With unemployment at record lows, today’s job seeker has options. Employers have to be proactive when it comes to finding candidates.

Even when you find someone who’s great for a role, it can be hard to catch their attention, especially if you’re recruiting for high-skill, hard-to-fill roles. Imagine opening an inbox to a flood of messages from recruiters every day: you’d quickly tune out. That's what it's like for in-demand talent.

So it’s vital to make a good impression fast — standing out in a sea of generic messages is key when you’re one of many trying to reach a potential candidate.

How can you increase your chances of making sure your outreach sticks and you actually start a conversation? Here are some tips.

Be specific in your targeting

You may be tempted to cast a wide net, but often only a small number of people will meet the criteria for a role.

If you’re messaging anyone and everyone rather than targeting your efforts, you’re likely wasting a lot of time interacting with candidates you’d never hire.

Narrowing your search will help focus your efforts. Think about geographic location, skill sets, number of years of experience and educational background. What is required and what is flexible?

Technology can help. For example, Indeed Resume is a database of potential talent, containing over 120 million resumes. That’s a lot of potential candidates waiting out there. It allows you to filter your search by work experience, education, location and even specific words and phrases included in the resume in order to think strategically about who you want to hire.

Filtering candidates is important, but the language you use to reach out can make all the difference.

The pitfalls of using templates in outreach emails

Now that you’ve narrowed your search, you’ve come across a great contender. Once you’ve found them, a new effort begins — getting them to engage and, in the end, accept your offer.

So what kind of message are you going to send? Something generic, a template with some personalization or a handcrafted, hyperpersonalized email?

Below we see an example of a generic message:

From: Erica Pepe <ericap@indeed.com>

To: jackie@company.com

Subject: Retail Technology Executive Search: Acme

Available due to continuing job growth, the Director of Business Facing IT role (click here for Job Description) will report to the Vice President of Information Technology (CIO), and is based in Lynnwood, WA. The hired candidate will formalize and develop processes and tools aimed at achieving the needs of the business in as efficient a manner as possible. In addition to people leadership responsibilities, this role will be responsible for the definition of project flow, roles, and work standards.

As a senior technology leader, this individual will need to understand and exhibit leadership principles, be a strong communicator, as well as display a solid understanding of being able to navigate teams through the stages of team development. A candidate for this position should have a strong working knowledge of retail technology solutions across the entire retail technology landscape including core merchandising applications, merchant tools, and commerce technologies (both POS and e-commerce). He or she is most likely at a Senior Manager, Associate Director, Director or Vice President level currently, depending on the size of their current employer, with a progressive retailer. Or the preferred candidate could be at the Experienced Manager or Senior Manager level with a major management consulting firm or vendor.

Referrals for this opportunity are needed, and as always, very much appreciated. Please feel free to forward this note to anyone who might be appropriate for this career opportunity, or know someone for this role. Thank you in advance for your time and consideration.

Bit of a snoozer, isn’t it? It’s easy to see why these messages are appealing to recruiters pressed for time — all they require is a bit of cutting and pasting. But who enjoys receiving “canned” emails? We’re in the people business, not the robot business. This is no way to connect with a candidate.

Maybe if we add some personalization to a template, it will work better, right? Let’s add the recipient’s name, small pleasantries and a reference to the candidate’s background.

From: Erica Pepe <ericap@indeed.com>

To: jackie@company.com

Subject: Jackie, your profile indicates you are open to new opportunities

Hi Jackie,

Looking at your marketing background, specifically in regards to your content development experience, I'd love to speak with you about a role with ACME. We are hiring marketing specialists, managers and leaders for our Austin and Raleigh offices. Here's a link that provides an overview: https://acme.biz

If this piques your interest, let's schedule a time to talk. If not, please consider forwarding the link or my contact info to your marketing friends who deserve to see it.

Kind regards,


This semi-personalized note is an improvement on the generic message. It may not be possible to handcraft an email for every contact with a candidate. This type of communication strikes a compromise between time savings and addressing the candidate as a person.

But it still sounds a bit flat. It doesn’t exactly fill you with inspiration and a burning desire to learn more. If you’d really like to increase the chances of receiving a response, there’s a better option: hyper-personalization.

How to write a hyper-personalized message

Check out the message below:

From: Erica Pepe <ericap@indeed.com>

To: jackie@company.com

Subject: From Space Camp to a Job at Indeed

Dear Commander Jackie,

You went to Space Camp — I can't tell you how cool that is. My brother went when we were little, and I've been so jealous of him ever since!

Did the time you spent at space camp as a kid inspire you to pursue a career in the tech sector? As an experienced software engineer, you've undoubtedly had the chance to work on projects that have enabled your company to expand into and explore new territories — albeit a bit closer to home than, let's say, Mars.

If you're open to it, I'd love to schedule a few minutes to chat in the coming weeks, both about space camp and an exciting opportunity for a software engineer position at my company.

Looking forward to hearing from you!


Looks like more work, right? It is. This type of message is almost completely personalized by the recruiter. Hyper-personalized messages take the most effort, but they lead to the highest response rates from candidates. 

For instance, in 2016, Indeed ran a test of hyper-personalized messages and got a 100% response rate. Of the 62 hyper-personalized messages sent out, all 62 received replies.

The idea is to spend time learning about the candidate and then write an original message incorporating details of the candidate’s life while trying to make a personal connection with them, as if you’re writing a note to a new friend.

So how do you do that?

Do your research, but don’t be creepy

You have to do your background research. You can use Google and social media to find out about their job, hobbies or other information they’ve shared publicly.

Then you figure out what you have in common with this candidate in order to strike up a conversation so it sounds natural, but not creepy. Keep a light touch here — only mention information that is found easily and shared publicly, and don’t get too far into the details.

For example, you could mention that you noticed a candidate plays soccer, but don’t bring up the seven assists they had last season. Because let’s face it, creepy is not a good look. It’s worse than sending a generic email.

You’re both from Texas? Ask about their favorite Tex-Mex dish. The candidate is a competitive cyclist? Mention that time your friend dragged you on a long bike ride.

Love horses?

A recruiter at Indeed successfully recruited a candidate to a director role by striking up a conversation about their mutual love of horses. The title of the email? “Crazy Horse Ladies!” A little humor helped, and the connection points led to a more natural-feeling conversation. The candidate wasn’t looking for a new role at the time but was so struck by the message that she responded. The rest is history.

Wrapping up

Making a connection with high-skill talent can be difficult whether the job market is tight or not. But tight job markets have particular challenges: You can’t depend on a large pool of people actively looking for work, and contacting people who are currently not seeking a change can make a major difference.

In this setting, you have to use your resources wisely to stand out. Taking the time to assess the skills you really need, using tools to target your outreach precisely and deciding on the right level of personalization can help decide whether your outreach lands in the trash folder or results in a conversation.

Happy hiring!