How to send better emails as a recruitment agent

iOS Email APp

As a recruitment agent, I’d argue that email is probably one of the best tools you can use to build relationships with developers and hiring managers.

Why I no longer answer my phone

Years back, when I first started contracting, I handed out my number to anyone that’d take it and I got inundated with calls from recruiters. Were they calling to talk to me about a contract role? Of course not, they’d just “come across my CV on one of the job boards” and wanted to discuss what I “might be looking for in my next role”.

After a couple of years, this grew predictably tiring. I started blocking calls from the particularly annoying agencies who couldn’t remember that they’d already called twice that morning. More recently, I’ve gotten even more aggressive with this strategy in an aim to get more work done.

If you aren’t in my favourites list, my phone will not ring when you call

Obviously, not all developers are created equally but typically we shy away from answering our phones at work. It’s unprofessional but the bigger problem is that it takes a while to get your head into the right space for creative work and that can be instantly undone by an inbound call.

Why email should be your main source of contact

What about LinkedIn? What about Twitter? Aren’t devs all using Stack Overflow now? Maybe your agency should set up a TikTok account and start posting funny videos about a new role!?

Attention levels in any of these platforms is limited. There’s simply too much distraction. Any meaningful message is easily lost in the maelstrom of Brexit rants (Twitter), lip-sync videos (TikTok) and pictures of people you barely remember working with attending award ceremonies (LinkedIn).

So, while my Mum’s inbox is a train-wreck of 9398 unread emails from Groupon, Wish and Jacquie Lawson eCards my own is pretty much empty. I might not be a case study for all contract developers but as I use inbox zero, anything you send to me will either be automatically processed (you’ve sent me rubbish in the past so I’ve unsubscribed from your list or your emails are automatically sent to the bin) or they’ll stand out in a list of maybe two or three other emails.

Developers a lazy bunch. We love automating things we have to do repeatedly…like check and process email. I’d put money on other developers either doing what I do or something very similar to it, which should make your opportunity pretty obvious.

If you send me something that I want to read, then it’s likely I will read it, in full, without any major distractions competing for my attention.

What does the typical email from a recruiter look like?

Well, as explained I tend not to see that many of them because I’ve set up a bunch of rules to file them in the bin or have unsubscribed from a load of mailing lists that my email address found its way onto.

Of the ones that do slip through on occasion, I typically see:

  • Evidence that you’ve used mail merge or a bulk email system. As a developer and someone who uses them, I suppose I’d know what they look like.
  • Personalisation attempts that are broken. Derek is the name of one of my references.
  • Irrelevant job locations. No, I do not want to work in The Hague no matter how exciting you think the company is.
  • Irrelevant job types. Stop emailing me about permanent roles, I have never expressed interest in them.
  • Irrelevant job skills. I am not a UX designer nor a C# developer nor a Java developer nor a business analyst nor a technical architect…
  • Ridiculous salaries. I’m not a junior developer. Don’t email me about junior roles that I’m never going to take.
  • Offers for me to do a favour for you. I don’t want to have a quick chat to discuss what I’m looking for in my next role. Take a look at my CV and have a guess.

Ok, you get the idea. The real shame is that I feel as though this could all be fixed pretty easily.

What does a good email from a recruiter look like?

I can’t believe I even have to say this but just getting the basic things probably puts you in the top 5% of emails I receive from agents:

  • The email was typed by your fair hand…or at least appears as though it has been. Well done!
  • You’ve personalised the email to the extent that you’ve used my name and not that of one of my references. I really don’t expect you to trawl my social media accounts and ask me about my holiday/birth of a child/extension but if that’s your thing then fill your boots.
  • You’ve got a job in Manchester that you’d like to discuss. I take work in Manchester. Excellent work!
  • The role is a contract position and I didn’t have to ask!? This is getting stranger by the minute…
  • It’s a front end development role and I’m a front end developer…that means that it’s a job that I can actually do. Whatever next?
  • You’re unable to discuss the salary with me for now but it’s a senior position and the role is paying, in your opinion, market rates. I’d rather know in advance but this is fine.
  • Am I free to discuss this role? Of course, I’ll reply letting you know that I’ll call the number you’ve added this afternoon if that’s OK because I have other commitments.

Your email has been sent to me, was to the point and has opened the door to getting me on the phone. Great work.

What would a great email from a recruiter look like?

In the above example, we’ve basically taken the shit that I’m used to seeing and inverted it to turn it into something remotely worthwhile. Most of the developers I’ve worked with are really, really smart people so they know how recruitment works and they know that you’ll get a juicy commission if you fill a role.

Yes, you’re potentially helping me out by finding a job for me but by filling it I’m helping *you* out by paying your commission either as a lump sum or as a chunk on top of my day rate. Additionally, I’m helping out the hiring manager who needs an extra developer for their project.

The point is not that the developer is better than anyone else here, but rather that the relationship is probably win, win, win.

That’s a good thing, but how could we make it even better?

What separates the good recruiters from the great recruiters are little things like knowing:

  • Where I’m currently contracting. What do you know about my current employer that could sell a new role to me?
  • When my current contract ends. I’m most likely to go for a new position at the end of a contract.
  • If I’m likely to be offered a renewal. If I’m not going to be renewed, getting me to move should be easy unless I want a break.
  • What my current day rate is. If it’s a drop, why should I take it? If it’s an increase, are you being transparent and telling me how we can both get top dollar?

Knowing these things requires staying in touch with developers in your network periodically. You can use a CRM to do this if you’ve got a load of contacts but you could easily set up a Trello board if not.

Additionally, I’d go a step further and say that your agency could actually provide value to developers in the form of market insights emails