Why Tech Talent Won’t Answer Your Emails: How to Engage Passive Candidates

Depending on who you ask, you may hear different perspectives on the state of the job market. Some may tell you the power is in the employer’s hands, while others will insist it’s a candidates’ market. The reality, of course, is often a little more complex than that. Nevertheless, there is one industry in which the onus is very much on the recruiter, and securing the very best talent can be especially competitive and challenging: tech.

The combination of the skills shortage and the extremely high demand for talent, particularly for developers, means that the vast majority of tech candidates simply aren’t actively looking for work – they’re passive. Not only are they passive, but they are bombarded with emails and calls from recruiters on a daily basis.

The satirical HBO comedy Silicon Valley highlights the issue perfectly.

While this clip may be a little over the top, it is reflective of how in demand tech talent is. Spammy email templates simply aren’t going to help you break through the noise.

So why aren’t techies answering your emails?

There are a variety of reasons people won’t respond to your messages. Here are a few of the most common:

  • Lost in the spam folder

Automated tools to contact people can be quite useful, but they often end up in the spam folder. Its better to send a personalized message.

  • You used a bad template

Templates save you time, but if crafted poorly or used incorrectly they can seem overly impersonal and robotic. Plus you run the risk of sending an email with the wrong information.

  • You had a horrible subject line

Find some examples here.

  • You’re using the same source as everyone else

If you use a source that is too popular you’ll have a hard time breaking through the noise.

  • You have a negative employer brand

If people have heard bad things about your company they won’t respond.

  • Your pitch is boring

You need to offer them something that is more than just a “great opportunity.”

So how can you get people to actually respond? We’ve got a few tips.

Broaden your outreach methods and sources

Most recruiters have one go-to source, and end up relying on that more than anything else. This isn’t bad, but it can make you blind to other places to look. This is why we always recommend sourcing from a broader range of networks. Doing so will expose you to more candidates and place you in channels with less competition. For instance, while software developers may be on LinkedIn, everyone else is emailing them as well. As a result of this many developers have adjusted their LinkedIn profiles with fake names and non-relevant skills just to get people to leave them alone. However, you can often find these same developers on other websites if you’re willing to look, but if you’re only using LinkedIn you probably won’t find them.

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In addition to using more sources its wise to utilize a variety of outreach methods. For many talent sourcers and recruiters, phone calls and email are the bread and butter of candidate outreach. However, while these methods allow you to save time and effort, and can still be effective when done well, they’re not always the optimal way to pique the interest of tech talent, and may actually cause you to overlook great candidates. One approach that may feel time consuming, but can deliver great results is working harder to meet people in person. This can happen at tech meetups, workshops, hackathons, and a variety of other events.  Not only do the in person connections offer the opportunity to discover talent you may not have been able to find online – hackathons in particular are likely to showcase the cream of the crop – it also allows you to make first contact with candidates in a non-recruiting environment. This makes it a lot easier to develop an ongoing relationship with tech talent, since you can focus your initial conversation on the specific skills and interests they have displayed at the event rather than diving straight in with a job proposition. Such an approach can be highly effective to put passive candidates at ease, who may not be receptive to cold calls and unsolicited offers, and encourage them to engage in a more open dialogue with you. Candidates might not always open your emails, but they’ll often be open to talking if you’re there in person.

Speak their language

As is always the case in recruitment, understanding what your target tech candidate values in a job and what motivates them to succeed is paramount to establishing a productive dialogue. In this sector, many developers are looking for new challenges and a company culture that fosters innovation – salary is often not the primary driver. This is not to say that offering a competitive salary and benefits isn’t important – it is – rather, the point is that the prospect of a challenging, innovative project is more likely to motivate candidates to engage with recruiters. To convey this effectively, especially in the course of an ongoing conversation, it helps to ‘speak their language’ and demonstrate your company or client’s commitment to progressive tech development. Getting your current IT staff involved with the recruitment process is also a good way to ensure you are communicating appropriately.

When sending candidates emails, calling them, or pitching them in person try to take the time to pitch and discuss the things that really matter to them. If you’re spending too much time talking about yourself, or covering the wrong areas of interest you can’t expect to get much engagement from candidates. Speaking their language is much more likely to get you a positive response.

Understand the role you’re recruiting for

The importance of understanding precisely what kind of role you are looking for cannot be stressed enough. If you want to be able to pitch to candidates effectively you need to know how the job works, what kind of person would fit well with it, and what challenges people can expect to face. Having this information prepares you to give an effective pitch that catches people’s interest and gets them to continue the conversation. This doesn’t mean you have to be a full-on expert yourself, but you do need to know enough about the role to talk about it comfortably.

Candidates aren’t going to answer your emails every time, but if you make the effort to consider a broader variety of sources, speak their language, and really understand each vacancy you’ll place yourself in a great position to get more, positive responses.


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