My take on templates as part of an initial recruiting process…

Nothing like a template e-mail from a recruiter to make you feel like a number. A low number. It really shocks me that people recruit like this.

I just got an e-mail from a small local software company. Obviously, the person that sent the e-mail has no idea who I am (not that I am special, but recruiters should at least know who the heck they are sending the template to). The e-mail was perfectly friendly. It said "Hi Heather" at the beginning and the font was consistent throughout. But it's clearly a template. And it's clearly for an HR ("SPHR certification preferred") role that requires "moderate supervision". That is so not me (not that there's anything wrong with's just not me). I'm sure that Microsoft is not everyone's ideal company, but if you are going to try to recruit someone out, you have to work harder. That sounds horrible, but we do have a pretty good deal going on here so if you aren't offering something significantly better, what's the point?

There was nothing in the mail to sell me on the company or the opportunity. It was just a job description and a request to complete the questionnaire at the bottom if this is something I would be interested in. There's nothing about me that should have given the person the impression that I would be interested. I'm sure that a number of other people received the same e-mail. I know e-mails like this go out from recruiters at many/most companies. Hey recruiters, these templates make candidates feel like crap. If you are recruiting top talent, your targets are not going to respond to this kind of thing.

My team does a lot of initial contacting of candidates so I suppose we have some expertise in this area. Let me be clear about one thing. I use templates. With the volume of resumes that we receive, it's virtually impossible for me to be uniquely charming in each e-mail communication (hee!). But there's a way to use templates successfully.

1) Font and color of text should be consistent throughout. If your mail merge makes it obvious that your mail was not sent directly and individually to the candidate, then don't send it.

2) If you are e-mailing more than one person at a time, include language that allows the recipient to opt-out of hearing from you again. I'm no legal expert, and I am not going to get into the technical definition of SPAM. But I do know the difference between mail I want to receive and mail I don't want to receive. There's a difference between a conversation and a blasted e-mail.

3) Write your e-mail in language that is friendly and professional, but casual. Don't put on your template voice. It's so obvious. When I send out an e-mail response to the resume, it sounds just as if I had just composed the mail. My personality dictates my e-mail voice.

4) Include something you know about the person so they don't feel like you purchased their name off a list. Don't have time to look the person up on LinkedIn? Then don't send the mail.

5) Never assume the person will be interested. Keep the mail short and ask the question..."are you interested in hearing more?"

6) Never, and I mean NEVER, include a screening template in your first e-mail. Candidates want to be courted. They don't want to feel like you just sent the e-mail out to everyone and their dog just to see if you could get anyone interested. I will admit that my team does send out some standard questions to candidates, but this is after they have expressed interest. We want to know whether they can work in Redmond and whether they have work authorization. That's about it. I have never been a fan of screening templates. If you are interested in the person for a position you are owning as a recruiter, then they are worthy of your time for a phone call. I think the screening templates come off as arrogant (we are so important that we don't have time for you but expect you to make time for us).

7) Consider that the way you recruit says a lot about how employees are treated at your company. The way that a candidate is treated during the process, while they are being "wooed" should be no worse than how an employee is treated. If "I don't have time for you" is the message you are sending out during your recruiting process, that is what people will expect as employees. If "we care about you" is the message you are sending out, then there's a high likelihood you will feel the love once you are in the door.

Now before anyone tries to set up a call with me, I am no longer in a role where I am owning open positions, but I can certainly get your resume to the recruiters that are. I know recruiters don't have time to phone interview every candidate (duh), but once they have established some mutual interest, the next step is a phone call. Recruiting is about relationships.

Oh and...

8) Never send your e-mail template to a recruiter who is likely to blog about it. We all make mistakes but it's hard to ignore blog fodder like that. I've had people e-mail me to apologize after stuff like this because they thought I was angry. I'm not angry. I just don't find the whole template intro thing to be a compelling recruiting strategy and it definitely does not make me want to join your company (it doesn't even make me want to refer people to you).

Comments (10)

  1. Greg says:


    Great blog, I love your perspective and as a hiring manager, I think it does help me to peer into the world of the recruiter.

    As someone who is currently on the prowl for a great new position (keyword: great), I’m curious of your take on something.  I’ve found that if I submit my resume through people who work for the company (an internal referral) that my resume carries MUCH more weight than if I’m cruising Monster, Careerbuilder, or whatever and decide to respond to a post out there.

    Would you (generally) agree with my hypothesis?

    Just curious…


  2. If I have to use a template, the first thing I do is admit it up front.  Most candidates understand that they’re not the only candidate that you ever talk to.

    If it’s to a group of folks that I’ve at least met, something like, "Sorry to have to send this out in a mass e-mail, but this opportunity is pretty time-sensitive and I wanted to be sure to get this out to ‘my guys / gals’ as quickly as possible…"

    If I don’t know the folks to whom I’m sending the e-mail, I’ll use something like, "I know you don’t know me, but my researcher came up with your name on (Monster / DICE / Whatever) and she thought you’d be a good candidate for this position if you’re still looking…."

    Agreed on not sending an e-mail heavily laden with qualifying questions, other than, "if you think this might be a good match, give me a call so we can talk in more detail…"


  3. HeatherLeigh says:

    Greg, yes I would definitely agree (assuming that the employee is credible and relatively well connected inside the company. Heck, even if they are new). It simply gets peoples’ attention. I’d say that in general, when you submit a resume, the closer to the hiring manager that you can submit it, the better. I think the easiest way for me to explain it is to equate it to a series of concentric circles with the hiring manager being the nucleus. The next ring are the people around the hiring manager that they trust (hopefully including a recruiter but not necessarily), then other people at the company, then people outside the company. Outside of the company, you can start to see trustworthy talent pools. These represent places where you can be reasonably assured of finding good talent and then further out, places where it becomes more speculative.

    What I have found with job boards in general is that you can find talent. Period. Some good, some bad. But there’s a cost involved in sourcing off of those boards and that is time. When you find a good job board, it moves you in to a closer ring. That’s how I feel about TheLadders, for example, relative to some of the other job boards (some I won’t even bother with). I have found that with a resource like TheLadders, where I have found strong talent in the past, I know that my time is a good investment. The closer to the nucelus a recruiter can recruit, the more efficient of a process it will be. It will be more efficient for the candidates too; more likelihood of getting the manager’s attention, more likelihood of moving forward in the process (all other things being equal).

    Whew…long winded answer. Hope it made some sense.

    Dan – I like your style and I totally agree.

  4. Getting a templated email in the initial recruiting process is one thing. Getting an email from a company where you’ve been interviewed with a subject of "Fwd: Suggestions for rejection message" and a very standardized word document with generic rejection phrases feels even worse… OK, so they didn’t want me or a few other people, but they could at least fake an interest. Just removing the "fwd" would have made it look slightly less… unprofessional.

  5. HeatherLeigh says:

    Kaisa – oh no! That is awful!

  6. Karthikeyan R(KR) says:

    Your point 8 minds me of the line from the movie ‘Wedding Singer’ where Robbie screams at the bride’s father and says "Well, I have a microphone, and you don’t, so you will listen to every damn word I have to say!" 🙂

    But, hey, you gotta listen to this. I am a product manager, and once (not too long ago) got an email from a recuiter for the post of a PR person in MY OWN COMPANY!!! Boy did that make my day!

  7. Funny story in regards to email templates…

    Back in my agency days when I found myself sending out email templates about as frequent as filling my coffee cup I sat down to an open req and a Monster screen. I began the standard copy/past of emails from monster to my outlook screen, but erroneously (maybe it was the fourth cup of coffee) I pasted into the cc in the the bcc. Needless to say my email was ill-received from the 250+ candidates who were able to their fellow 250+ recipients email addresses. I suppose these days sharing and email address is sononomous with identity theft. No one likes to be called a spammer and that quickly became my nickname around the office. Lesson learned. BCC!

  8. HeatherLeigh says:

    KR – that’s funny. I think I experienced the flip side of that. I got an e-mail from a candidate that started with "Dear Google Recruiter" and went on to detail why they thought they would be a great addition to the Google team. Hmm, I hope they got their wish.

    Bethany – that is a painful lesson to learn! Ouch!

  9. Somdeb Basu says:

    I totally agree with you on the point that templated email is the worst thing you can send to a possible recruit. But what I find to be even more worse is the fact that in case you do not qualify, you are sent an "even more templated" reply, rather than a broad idea of why you did not get through.

    I mean, if the interviewer has gone through the whole process of interviewing you for half-a-day, the least that a recruit expects in case he did not get in, is some idea of why he did not get in. Obviously, a specific reply is not expected as it would lead to possible further argument. But a broad idea is definitely more satisfying than a canned reply stating "…….though you are a very good candidate, you do not meet our specific requirements".

    As an example, I remember that in my college days, a few of my friends and me, received emailsl for recruitment at Microsoft asking us to send our resumes and reply to a set of general questions by email. I obviously did not like the idea of receiving a templated mail which included about 10 questions for me to answer, an "exact replica" of which a friend had shown me previously.

    But more than that was, the ones among us who did not make it received the stock reply as mentioned above. A friend of mine even sent another email asking for some broad reasons regarding his rejection, but received the reply that this could not be discussed as a matter of policy.

    However, something I discovered was that not all companies follow this policy. During the recruiting season, some of us also applied to Bloomberg, the financial software company. A friend of mine, who did not get selected and received a simpler reply ".. that there were other candidates better than him for the position".

    On calling the recruiter, he was put in touch with the actual interviewer who asked him to call back at  an appointed time. On talking to the interviewer, the interviewer gave specific reasons regarding what points he needs to improve on.  

    Now, such a detalied response although preferable cannot be expected, but a stock reply definitely puts people off.

    Additionally, my friend mentioned the fact that he got a detailed reply for his rejection to a lot of other students on campus, something which created a pretty good image for Bloomberg among the student community. Unfortunately, it was just the opposite for Microsoft, people still did apply there but among people with multple job offers almost all decided not to work there.

    So, a personal and straight reply goes a long way towards the employer’s image, as almost everyone relates a stock response with a bureacracy and few people want to work for a bureacracy.

  10. Since we’re on the topic of questionnaires and spam , Heather over at Microsoft writes a great post about

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