out their specific accomplishments, and establishing common background in the pitch.

Tired of crafting cold email outreach? Let us do it for you!

cold email outreach

With only 3.4% of software engineers currently looking for a job, pursuing passive candidates is vital to successfully filling an open position.

We’ve seen at Celential that carefully crafted and hyper-personalized outreach is far and away the most effective way to engage candidates who have tuned out the flood of generic cold emails.

With storytelling and personalization, even the smallest startups can compete with large, well-funded tech companies in the zero-sum race for stellar tech talent.

However, true personalization is impossible to achieve at the scale you need for busy startup founders and recruiting teams. 

That’s where we come in with our AI-powered solution.

Via our vertical talent graph condensing innumerable hours of individual candidate research, our solution preserves and augments the human element of recruiting while automating the repetitive and time-consuming part. 

Reach out to our team if you’d like to learn more about how’s Virtual Recruiter can take care of your tech sourcing needs — freeing up your talent acquisition team to engage candidates and close hires more quickly for less cost.


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