The job search process is never easy. One of the most challenging parts of this process can be communicating with recruiters, especially over email. Every message seems filled with traps. Am I emailing too soon after applying? Do I sound too over-eager? What if I need a decision soon because I received another offer? Will I make a mistake and they’ll disqualify me immediately?
Fortunately, a few straightforward guidelines and tips can help you both understand what recruiters are looking for and how to craft the right message at the right time.
In this blog post, we’ll go over
- the recruiter’s perspective
- best practices and email etiquette
- basic templates for common email scenarios
The recruiter's perspective
Recruiters are like all of us—they’re busy! Most internal recruiters (they work for the company that’s hiring, rather than a headhunter) are managing several open roles at a time. Each one of these roles could have dozens, if not hundreds, of applicants, with many candidates to coordinate and interviews to schedule. So, if you don’t hear back from a recruiter right away, it’s not personal.
Most recruiters are juggling their time between
- internal meetings with other recruiters, hiring managers, and candidate debriefs
- phone screens with candidates
- reviewing new applications
- email follow ups with candidates
- scheduling interview loops
Some recruiters, especially at smaller companies, split their time between recruiting and other people operations functions, like human resources and benefits, so they may be doubly stretched!
With all of these different tasks, recruiters are crunched for time and are probably batching their work. They most likely don’t review each new application as it comes in to immediately triage and respond. So, if you don’t hear back from a recruiter right away, they’re probably batching the work: waiting for a certain number of applications or interviews before sending out next steps or rejections.
This process can feel really discouraging, but it isn’t personal! The recruiter doesn’t know you as an individual and is instead balancing the demands of their manager, the hiring manager, and the company as a whole.
What recruiters are looking for in communication
As a result, recruiters are looking for clear, concise, and polished communication. With dozens or hundreds of emails and applications to look at and respond to, they may only have a few minutes to look at a resume or read and respond to an email. So, it’s in your best interest to be succinct and professional.
They’re also looking for
- Attention to detail: Recruiters like polished communication, free of grammatical and spelling errors. You can use a tool like Grammarly to proofread your writing.
- Personalization: Recruiters want to see that you’re familiar with the role and the company you’re applying to. Nothing looks worse than accidentally mentioning a different title or company name in your communication. So, check and double check who you’re writing to and for what job before hitting send on any emails or messages.
- Tone: Recruiters want to see that you have strong communication skills and sound professional. Try to avoid being overly informal but not too stuffy. The Purdue Owl is full of great resources on business communication, including on tone.
- Brevity: Recruiters are busy people! Try to strike a balance between including pleasantries and getting to the point. Make sure that you include the niceties but don’t take too long asking your question or making your request. Tools like the Hemingway Editor can help you cut down on extra words and phrases to make your writing cleaner.
Even with online tools to help you edit your writing, you may feel unsure if what you’re saying is the right level of professional or strikes the right tone, especially if you’re code switching or working through impostor syndrome. It’s okay to ask for help from others! Consider sharing an email with a community group for feedback or meeting with a mentor (like those on Merit) to review for really high-stakes emails.
General email etiquette
No matter what you’re emailing about, there are a few general guidelines to help you communicate well with recruiters. Like mentioned above, recruiters are wading through lots of applications, emails, and meetings regarding candidates, so any way you can make their lives easier through your writing, the better the impression you’ll build with the recruiter.
Use a clear subject line
Recruiters want to know right away what an email is about. If you use a vague subject line, like, “My application” or “Following up on my interview,” it may take the recruiter that much longer to understand what you’re asking about.
Consider using your name in the subject line with a brief description of why you’re emailing. For example, if you’re following up from your interview on April 3, 2023, you might write, “[Your name] interview follow up: 4/3/2023.” Or if you’re reaching out regarding the status of your initial application, your subject line might be “Application for [Your name] for [role]” so that the recruiter knows right away who you are and which role you’re emailing about.
Strike a balance with tone
Recruiters are looking for polish and professionalism—but they also don’t want it to feel too stuffy, either! If you’re overly formal, you risk coming across as aloof. Here are some tips to have a polished but professional tone:
- Use “Hi [first name]” for an opener. “Hi” is a friendly greeting but less formal than “Dear.” In tech, it’s more common to use folks’ first names rather than “Mr./Ms. Last Name.”
- Use contractions in your writing! Writing out “I am” or “You are” repeatedly can come across as overly formal.
- Limit yourself to two exclamation points. If you’re from an underrepresented group, you might feel a lot of pressure to come across as friendly, but too many exclamation points can be overwhelming.
- Consider trying out tools like ChatGPT to write the email for you, then make edits to personalize it. For example, you might ask ChatGPT to write an email to a recruiter about the status of your application and then take the output and make some changes so it’s your own.
Get to the point quickly
After the initial opening and a quick greeting, move on to the main topic of your email. Spending too long on saying that you hope the email finds them well or other pleasantries puts off actually asking your question.
You can also be polite while being direct. You can be empathetic to the demands on the recruiter’s time and energy while also requesting the information you want. For example, if you’re emailing for more information about an upcoming interview loop next week, you can say, “I know the end of the week can be a busy time. Would you be able to share the format of the interview segment for Monday?”
Close with confidence
How to end an email to a recruiter brings out a lot of strong opinions from people. Some are big believers in “Sincerely,” while others love “Cheers.” A good recommendation is to pick something neutral and stick to it, like “Thanks,” or “Best”—whatever feels comfortable to you—and stick with it.
At each phase of your job search
Throughout the interview process, you’ll need to communicate with the recruiter fairly frequently. Each interaction can feel high stakes, but it doesn’t have to be. Also, if a recruiter suddenly ghosts you or rejects you based on the content of a single email, then that company or organization may not be a good fit for you—or the recruiter’s behavior might be signaling some red flags about how they treat employees. Some tools, like Superhuman (paid) or CloudHQ (free version for Gmail), have read receipts, which can tell you if the email has been opened.
The best way to approach these emails is often situational, depending on you, the company, and where you are in the interview process. If you’re ever unsure how best to approach your particular circumstance, it’s always beneficial to reach out for help from someone, like a mentor, who can help you craft a strategy and execute it.
How to cold email a recruiter
For your initial outreach, you might be wondering the best way to email a recruiter or message them on LinkedIn.
It’s helpful to make sure that you’re emailing the right person at the right company for the job. Doing a little research on the recruiter themselves can help you tailor the message to the individual.
Then, be sure to include in your email
- the name of the company
- the role you’re interested in
- why you’re interested specifically in that company and role
- why you’re a good fit
- your resume as an attachment
How to follow up with a recruiter
After a reach out or an interview, you may hope to hear back right away. Sometimes recruiters can get back to you quickly, but other times they may be waiting for other candidates to go through the process before getting back to you. If they want to speak to 10 candidates for a phone screen before letting you know, you may have to wait over a week for all those phone screens to happen first.
To follow up with a recruiter about your application or interview process, consider a brief but friendly check in. If you haven’t already, always thank them for their time and consideration. Let the recruiter know you know it can take some time but could they let you know when you might hear back?
If two weeks have gone by after a follow up, you may have been ghosted by the employer. This is never a great feeling—and in some ways can feel worse than an outright rejection. Even if you’re excited about the role and company, it’s important to not expend too much energy and time on a company that’s not getting back to you or respecting your time and efforts.
Ask a recruiter how to prepare for an interview
Interviewing is a time-intensive, stressful process. Knowing what to expect for an interview phase can make all the difference, especially if you’re a software engineer prepping for a coding exercise or a product manager thinking about how to present your experience.
Recruiters may have policies of not being able to give you too many specifics about an interview—for example, they probably won’t tell you the specific coding exercise you’ll be going through—but you can let them know you’d like to be prepared and what you might be able to expect. You can ask specifically about
- if you need to have any software installed to perform the interview (some companies prefer to use specific tools for pair programming or design exercises)
- how many people will be joining the interview
- how long the interview will be
- what kinds of questions you can expect
Often, recruiters will provide this information unprompted, but if you’re looking for more info, it doesn’t hurt to ask!
After a rejection
Rejections are painful. Chances are, you’ve gone through a couple interview rounds and are excited about the role. Hearing that you didn’t receive the offer can be disheartening, even demoralizing. But it’s important to maintain a positive relationship with the company. Sometimes, companies will later reach out to candidates whom they really liked but didn’t hire when a new role opens up. It’s an opportunity to keep a door open for future jobs or roles.
In your email, thank them for the opportunity and wish the company the best going forward.
If you’re looking for feedback, you can definitely ask! However, many companies have a policy of not providing feedback. These policies can be frustrating, especially if you’re trying to improve your interviewing skills for next time. However, you can look to mentoring platforms like Merit to help you with mock interviewing and interview feedback.
After an offer
This is a best-case scenario! Once you’ve received an offer, you can evaluate it. Often, recruiters will call you to walk you through the offer, like compensation and benefits, before emailing you with all the details and paperwork.
Your response will depend on whether you want to accept the offer, ask questions, reject it, buy more time, or negotiate:
- Accept: This is the easiest one to write! Express your excitement about the role, your intention to sign, and confirm any details like start date.
- Ask questions: Let the recruiter know you have a few open questions after reviewing the offer materials. At this point, recruiters and hiring managers really want you to sign, so they will do their best to answer any questions you have—and quickly.
- Reject: Prospective employees rejecting an offer is a huge disappointment to companies, so just as you’d hope they’d let you down gently, try to do the same for them. Thank them for their time and the opportunity to interview. Wish the company the best in filling the role and in its endeavors.
- Buy more time: Recruiters and hiring managers really want to seal the deal at this stage, and they may put pressure on you to sign quickly. Do not agree to any provisions of employment that you’re not comfortable with! If you need more time—like to see if another offer comes in or just to think it through—let them know your timeline. Asking for more than a week might be difficult, but saying you need a few days, a weekend, or a week is doable.
- Negotiate: Let the recruiter know you’re excited about the opportunity but that you want to go over a few aspects in more detail. Suggest setting up a call with the recruiter to talk more and let them know what you’d like to see changed in the offer.
And of course, there’s a whole set of special circumstances that can crop up during the process. Your employment situation might change; you might receive a competing offer; you might start interviewing with another company you like better. In all of these cases, knowing how and when to communicate to the recruiter can be a challenge, and it’s hard to figure out the best way on your own. Having trusted people in your network, like a mentor, can make all the difference in helping you chart a course during the turbulent periods of a job search.