Candidate Engagement

The Frequency of Candidate Outreach Debunked: When to Hit Send, and When to Pick up the Phone

You’ve compiled your list of passive candidates to reach out to, and now comes the big decision: how do you make that all-important first contact, and how much is too much when it comes to outreach?

You know you can’t just pick up the phone or send an email and slam-dunk them with your job proposal expecting a “yes!” right away. Like the fine art of sales, you need to coax them from being a cold lead to a warm prospect, by establishing rapport, relationship – and trust. You need to know the best way to get your prospect’s attention, and how often to get in front of them.

You also need to know when to persist and when to move on. And just like in a marketing campaign, you have to be strategic.

So what’s the best way to approach your outreach strategy?


1. Know your audience

If you’ve done your research well, you should have an idea of the best way to make a first impression – such as the language your candidate will respond to, and the best methods to contact them. Someone working in an open plan office might not respond well if you call them wanting to chat about your offer within earshot of their colleagues, for example. The same goes for sending emails to their work address – it won’t look good if your email is open when their boss happens to visit them at their desk.

Try to dig up a personal email if you can, or you could contact them via InMail, but if you choose the latter, it’s worth noting two statistics from Social Talent – while it might be the preferred method for recruiters to use (80% of those surveyed chose InMails for outreach) only 20% of workers preferred to be contacted via LinkedIn InMail or a request to connect.

It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach.


2. Choose your message, vary your method

Recruitment 101 says the more compelling and personalised the message, the better your chances of getting a candidate’s attention, and we’ve covered that in another blog, so we won’t go into it here. But let’s look at the various contact methods – you should consider mixing each one into your overall outreach strategy.


By far, the most popular initial cold outreach method, email is less intrusive than phone, and you can cover more ground in writing than through a rushed call with a prospect who may only be half listening. The downside is emails can be easily disregarded and deleted. Still, Social Talent’s above research found that the majority of workers (79%) preferred direct email from recruiters.

Apps like Email Hunter and VoilaNorbert can help you track down a candidate’s email address – but they tend to work best if you know where the prospect currently works. (Bonus tip: If you want to save time, and get a list of talent tailored to your needs, with email addresses ready to contact, ask us how)


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This is the most popular way to reach out, after email, coming in at 39%. For confidenphone@2x-16t recruiters, phone is the most immediate way to get a response, with the average response rate around 44%. Chances are you’ll go through to voicemail though, so unless you leave a great message, your prospect may hang up before they hear the whole thing, and promptly forget or delete it.

To really cover your bases, an effective approach that’s popular among marketers and recruiters alike is to email first and follow up with a voicemail.

Social Media

This is probably the next most popular contact method – and you can follow straight through from researching a lead via social media, to making contact. Statistics show 88% of candidates themselves are using social media to look for jobs, “while 70% of companies have made at least one hire through social media,” according to a 2015 Talent Culture article. So how much of a social media presence does your company have? And what impression does your brand (and you) make online?

In person

From trade shows and industry events to meet-ups and even a local haunt you have in common with a prospect, every face-to-face interaction has networking potential. Leave the comfort zone of your desk and computer, get out there and rub shoulders. Don’t launch into your pitch right off the bat – this is more about being seen, getting known, and yes, building relationships.

HOW-TO: Make the Most of Meetup for Recruiting Top Talent


3. Make the right amount of contact

In sales as in recruiting, there is no magic figure for how many times you should reach out to a prospect. You have to know your prospect and your campaign. It also comes down to common sense and courtesy – there’s a fine line between persistence and pestering. Remember, you’re dealing with people, not robots. You’re building a relationship, so always put yourself in your prospect’s shoes: how would you feel when approached the way you’re approaching them?

What the experts say

There are differing views on how much is too much, and when it’s not enough. Recruiting expert Shally Steckerl and sales expert Jeff Hoffman both advocate combining email and phone/voicemail. Steckerl suggests 4 follow-ups after the initial contact. In an article for The Sourcing Institute, he covers this basic 1-2-3 approach:

  • Initial contact via email – outlining your reasons for reaching out.
  • Phone/voicemail follow-up the next day – briefly reiterating your email and indicating the best way to get in touch with you
  • An email sent immediately after your voicemail – to verify they received your voicemail, again giving your contact details.
A slide showing Shally Steckerl's 1-2-3 approach to candidate outreach.
Source: ‘Four Easy Steps That Turn Any Recruiter Into a World Class Cyber Sleuth’, by Shally Steckerl.


Let’s say you’re hiring an account executive – chances are they work in an open plan office, so here’s how you could tailor your approach:

Day 1 –  Send a short email: Keep it short and punchy, focussing more on networking than selling and with a compelling “Open me!” subject line.

Day 2 – Follow up with a voicemail: Again, this should be brief. Keep it friendly and to the point, and don’t forget your contact details!

Day 3 – Time for another email: Say you’re getting in touch to check they got your voicemail. Think about how you could add some intrigue here to get them to respond. More details about why you’re contacting them? Name-drop someone you both know?

Steckerl says this approach helps build recognition for the next time you make contact, and he recommends repeating these 3 steps a week after the first contact. Failing that, he suggests trying a ‘Last Ditch’ approach – calling and emailing one last time, admitting to the candidate you’re giving it “one last shot.” This, he says can have an amazing response rate.

Hoffman has a similar approach for sales, but in 4 touch points, using email and voicemail and culminating in what he calls the ‘break up’. After each contact, he suggests waiting 48 hours before reaching out again, then reframing your value offering slightly. Hoffman also notes the break-up email gets the highest response rate.

In sales and marketing, opinions on cold outreach frequency favour being more persistent – anywhere between 7 to 13-plus touch points, including emailing prospects on the weekend. The weekend? It’s risky, we know, but as long as you keep your email punchy and short enough to fit on most smartphone screens, it could work. Let’s face it, who hasn’t checked emails on their phone on the weekend? And it’s often the time candidates are thinking about how to improve their work-life balance, and whether they’re in the right role to achieve that.

Other sources recommend adding prospects to your mailing list and sending them updates on your company. Be mindful though, some candidates may consider this as spamming.
So before you make any cold outreach, make sure you have a strategy in place, that’s come from some solid research – so you can go out and build successful relationships and win those candidates!


Over to you – what’s been your most successful combination and frequency of cold outreach? How much is too much?