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Rage Against the Template

This article is based on my talk at the Social Recruiting Days 2017 in Berlin.

Talent Sourcing conferences often have their focus on finding and sourcing perfect candidates, their contact details, Facebook profiles and email addresses. Of course, all of these topics are important – but the big question is: What do we do after we have found our perfect candidates?

Wake up

I got the inspiration for my talk (and with that for this article) from a talk of Jan Hawliczek and his colleagues of WP Social Recruiting at the Sourcing Summit Deutschland in May.In their talk, they compared Direct Messaging with flirting. At first, this comparison seemed rather creepy, but on second thought I realized that they were right. Of course we usually (and hopefully) do not contact candidates for romantic reasons, but we try to establish a connection to our candidates and try to convince them of our company and our vacant position.

So just imagine you would walk into a bar and approach someone with this pickup line:

“Hey, are you looking for a new challenge? I realized your ex-boyfriend kinda looks like me and I saw on your facebook profile that you like long walks as I do. Wanna be my girlfriend? Then please send me your CV!”

Do you think that someone would be successful with that? Of course not. Anyone with a glimmer of social skills would reject this approach – so why do we use bad templates like this to contact our candidates? Templates simply don’t work.

Not surprisingly, studies tell us the same. Aline Lerner wrote an article on about a study they conducted in the US. She analyzed 8,000 Direct Search messages in the US and found out that personalized messages are much more likely to get a positive response from candidates (see figure 1).


Figure 1: Response rates in %

However, the vast majority of the analyzed messages were not personalized (see figure 2). Why is that? My guess is, that companies think it doesn’t matter. Even if you have a very bad response rate (say 30%) you are able to contact much more candidates with a simple template than with a highly personalized message for every single candidate. So if we can contact 500 candidates with a template or only 100 candidates with personalized messages, we should have more qualified candidates with the template, right? We won’t.

The problem is: With a “template approach” we are ruining our most important assets: rapport with highly qualified candidates and the reputation of our company in the candidate market.


Figure 2 Response rate and personalization

Know your Enemy Candidate

So, now we know that templates are a bad thing. But – what to do instead? To find an answer to that question, I started a little survey and shared it on LinkedIn, Xing and Facebook. Of course, this method (and the results) is not scientific. My “study” has way too many limitations for that. Just to name a few: The number of participants (77) is far too small and most of them work for companies in the digital or media industry. So if you work for the automotive industry or an insurance company the results might not apply to your candidates. Still, I think that Recruiting always should focus on the customers (aka candidates) and that this questionnaire is a far better approach than writing a concept by myself.

So, what was the questionnaire about? I asked the participants to give me feedback on a couple of multiple choice questions about the style and the content of DIrect Search messages. In addition to that, I also asked them to tell me about their most positive and most negative experiences with Direct Search. Unfortunately, most participants reported far more bad experiences as good experiences.

Let’s start with the basic results: Most of the participants work in Tech (37.7%). Other large groups are Marketing (14.3%), Sales (7.8%) and HR/Recruiting (23.4%). The biggest group is in a Senior (36.4) or Teamlead (26.0) position.

Now the interesting part: How do candidates like to be approached?

The results show, that most of them prefer an informal style of the message (see figure 3). That means, that the message is written in a conversational language and candidates are addressed by their first name.

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Figure 3: Style of the message. Results in %

My guess is, that most templates are written in a very formal style and that an informal style of writing is seen as an evidence that the message was written from scratch.

In terms of the length of the message, most candidates (64.9%) prefer short messages (see figure 4). In their answers to my open questions, participants emphasize that they are turned off by lengthy messages full of buzzwords and truisms as “leading industry” or “disrupting innovation”. These crude branding attempts give the candidate zero information and ironically lead to a bad branding for the company – and of course to a lower response rate.


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Figure 4: Length of the message. Results in %

But what kind of information do candidates want? Most participants named information about the company, the team and the salary range as the most vital parts of a message. In my opinion, most of the templates have at least some information about the company. But most messages lack information about the team: How many colleagues are working in the team? What are their skills or personalities? Is it a newly formed team or is it working together for a long time?


Giving information about the salary is naturally more complicated. Most companies don’t want to talk openly about their salary structure and also fear that they will only attract candidates with a high focus on salary when they include this information in a message. However, from a candidate’s perspective, this bit of information is clearly important. Candidates often invest much time and effort in the process, only to find out (often after a considerable amount of time) that the budget for the position is actually lower than their current salary. This inefficiency leads to a bad candidate experience.


So what can we do with that information from the questionnaire? The answer is simple: We need a new Sourcing approach. We have to focus on quality, not on mere numbers. Johnny Campbell, CEO of Social Talent (a learning platform for Talent Sourcers), did a great talk at Social Recruiting Days where he showed that Recruiters that approach fewer candidates actually perform better and submit more qualified candidates to Hiring Managers (you can find his slides here)!

The old Recruiting Spam approach does not lead to more or better candidates. It leads to a bad branding for the company, low response rates. Often Recruiters even don’t have time for a simple follow-up if the candidate actually replies. Participants of the study reported that sometimes they even fail to schedule phone calls or meetings with the Hiring Manager. They don’t have time for that because they are busy with spamming the next batch of candidates on LinkedIn.

If we focus on quality we can take the time for a good research of the market, a good briefing meeting with the Hiring Manager and messages that are real and that really fit to our candidates. Social media profiles gives us a ton of individual information about candidates – it’s time for us to make use of this information.

Let’s be Recruiters – not Spammers.

Title picture by freezelight



  1. Nell Heisner

    Yes! Yes! A thousand times, YES! Although I dare say, let the crappy template users keep using them so that those of us who take the time and energy to personalize and make a connection to candidates continue to reap the rewards of making the best hires.


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