We’ve just wrapped up three experiments in how we recruit for some of the most in-demand roles in San Francisco, using cutting-edge marketing techniques. Long story short: we’re never going back to how we used to source and hire.
I partnered with our marketing team in an effort to get a little creative and try something new, which I’ll explain below. We ended up interviewing 26 of the best software engineers in San Francisco, that truly fit the criteria we were looking for, and in the process cut our time to hire to just two weeks.
Some background: our office is in one of the most competitive labor markets in the United States, if not the globe. San Francisco’s unemployment rate was 3.1 per cent in April, the lowest since 2000. The Bay Area is now on par with Manhattan in terms of rental costs, and according to SFGate, the average tech salary rose to a sky high $176,275 in 2014, including stock options and bonuses.
All of this lead to a perfect storm for a key role we needed to fill fast: a software engineer. The best people were gainfully employed, paid well, and overwhelmed by a barrage of identical messages from recruiters.
We needed a way to stand out, create a connection, and ultimately close top tier talent, that could hit the ground running in a fast-paced start-up. We’d tried traditional routes including Github, AngelList, and LinkedIn, but nothing was producing the results we needed.
The Successful Marriage of Recruiting and Email Marketing
For our experiment to be a success in the market we’re hiring in, we knew we had to think creatively. Marketing and I took the opportunity to combine forces and build out a campaign and a methodology that put into practice what we’ve been preaching:
- The importance of putting the candidate first
- Nailing the intake meeting
- Optimizing and automating the sourcing function
- Learning from other parts of the business
- Leveraging your hiring manager consistently throughout the process
What we developed – in this team effort between recruiting and marketing – was a cold candidate outreach email campaign, focused on delivering real candidate value, and leveraging the authority of the hiring manager in the outreach.
We brainstormed, wrote and sent out a series of five email messages to a pool of relevant (and highly qualified) candidates that I curated using 1-Page’s Source product. These passive candidates had never heard of 1-Page before (hence the “cold” outreach), so we needed to both sell them on the opportunity that existed, and who we were.
Our campaign was built using cutting-edge email marketing mechanics and techniques, and included some clever employer branding too.
The process went like this (more detailed explanation follows of each step):
1. After a thorough intake meeting, I used 1-Page Source to find and build a list of the talent we wanted.
2. I worked with our marketing team to develop a series of highly compelling emails to send to these prospective candidates, and supporting assets.
3. These messages were automatically sent at specific times and delivered us the conversations and interviews we needed to fill our open roles.
And it worked! We were blown away by the responses pouring in, not only from interested candidates but also those who said “thanks but no thanks.” The shortened timeframe and high response rate combined created a sense of excitement around the hiring process, and a level of investment I haven’t seen before – from my team to marketing, but more importantly the hiring manager. We were all eagerly watching as every step of the campaign played out.
For these high-demand roles, we saw passive candidate response rates of 21-27% (26% for our software engineer role), and cold-to-interview conversion rates of between 3-8%. Most importantly, we got our time to hire down to an average of two weeks!
We’ll go into each of these further below, but any campaign, as I learned in working with marketing, should always be built on three fundamentals:
- Starting with good data (accurate name, email, phone number, etc.)
- Precise targeting (the right talent to go after given your job requirements)
- Offering something of value (so an automated email isn’t automatically trashed).
As a recruiter – it was a godsend to have Source to help with these first two points. I’ll explain more how I used it below.
It all starts with a great intake meeting
I can’t overemphasize the importance of a well-run, structured intake. As a recruiter, it’s the number one chance to ensure you’ve got these fundamentals right before you start – do I have the right data, and do I know what and how I need to target these passive candidates?
In the process of developing this approach, I learnt a valuable lesson in just how getting intake right is. Let’s face it, we’re busy people, and because of competing priorities, our intake conversation for the software engineer role was ambiguous and vague. We discussed the languages we were after, and what we were looking for in a candidate. But it was rushed. So I sourced software engineers based on our conversation, and began the outreach process, but the response from my hiring manager was clear – these weren’t the right fit. Alongside that, the responses were confused from candidates.
“This isn’t the right fit.”
“I’m not really interested in this role and these types of things.”
At this point I knew I needed to take a step back. We realigned, revised who we should be looking for, and took the red pen to our messaging to ensure it was focused, compelling and targeted to exactly the intended audience. Through this simple regroup, our messaging blossomed in terms of relevancy, potency and impact. We cut the “not the right fit” responses from 7% to 1%. Huge win already!
The lesson? To run a campaign like this successfully, you need to spend time up front getting aligned with your hiring manager.
Another key part of great intake is establishing candidate value. Miss this, and you’ll struggle when building out your messaging for emails and the landing page later on. Specifically, you need to ask three key questions to enable you to genuinely ‘sell’ the candidate on the real value your opportunity presents.
1. When speaking to candidates for this role, what are the primary selling points you would highlight?
2. What would they get access to at our company, or on this team, that they wouldn’t elsewhere?
3. Ideally, what direct value would they bring into the organization?
Sourcing the right talent
Once I corrected who we were searching for, and what the candidate attraction factors I needed to consider were, I spoke to our Customer Success team here at 1-Page, who in tandem with our data team built an initial pool of candidates that met this criteria. For the Software Engineer role, we sat together and refined a selection, gave that feedback to our team, and got an updated list of exactly who we wanted to target.
How long did this process take? No longer than a few days – from initial intake, to review and final list building. I don’t know about you, but compared to manual sourcing across platforms and sites that could take days if not a full week to trawl (we were targeting just over 200 people), this was a much better solution for everyone involved. 🙂
On top of this, because you’re preselecting candidates to reach out to before you begin, you’re starting with your ideal choices from the outset. By the time they’re responding to you and you’re setting up interviews, the momentum you’re building is tremendous, because you’re not having to sit in separate meetings with HM to review each candidate. And even if they say no (we’ll cover this later), at the very least, you’re building powerful relationships with the best of the best.
You and I both know that in recruiting, the personal touch matters. And in a campaign like this, where we’re using some level of templating and automation in our outreach, this matters more than ever. You can write an incredibly on point email, but be let down by a link to a generic careers page, that doesn’t give any depth of information on the role you’re hiring for.
The key piece of the puzzle here is a dedicated landing page for the role in question, with a clear, simple design, and that shows off the company, team, benefits, and gives a more detailed job description.
When it comes to building your landing page, start with your marketing team, who will likely either have a software solution in place, or can help you build something out. If their bandwidth is thin, there are also “off the shelf” solutions like Unbounce and Leadpages that can get you a large part of the way, with well-designed templates to start from.
A few things to keep in mind when thinking about content for your landing page:
- Incorporate the value and language you established in your intake meeting. Why should these people choose your company? What exactly will they work out? Put these front and center.
- Mobile friendly is a must. 56% of emails are opened on mobile, so optimizing for phone isn’t an option.
- Showcase personality and your company’s culture. Think about how many careers pages this person might have read. How can you tailor your landing page to your specific audience? How far can you push the creative barrier?
I promptly forwarded his response to our VP of Engineering – we have to get this guy in for an interview!
Why One Email is Not Enough (and five is the magic number)
We’ve touched on the frequency of recruiter outreach previously, and the same rings true here – once is just not enough. For this experiment, we decided on five emails, alternating between the recruiter and the hiring manager.
Why that many? We all know how easy it is to ignore one message, or even a follow up. We wanted to build both a sense of urgency with these candidates, and also show them that we were genuinely interested in getting them in for an interview for this role. Cue here leveraging the hiring manager – a key to success of this campaign. An email personally addressed from a CFO or VP of Engineering, asking the candidate to personally come in? The gravitas that kind of outreach brings is priceless.
There’s also another reason why more than one email is effective – you’re increasing the chance of a response fivefold. Take a look at the below chart, and you’ll notice that our best response rates – of 8.3% and 7.87% – came on message two and three.
Putting pen to (digital) paper
Now comes the fun part – writing your five emails!
What should be in each of these five messages? Watch the video below for a message-by-message walkthough, but in general, you should:
- Inform candidates they’ve been hand selected. There’s a reason this technique has been used in direct marketing for decades – it works!
- Put the impact they’ll have front and center. The best talent isn’t looking at salary and location. They’re looking at exactly how the work they’ll be doing is going to change your company, your market, and the world.
- Ensure your emails sound natural and conversational. A candidate should not be able to tell you’re sending a template email. Your messages should convey your personal tone and flair too. Before you hit send, forward them to your colleagues to get their feedback too.
- Use your hiring manager’s own words. If you can’t get your HM to write a complete email from them, ask them questions in the intake or via email that give you their take to incorporate. And forward messages to them before you send, asking them specifically to tweak to fit their own language and style.
- Use attention grabbing subject lines. Your messages will live and die by the subject line you choose. So ensure they’re catchy, pithy and personal. (You can download a guide to writing killer subject lines here, and read more here on what not to do)
The Right Time to Reach Out
Once you’ve written your messages, and as you begin to schedule them to send, you’ll need to start thinking about when you’ll want them to go out. Of course, you may already have learning about what works best for you, but if it helps, here’s some general tips we recommend, based on the chart above.
- Send at the beginning and end of the day: Why? If someone is not entirely satisfied with their current role, when are they most likely to be open to considering other options, and other career moves? As they wake up and contemplate the day, and when they leave to go home, and have a clear head. (This way you’re also not emailing them at work, which can lead your message to be hidden and ignored).
- Aim for Monday, Wednesday, Friday or Sunday: Again, capitalize on times of the week where people might be more open to other opportunities.
Any response is a good response
You’ve picked your target candidates, written your outreach, and hit the all important red button to schedule and send your messages. Now is the fun part – waiting for the responses!
An important mantra to remember here is any response is a good response. It means something you’re doing is working, and prompting a reply. Even if it’s not necessarily the one you want, you’ve opened up an opportunity for conversation, and the chance to build your pipeline of ‘when the time is right’ candidates.
Two things are key at this stage: always reply, even if you’re busy, and make sure you take candidates off your five-message email campaign after they respond, or you risk revealing all, and destroying your credibility.
As you can see from the above chart, we achieved a 24% positive response rate of all those who responded, which is very impressive. Better yet, I was still able to start conversations with another 60% of candidates who for now might not be right time for, but are now aware of 1-Page when the time is right.
Let’s pause here for a moment. That means that I was able to make use of 84% of responses in some way, either for this campaign or for my pipeline.
And if you still aren’t sold that a template campaign can generate these kind of responses, here are a sample of the replies in their own words:
“Hello Lindsey, I’m sorry I didn’t respond sooner! I seem to have misplaced Allan’s email, my apologies. I’m honored that Allan would personally reach out to me.”
“Sure let me know when you wanna setup call, I will be available tomorrow. My contact number is 408-XXX-XXXX.”
“Hi Lindsey, Thanks for reaching out, but currently I’m not looking to move from my current job.”
Wrapping it all together
So from start to finish, that’s how we did it! Now I bet you’re thinking that’s a lot (and please ask any questions you have below) but I genuinely believe we’ve struck on something incredible here, and it aligns with the exact trends disrupting our industry right now, and plays to my strengths as a recruiter. By streamlining the sourcing and intake process, I’ve been able to spend much more time on candidate engagement, and it’s been a great exercise in aligning with our marketing team too.
And it’s worth stating again: we cut our time to hire to an average two weeks for tough-to-fill roles, in an uber-competitive market.
One last thing – to help keep track, we’ve also put together this handy checklist that goes through the entire process. And for a more detailed walkthrough, you can watch our recent webinar outlining the entire process, with 1-Page’s Head of Growth Vitaliy Levit and myself.
Got questions on the process? Ask them below!