How to reach passive candidates in 3 simple steps

Our introductory post discusses how companies often prefer hiring passive candidates and how we’re building Scout to help them reach this elusive talent.

Here we’ll describe 3 simple strategies to effectively contact passive candidates when hiring new team members.

1. Write clear and memorable subject lines

A mistake people often make when cold-emailing is optimizing only for open rates. Subjects need to entice people to open an email, but they also need a long shelf life. When a candidates responds to a message it bubbles back to the top of their inbox. Make sure your subject is:

  • Respectful and not deceptive.
  • Reinforces the value of the opportunity every time it is read.
  • Contains memorable terms that are easy to search (the position and company name).
  • While this may seem counterintuitive, a simple, highly effective template for email subject lines is: “{opportunity} at {company}”. Example: Product Designer at Acme, Inc.

Note: many of the best practices for recruiting subject lines in marketing emails applies in this context as well.

2. Be concise

Getting a response should be your goal. Sending long emails can be counterproductive. It is tempting to present the full context of an opportunity or everything that is impressive about your company, but the email should be brief and focus more on the recipient than you (or your company).

Adding relevant personal touches to emails is a smart and simple way to boost response rates. That said, the law of diminishing returns applies when customizing emails.

To keep it concise: briefly introduce yourself, let the recipient know their experience is outstanding, highlight the single most compelling reason this is a valuable opportunity, and finish with a clear next step (ex: “Are you interested in learning more?”).

3. Send polite follow-ups

Even if you craft a Pulitzer worthy amazing email it will most likely fall into the inbox of a busy person. Everything you do in steps 1 and 2 improves the odds that the email is read, but doesn’t guarantee an immediate response.

Low response rates can be a downside to reaching passive candidates. It is important not to get discouraged, and not to treat a lack of a response as outright rejection. Sending a polite one to two sentence follow-up (3-5 days after the initial email) is a great way to increase response rate.


It can take over 150 emails (including follow-ups) to get to a hire. We built Scout to make it easier to contact qualified passive candidates at scale. We compose email templates based on the best practices we’ve learned contacting thousands of candidates. If you’re interested in our help visit us here.

Schedule a Demo