Candidate Search recruitment

The Five Best Subject Lines Guaranteed to Improve Response Rates

July 21, 2020

If you are a recruiter who primarily engages passive candidates, you know the rollercoaster that comes along with the day-to-day grind. Some days you’re batting a thousand, and every candidate you message wants to speak with you about the role. But other days, it’s ice-cold and you are banging your head on your desk trying to create a way to get more responses!

The key to increasing your recruiting outreach response rates can be as simple as using the right subject line in your email. Once you know how to hook your candidate in 6 words or less, your passive candidate recruiting response rates will improve overnight.

Personalize or Generic?

You can personalize your subject line to an individual or you can use a generic subject line to mass message multiple people at once. Of course, personalized emails yield a better response rate, but when time is of the essence and many candidates fit the job description, a mass email may be the best option.

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The Five Best Personalized Subject Lines

If you are working on a tough role with a limited talent pool, a personalized subject line is absolutely a must. It’s more time consuming, but the results are always worth it.

1. Mention their college mascot – People consider themselves a part of their university forever. “Once a Buckeye, always a Buckeye.” Even if they weren’t active in school events or spirit, they still know their mascot.


Subject lines like “We are hunting Wolverines (U of Michigan) in (insert location of the job)” or “Bring your Hurricane (U of Miami FL) strength to our team” can catch an alumni’s attention. Focusing on a candidate's undergraduate university is generally better than using their graduate school where they were typically more focused on academics than on cheering for the university’s sports teams.


2. Mention their current company – When people see their employer’s name in their inbox, it can drive intrigue to the purpose of the message. “From Facebook to (insert your company here)” or “Unsubscribe from Netflix, join a new service” are examples of subject lines that work when you are recruiting people from specific companies.


Being even more specific to your candidate’s experience will further increase your results. For example, “Your 4 years at Amazon: What a journey!” or “Build a startup like you built Amazon” will show the candidate you invested time in your research. Just remember, do not be derogatory or negative about a candidate’s company. It can be off-putting and as Captain Hook says, “poor form.”


3. Mention something they are interested in – Many people will list either technology they are strong with or that they are interested in learning, or environments where they’d like to work. Lines such as “Looking for React and Kubernetes experts,” or “Bring your passions to our hypergrowth company” can be good for candidates who have listed specific technologies they like to use or if they are passionate about working with startups. “Lead a small team with us” or “Close $1 million dollar sales” would work with people who mention they love to assume a leadership position or who have a history and drive to close large deals.

4. Refer to past work/projects – Just like mentioning a current or former employer can catch someone’s attention, referring to a project they have listed or publication you were able to find will peak interest immediately. People love to be flattered! Mentioning someone’s app they built in college or an article they had published in the subject line can let them know you read and researched their background extensively.


5. Mention a hobby – “Scuba dive in our pool of opportunities” or “Hike over to our sales team” can be clever lines for someone who has a scuba diving license or a passion for hiking listed in a profile. These interest-based subject lines can be the most fun lines, as people who list passions and hobbies in an on-line profile usually are open to discussing these topics with strangers and building a connection. And building a connection with a candidate you are recruiting is the most important key to getting the deal closed.


PRO TIP – If you personalize a subject line, follow up with the same subject in the body of the email. When you mention someone’s past projects or skill set, you want to have a follow-up paragraph, usually the first one of the message, referring to the same projects or skills in the subject line to keep their attention and show interest.

Listing someone’s company, skills, former projects, school, or hobbies in the subject to catch their attention just to have them open a generic message that has zero personal touch can be very counterproductive and maybe even off-putting.

Are your #candidateoutreach emails personalized or generic? @IQTalent explains how and when to approach both tactics: Click to Tweet

Two Rules for Effective Generic Subject Lines

Great candidates get these generic emails sent to their inbox all the time. The recipient can tell that he or she is one of many people receiving the same message. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be effective if you adhere to some basic principles.

1. Keep the focus on the job and/or its responsibilities - In these subject lines used for mass messaging/emailing, it’s best to list very specific things about the role in the title to try and entice people who will find a specific aspect of the role interesting. The focus can be either tools they will use, responsibilities they will have, mission of the company, significance of the role, etc.


“Be the first (insert job) on our team” – Informs the candidate that this is a brand new position and a chance to build it from the ground up.

“Build new features, lead a team” – If a candidate loves taking new features in a leadership position, this will catch his or her eye.

“Help us bring technology to the masses” – Mission-driven. This is why we do what we do.

“Close the largest deals for (insert company)” – We need someone who can take the reins and close large deals for us.

“Hyper-growth startup looking for API experts” – This captures a candidate's interest along with tools he is an expert in.

“Scale, automation, reliability is our focus” – Pretty straight forward.

If it’s a rather generic position with multiple qualified candidates, the standard, “Job opening for (insert job title) at (company),” cuts straight to the point: I have a job, are you interested in learning more about it? Saves time for everyone.


2. Make the email message center around the theme of the subject line. When you send a generic subject line email about joining a startup, follow up with more information about the startup and what is needed to be successful. If you mention leading a team, then specifically go into detail about the team and the role’s responsibilities. Nothing is worse than seeing a subject that aligns perfectly with your work passions, just to get a generic email that doesn’t tell you anything about what the subject line referenced!

Email Subject Lines Aren’t Magic

Over time, every recruiter will eventually figure out the law of averages and where he or she stands according to the statistics. The goal is to maintain or increase these averages. To find continued improvement in winning hires, you need large amounts of data and feedback to determine if your current passive candidate recruiting performance is up to par.

If you just started a new role or are working on a role in an area or field that is new to you, make sure you give yourself ample time and feedback in order to make an educated decision on changes to your approach. Contacting 30 people will give you a less accurate picture of your work than if you contacted 300 people. Don’t immediately change your approach if you do not have immediate success, give it a bit of time to make a rational decision on your approach to candidate outreach. You may have had the perfect subject line already, but you didn’t reach out to enough of the right people.

At the end of the day, regardless of how catchy your subject line is, the content of your email is the biggest determining factor to success. If you have a great subject line and a terrible or uninspiring message, the great subject line will be lost. Nobody responds to boring or uninteresting messages. Experts say you must keep an email short, slightly vague, overly energetic, and more to get interested responses. The truth is, if you catch someone’s attention, it does not matter how long, energetic, or detailed it is: they will read it. The content of your message or email should always be a higher priority than a subject line. A subject line should be the icing on the cake to get the ultimate results you need for your passive candidate recruiting initiatives.

Need some extra assistance with candidate outreach? IQTalent Partners has the experience you need to get you the candidates you want.

The recruiting you need. When you need it. Contact IQTalent Partners today