Engage Candidates and Increase Response Rates

Posted by Ashley Jones

Strategic communication is critical when reaching out to candidates you’ve sourced. We know this to be true because we’ve all sent messages to cold candidates at some point in time and failed to hear back from them. They’re the perfect fit for the position, but they just don’t seem to respond to your attempts at engaging them. This is a problem that needs to be solved, and it can be addressed with those same six questions engrained in our minds back in grade school: who, what, where, when, why, and how.

Instead of sending generic mass communications and waiting to see what sticks, tailor your communication strategy with the following tips to improve your response rates and lead to more conversions that deliver top tier hires.

Why Are You Reaching Out

While you may have learned a different order for the 5 W’s and the H, why is the best place to start. Why do you reach out to candidates you’ve sourced? To set up an interview or hire them? That’s not your top priority yet. Your goal is to get them to respond. You can’t move them through the funnel any further until you capture their attention and get them to communicate back. In one word, it’s all about engagement.

Who Makes a Promising Candidate

If you’re going to take the time to perfect your outreach strategy and tailor individual communications, it’s important to first look at the reasons why people don’t respond to recruiters. The most prevalent reason is that the position doesn’t match what they’re interested in. Other problems include:

  • you caught them at a bad time
  • they’re not open to making a change
  • the location of the job isn’t a fit, or
  • your message was too generic.

Before committing to follow-up after follow-up, identify whether the person in question is a promising lead—this goes beyond sourcing for qualifying skills. Taking a look at career patterns can help identify the odds of funneling the candidate through the process successfully.

This means doing some research to determine if they are likely to be open to new opportunities. Looking at their job history, do you see a pattern in how long they typically stay in a role before moving on? Did they recently begin a new position? And finally, does their career path match your position?

When & Where to Communicate


Once you’ve sourced and identified the candidates that you are committed to reaching, it’s time to evaluate when and where you will be making contact. The phrase timing is everything is key in your initial reach. You’ve already looked at their career pattern so hopefully the timing for a move in general is right. But specifically, what time of day is best to reach out? As a cleared recruiter, you’re used to reaching out ‘after hours’ to accommodate personnel working in SCIFs. So continue to avoid the 9 to 5 hours and focus on early morning and evening.

We’re looking to enter those inboxes or get someone to pick up the phone when their schedule is more open. So while 7pm on a Wednesday might yield good results, 5pm on a Friday won’t likely be as successful—it’s Friday night and people want to put thoughts about work aside. Or conversely on Monday morning people are getting in the mindset to tackle a whole new week of work responsibilities. But Monday mornings and Friday evenings aside, 6am and 7-10pm are the ideal times for sending a message that will be read and responded to. Most people wake up and almost immediately look at their phones. This a great time to capture their attention before distractions set in.


When thinking about where we initially communicate with candidates, two methods immediately come to mind, over the phone and via email. If you’re opting one way or the other, you might consider which generation you’re targeting. Typically Millennials prefer email, Gen Xers have equal preference for email or phone calls, and Boomers prefer phone calls. While you may have a communication preference, think about where the prospective candidate is most likely to respond. This can also include social media platforms. Where do they frequently hang out? LinkedIn, Twitter, or their email inbox?

Don’t be deterred if a candidate doesn’t respond to your initial outreach efforts – it pays to be persistent. Every communication sent is another opportunity for them to engage and reply. So follow up, but consider using a different channel. This can be subtle—a soft touch that brings you back to the top of their mind. Instead of sending five emails, make contact in five different ways. This could look like a phone call, followed by an email, a LinkedIn connection request and an InMail message, and a retweet or a comment on a post of theirs. Taking one of these actions every few days after not hearing back shows that you’re still invested. And if you tailor your communications effectively with an element of personalization from the start, the number of follow-up attempts needed before getting a response will likely be reduced.

How to Engage Candidates


The how element of your outreach strategy is one of the most crucial factors in eliciting a reply. How do you create an engaging message that cuts through the noise? Personalization.

A generic message sent to countless prospects isn’t going to motivate a response from a passive candidate or someone who is in high demand. If it looks like you copied and pasted the same message to a dozen people, they’re not as likely to bother responding. So use the research you conducted at the beginning of this process to identify what makes them unique, accomplishments you can compliment, or any commonalities you may share that you can use as an icebreaker.

Directly reference the skills and experiences that make them a great fit—this shows you’ve done your homework and the email was written specifically for them. And by complimenting an achievement, you help form a positive, feel-good opinion. Overall, make it about them, not you. The big picture is that you want to focus on how the job opportunity relates to the candidate – not overload them with information about yourself or your company up front.


Ask a question to turn your message into a conversation. But don’t set yourself up for dismissal by asking if they have time to hear about your position. A passive candidate will mostly likely respond “no” or send no response at all. A more engaging question is, “What are some of the challenges you are looking to tackle in your career?”


While you want to personalize your message, you don’t want to write a novel detailing everything on a candidate’s public profile. Similarly, you shouldn’t paste the entire job description into your message. People are busy, attention spans short, and candidates want a succinct message between 150-250 words. Give enough detail to pique their interest and entice them to want to know more.

What Content Should Be Shared

Though your message should be short and sweet when sending an email, think about additional content you can share. Your message should focus on the candidate and how they are a great fit for the role, but you have an opportunity to share more about your company by including links. Do you have online content available such as videos, employee testimonials, or insights about your company culture that you can share? Culture fit is increasingly important to candidates and providing this information up front can help motivate them to take action.

Modify Your Strategy to Engage Military Personnel

When reaching out to transitioning military personnel, there are a couple things to modify for the best results. As to when you should reach out, you’ll find that mornings won’t likely be as successful as in the civilian sector. Mornings can be a tough time to reach active duty personnel if they have organized PT with their unit. So if you’re hoping to call them when they can answer the phone, reaching out after the workday is best. Furthermore, a phone call will likely serve you better than an email. Depending on the email address you have listed for them, there’s a chance any email you send may not get through due to heightened security and firewall.

It’s also important to understand that military personnel aren’t always available right away. They can’t put in their two weeks’ notice, but instead have a transition timeline to follow. They might be six months out when you make contact. “Those who are in the transition process may be a little apprehensive because they may feel like any time an employer is reaching out to them it’s for something right now,” says Sara McMurrough, ClearedJobs.Net Account Manager and Veteran. So in your communications with transitioning military, be clear that’s okay. You might communicate, “I still want to network with you and find out more about your background, your timeline, and what you’re looking for.” This approach will be more successful than simply talking about how they are a great fit for a particular position, especially if they are still a ways out from their transition.

If you employ these strategies on a consistent basis, you should see your response rates improve. And with greater response rates come greater opportunity to secure the best possible hire. Any feedback or strategies you’d like to share?


  • Ashley Jones

    Ashley Jones is ClearedJobs.Net's blog Editor and a cleared job search expert, dedicated to helping security-cleared job seekers and employers navigate job search and recruitment challenges. With in-depth experience assisting cleared job seekers and transitioning military personnel at in-person and virtual Cleared Job Fairs and military base hiring events, Ashley has a deep understanding of the unique needs of the cleared community. She is also the Editor of ClearedJobs.Net's job search podcast, Security Cleared Jobs: Who's Hiring & How.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, May 12, 2020 10:34 pm

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