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The science behind best-performing recruitment subject lines

September 22, 2021

If your subject line is unexciting, looks spammy, or infracts email etiquettes there is a good chance that your email will never get read. The subject line is the most important part of the email. Here are a few tips for writing recruitment email subject lines

Over one-third of the recipients decide whether or not to open the email based on the subject line alone. Here are a few practical tips that increase the chance of candidates opening the email you send:

1. Personalization is key ✌️

Make the candidates feel special. General messages and templates don’t work! Show them that you’ve spent enough time and have done your homework and that you’re genuinely interested in talking to them. Keeping your subject lines and message personal is the best way to achieve this.

What you should be doing?

  • Mentioning the candidate’s name in the subject line increases your open rate by as much as 26%
  • Subject lines that include the company name perform significantly better than those without. The theory is that for smaller brands it’s vague enough to get candidates to want to learn more and for larger brands that have a compelling and heavily recognizable brand the lack of context and curiosity makes it a curveball to receive.
  • Mentioning a mutual connection in your subject line will increase your chance of getting a response by as much as 27%. Putting in a referral or mutual connection name functions as an immediate endorsement evoking trust in the candidate.
  • Casual subject lines that mention “coffee” resulted in 9% and 17% open and reply rates respectively
  • If you’re hiring for sales then include the job title in the subject line. Including job-titles resulted in a 9% and 17% increase in open and reply rates respectively for sales roles. Caution! Avoid job titles for all other categories. Categories such as engineering, healthcare, computer & math show significantly lower engagement with emails containing job-titles.
  • Words like let’s connect, dream, acquisition, help us build, interview, brand, your skills, quick chat, greetings from in the subject line tend to have positive effects on email engagement.

What you should be avoiding?

  • Avoid mentioning “who” in the subject lines. Emails containing “who” in the subject lines saw a 5% and 23% drop in open rates and reply rates respectively.
  • Avoid capitalizing words in subject lines. Emails containing capital words saw a 4% and 24% drop in open rates and reply rates respectively.
  • Avoid mentioning compensation details in the subject lines. Subject lines containing salary information saw an 8% and 27% drop in open rates and reply rates respectively.
  • Emails containing the job title see an average drop in 4% and 11% drop in open rates and reply rates respectively. The drop is particularly significant for senior roles; entry-level roles are the only exception.
  • Words like power, don’t miss, resume, career move, next career move, direct-hire, your next career, next career, make a difference in the subject line tend to have negative effects on email engagement.

Here are a few examples:

Here’s an actual email from a recruiter at Facebook to a potential candidate for an engineering role. Given that Facebook has a good employer brand it was smart of the recruiter to use the company name in the subject line. The subject mentions the department name and not the exact job title for which they are hiring for:

2. Brevity wins 💪

A study from MailerMailer shows that longer subject lines have lower open and click rates than those that are shorter. A succinct version is a lot easier to consume and entices the candidate to open that email to learn more about what’s being pitched. State why the candidate should be opening the email in as few words as possible.

The following data shows the correlation between the subject line lengths and their corresponding open and click rates:

The majority of emails are opened on mobile devices as shown below, which typically show fewer subject line characters. You don’t want a broken experience because your subject line is too long. Make sure you always keep the characters count below 50. The following chart depicts the open rate by device:

3. Beware of SPAM trigger words ❗️

All emails will have to pass through SPAM filters. These filters are built natively within Gmail and Outlook and they scan all incoming messages. SPAM filters cause your email to skip recipients’ inboxes and land straight in their SPAM box. These filters assign points to SPAM words in the subject line and body of an email. If the points exceed a certain threshold, then the email is considered spam.

Avoid using words like free, make money, earn $, confirm, join, opportunity , and assistance in your subject lines. Also, steer clear of using capital words in subject lines and avoid using excessive exclamation marks!!!!!

Here is an excellent resource from Hubspot that contains a consolidated list of SPAM trigger words that you be should avoiding. Avoiding these by no means guarantees that your email will make it to your candidate’s inbox. Content filtering is just one criterion for SPAM scores, your sender reputation, and engagement metrics are much more important.

4. Start a dialogue with the candidate 💬

Focus on building relationships and starting a conversation with candidates before ‘selling’ the job opportunity. Subject lines framed as questions perform better. One of the best ways to break the ice and start a dialogue with your candidate is to include a question in your subject line. A few examples:

5. Introduce scarcity and create urgency ⌛️

Scarcity is largely efficacious because of a cognitive bias known as loss aversion.

It’s demonstrated that humans are hardwired to put a more subjective value on loss than on gain and thus strongly prefer to avoid losses instead of acquiring gains.

6. Appeal to what they value the most 🌟

More than ever candidates are thinking about a company’s culture and values. They’re weighing whether the company fosters a positive environment and whether its values align with their own.

“Highly qualified candidates are prioritizing a positive and inspiring company culture over pay or benefits. They want to work somewhere that helps them grow not only professionally but personally.” says Suzanne Rice, director, global franchise development for MRINetwork.

Mention the “greater good” that your company is focussed on & appeal to the candidate’s values. Think about your company’s mission and values, and how you can effectively convey these succinctly in the subject line. A few examples:

7. Intrigue them with your subject line 🤔

Write subject lines that drive curiosity. Tease candidates with the subject line and give them the details once they open up the message. You achieve this by keeping the titles equivocal, uncertain, or vague.

8. Use words that inspire action 😎

Use more powerful words in the subject lines and use words that inspire action. When candidates are presented with powerful verbs, you make them feel both empowered and challenged. Try using words like build, lead, define, disrupt, re-define, and re-invent that is more riveting and compelling. A few examples:

9. Use flattery effectively 😍

Make an offer they can’t refuse. Flatter candidates with your knowledge of their achievements and genuinely tell them why and how well they will fit in at your organization. No one can resist a compliment, after all. A few examples:

10. Make it creative 💯

Here are a few of the more creative email headlines that may not necessarily subscribe to the tips above, but have been proven to work well nonetheless:

  • Using the word photo in the headline has proven to increase interest by 59%
  • [bracketed] explanations of what the content is can increase interest by 112%
  • Humans are more interested in others than they are in concepts. When possible use who rather than why in subject lines
  • If you’re sending a video then use the word video in the email subject line, they’ll know that they’re getting something extra special from you. With the usage of the word video in an email subject line, open rates rose 7% to 13%.



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