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 min read

Outbound recruiting: the ultimate outreach guide (2022)

With targeted outreach to individuals rather than groups, outbound recruiting is the spearfishing approach to recruiting. Let this guide be your spear.

July 26, 2021
Yuma Heymans
August 3, 2022
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In this complete guide we explain what outbound recruiting is and the steps needed to adopt outbound in your recruiting strategy and day-to-day activities.

We’ll cover the following topics:

  1. What is outbound recruiting
  2. Why outbound recruiting exists
  3. What the outbound recruiting process looks like
  4. Outbound recruiting: scalable or not? The case for automation
  5. How to do outbound recruiting: your practical guide
  6. Integrating data sources and synchronizing activities
  7. Becoming an outbound pro: know your reach, and know your limitations

1. What is outbound recruiting

Outbound recruiting is the process of searching for potential candidates and reaching out to them proactively, rather than waiting for candidates to come to you.

Outbound recruiting is different from inbound recruiting, where candidates have found you and show interest using for example your job ads, content, online application forms and engaging with your employer brand on social media.

In inbound recruiting there is a prior relationship or interest of the candidate when you follow up with them.

In outbound recruiting there is no prior relationship with or interest from the candidate and therefore outbound recruiting is often referred to as ‘cold’ outreach.

Cold outreach is reaching out to a potential candidate without any sign of interest from the candidate in your specific job, you contact them and accept that there will be a fair chance that they are not interested in your offer.

Outbound recruiting is also sometimes referred to as outbound sourcing.

You can think of outbound recruiting as spearfishing, whereas inbound recruiting is more like casting a fishing net and using bait.

Outbound recruiting is about targeting individuals, finding them up to the profile level and then reaching out to them personally.

Outbound is push.

Inbound is pull.

Outbound is you going to candidates.

Inbound is candidates coming to you.

What outbound recruiting looks like

2. Why outbound recruiting exists

Because it works. Almost every company deploys some sort of outbound recruiting. Some companies even achieve most hires with an outbound recruiting approach.

Outbound recruiting is most popular in industries where recruiters have to engage hard to find talent. 

An example of such an industry is the tech industry. Software developers for example are not typically actively looking for a job, they already have enough job opportunities literally arriving in their mail or InMail. That’s why recruiters have to go after them themselves

That’s where outbound recruiting has proven to be a very successful approach. The biggest companies in the world are constantly reaching out to potential candidates with job offers to get them interested in applying or just having a casual conversation. Google, Meta, Tesla, they’re all using outbound recruiting.

As you can see in the below image, there are more potential candidates who are open to talking to a recruiter but not actively looking for a job (45%) than there are people actively looking for a job (12%).

candidate openness to opportunities, source: LinkedIn

85% of people are open to job opportunities. And the biggest part is not actively looking, so unless you expect to bump into them on the streets you need to go recruit them, that’s why outbound recruiting exists.

3. What the outbound recruiting process looks like

Now we understand why outbound recruiting exists, we can look into how outbound recruiting is done.

Steps in the outbound recruiting process

The outbound recruiting process is almost always the same in terms of which steps are performed, but how these steps are performed varies significantly across companies and individual recruiters.

Here we’ll explain in short what the process looks like, later we’ll explain how you can do fill in this process yourself.

The steps in the outbound recruiting process are:

  1. Targeting
  2. Screening
  3. Engaging

1. Targeting

Targeting is the process of figuring out who you want to reach out to. This includes selecting platforms where you can find your candidate prospects on (like LinkedIn, GitHub, Medium), creating your search on those platforms or talent search engines and creating a longlist of candidates.

2. Screening

Screening is the process of reviewing candidate profiles from your longlist or search results and determining if they are indeed a good fit for the job you’re recruiting for. 

3. Engaging

Engaging is the process of reaching out to candidates and providing information about your company and open job in order to get them interested in further conversations. 

Simple vs. advanced outbound recruiting

How the steps are performed is entirely dependent on the maturity, skill and goals of the individual recruiter and the or organization they recruit for.

A simple outbound recruiting process would be for example a single recruiter who individually reaches out to candidates using LinkedIn Recruiter in a manual fashion (finding a potential candidate and sending them a manual InMail), without coordinating with other recruiters about who they found and contacted.

An advanced outbound recruiting process would involve a high level of automation and orchestration of engaging candidates and would involve a more sophisticated way of finding candidates in a variety of sources. This could be for example a team of sourcers and recruiters using a talent search and engagement platform where recruiters work in a collaborative environment to find candidates from platforms like LinkedIn, GitHub and Stack Overflow and coordinate with each other which candidates they find interesting based on data rich profiles. Part of this would also be a high level of automation of reaching out, like using message sequences with several hyper-personalized emails being sent automatically to potential candidates at programmatically or even AI optimized times.

4. Outbound recruiting: scalable or not? The case for automation

Because outbound recruiting relies on individual outreach, the assumption often is that outbound recruiting is not scalable because you need someone in your team who reaches out individually to every candidate which would be time consuming and would limit your reach.

As with every approach, there are always limitations in terms of reach, but outbound recruiting can be surprisingly scalable, with a one person outbound team but especially if outbound efforts are distributed and orchestrated efficiently across a bigger team.

So is outbound recruiting scalable? It sure is, if you set up the outbound recruiting process in a way so that it’s partly automated and set up for team collaboration.

Many steps in the process of reaching out can be automated or at least for a part. Think about all the repetitive tasks you’re doing when you’re engaging a potential candidate:

  • Finding a relevant candidate profile > can be automated
  • Finding an email address > can be automated
  • Copying and pasting the first name in the email > can be automated
  • Referring to relevant skills in the email > can be automated
  • Generating personalized messages > can be automated
  • Sending emails at a planned time > can be automated
  • Including your signature > can be automated
  • Checking for replies > can be automated

Outbound automation

If you would send one on one messages manually to prospects you wouldn’t have a scalable approach. Where outbound becomes scalable is when parts of the process are automated. Simple automations like first name personalization and email scheduling are already contributing to making outbound scalable.

When outbound is getting to an advanced level in regards to automation you typically see that the entire outbound process is also becoming more scalable, meaning that you can reach more relevant prospects with less resources.

These are the most essential automations that make outbound scalable:

  • Automated search and candidate prospecting which enables quick finding of potential candidates.
  • Bulk actions like upload or moving candidate prospects to automation sequences.
  • Personalizations in outreach messages like [first name], [top skills] and [location].
  • Bulk messaging to send several messages to different prospects at the same time.
  • Message sequencing where users can line up several messages in a sequence that they want to send automatically to individual prospects where replies are tracked and sequences are automatically stopped when a trigger event, like a reply, happens.
  • Message scheduling where the user or the software itself predetermines when to send messages.
  • Tracking and reporting on outbound performance including tracking the sending rate, deliverability rate, open rate and reply rate.
  • Outbound orchestration to keep track of who did what when in a team of several outbound recruiters to avoid duplicated actions.

5. How to do outbound recruiting: your practical guide

Because in outbound recruiting you have so much information about candidates and you can target them at an individual level, outbound recruiting has a lot of benefits compared to inbound recruiting.

Because you can target individuals rather than groups, hyper-personalization becomes possible and even a necessity to be successful in an outbound approach.

But how do you make engaging individuals personalized and scalable at the same time? And which tools do you use to accomplish this?

In this how to guide we’ll give you the right tools, techniques and knowledge you need to be successful at outbound recruiting.

The outbound recruiting process and building blocks

1. Targeting

First step in your outbound recruiting approach is knowing the target and the market. The target is a potential candidate that is yet ‘untouched’, meaning that you didn’t engage with them yet, they haven’t heard anything from you and have no clue yet that you might reach out to them.

Within the process of targeting you decide who your market is and work towards a list of potential candidates that you are going to reach out to.

Targeting can be as simple as creating a LinkedIn search for people and letting the search results be your ‘target list’.

But in this outbound recruiting guide we’re looking at a more sophisticated approach that assumes a well defined ideal profile of the candidate and a multi-channel outreach approach.

These are the most important things to consider when targeting:

Ideal Candidate Profile (ICP)

A term used often in the sales world is the Ideal Customer Profile. In the recruiting world, we can speak of an Ideal Candidate Profile (ICP). The ICP is a representation of what the ideal candidate looks like. This can be a real-life profile of someone who would be the ideal candidate for the job. It can also be a fictional profile put together by the hiring manager and recruiter with the most important skills, interests and preferences that the ideal candidates would have. 

The most important thing is to align the hiring manager’s ideas on what they need with your understanding as a recruiter about who you’re looking for.

What should be mentioned in the ICP:

  • Skills needed for the job
  • Interests in regards to personal and professional life
  • Preferences in regards to work: where and how do they prefer to work
  • Communication style and optionally personality

Candidate market analysis

Now you know what your prospective candidate can look like, you can do your market analysis. In this step you will answer the question: where can I find my Ideal Candidates and how many of them are available in the market (and optionally what is the demand for them)? 

This is about getting a good broad understanding of who is available in the market in terms of the requirements. When you know that, you can better understand the demand and supply in the market which will give you an indication of the sourcing difficulty for the job.

The most used tool to get a good understanding of the candidate market is talent mapping.

Learn more here on talent mapping.

Target list

When you have a good understanding of who you want to find and where you can them you can create your first target list.

A target list is a list of potential candidates seem to qualify for the job. You can only get a quality targetlist if you understand the job you’re sourcing for and subsequently where you can find these candidates.

This part of the process is also often referred to as ‘prospecting’. Prospecting, in sales and recruitment, is looking for the right people to engage with (basically finding their profiles).

To get to your list you have to translate your Ideal Candidate Profile to a search.

Your search is basically the keywords and filters you use to get to search results (profiles).

If you have a job description, a tool like HeroHunt.ai can build a search from your job description automatically, so you don’t have to write complex Boolean strings and work with complex filters.

Automated search based on job description

To turn this search into your set of candidates you only have to click next and the tool searches the best candidates for you out of 1 billion profiles from platforms like LinkedIn, GitHub and Stack Overflow.

Getting to your targetlist of top matching candidates

This is a good example that shows how important it is to consider all of the sources where you can find your candidates. The software engineers for this search are not only found on LinkedIn but also on platforms like GitHub and Stack Overflow.

The end result of this step should be a list of potential candidate profiles that seem to qualify for your job.

When you have this list (or several lists) you can start screening.

2. Screening

Screening is the process of looking at the profiles that you found in your searches and validating if they meet the criteria for the open job.

The goal of screening is to know whether you want to reach out to the candidate or if they’re not relevant enough and you choose to save outbound resources.

To do a good screening, two things are most important: skills validation and estimating likelihood to change.

Skills validation

Skills validation is about evaluating if the candidate really has the skills required to do the job. Many candidates put skills on their profiles that they do not necessarily master but rather which they’re interested in or did a course in a long time ago.

By reviewing these factors on the profile you can validate the skills:

  1. What the focus is of the candidate and if the skills were recently built up or a long time ago
  2. Duration of the skills experience in which the skills were built up (for example 4 years UI/UX designer)
  3. How the skills were acquired by the candidate (at a job or multiple jobs, in courses, with hobby projects, etc)
Screening candidates in HeroHunt.ai

Estimating likelihood to change

Also important in screening is taking into account what the probability is that a candidate will be open to your offer or a new job in general.

You can never know for sure about the prospect’s openness to a new job until you talk to them (or the new contract is signed actually) but you can make a good estimate about what the chances are for them to be open to your job offer.

By reviewing the following you can check for the likelihood to change:

  1. Duration of their current job. Rule of thumb is that candidates shouldn’t be employed shorter than 6 months for them to be likely to consider a new job, unless they indicate they are currently looking for a job or unless the experience years in question apply to a freelance gig.
  2. Pattern of switching. Does the candidate show a pattern of switching between jobs or are they stubbornly staying put? This information will help you determine whether they’d be open for a switch at this moment in time.

When you screened your target list you should have a shortlist of profiles and you can start engaging with your potential candidates.

3. Engaging

Engaging is the process of reaching out to your candidate prospects on a channel or multiple channels where you can reach them.

Contact details

When you know who you want to reach out to, the next step is to find a way to contact the prospect.

There are a couple of ways possible to reach out to candidates, some of the most used ones are:

  • Email: email is the most powerful and scalable approach to communicate in general, also to get to talent. You generally need an email finder or a talent engagement platform which finds contact details for you.
  • Social media: LinkedIn is the most used social media platform to do outbound recruiting on. But there are also other platforms which allow for (cold) outreach, like Twitter.
  • Phone: direct phone calls are not as popular as they used to be but for certain target groups can still be a powerful way of talking to prospects.
Get contacts with a talent engagement platform

Here’s how to find contact details:

Use a contact finder tool

Use a talent engagement platform

Message template

Now you have a way to contact the prospect you need to draft your message template. When you want to make outbound recruiting scalable, you don’t want to have to draft a message for every single candidate you reach out to. The story should be the same; you’re recruiting for a job, for a company with a certain mission.

The actual content in terms of personalization however can be different, but that’s also something you can automate, more about that in the section below.

To manage your message templates you should have a tool to manage these templates.

To write a good template message there are some things to take into account.

Here are some general guidelines to use while drafting your outreach message:

  • Hyper personalize your message by referring to relevant professional facts 
  • Don’t ask too many questions in your message, don’t make the candidate work too hard
  • Don't be transactional, you're talking to a human being not to a robot.
  • Provide one simple and frictionless call to action at the end of your message where the candidate can simply reply yes or no to.
Managing your own templates, including personalisations

Here you can learn more on writing good template messages and find some templates:

Outreach message templates to recruit tech talent

LinkedIn InMail examples: templates to win candidates

Message personalization

Personalisation is when you include facts or data in your outreach message that relate to the individual you are contacting.

An example is when you address the prospect with their first name ‘Hi John’ instead of something generic like ‘Hi there’.

Including personalisations manually is very time consuming so there are tools that auto generate (template) messages including personalisations.

You can see an example below.

Auto generated message including personalisations

The most important thing about personalisation is that the information is relevant to the message and the data is correct.

Including something about the prospect’s cat on Instagram might be personal but it’s not relevant.

And including the full four names of the prospect in your salutation does not really come across naturally (‘Hi John Peter Hendrik Klaus’).

So you want to be using a tool that helps you to be personal in an automated but natural way so potential candidates know that you care about them.

Outreach automation

Also sending the messages themselves can be automated. Just to be clear here, outreach automation is not about doing a simple search, getting 1000 search results and email bombing them.

It’s about doing all the previous steps right so you know exactly who to reach out to and personalize all your outreach.

Only then you can be successful at this step. Volume counts, but it doesn’t count as much as quality.

Outreach automation can be very helpful when you want to send a series of emails, which include additional information and reminders, to your screened set of prospects with the goal of engaging them in your company mission and position.

This is what outreach automation could look like:

Message sequences are set up to send a series of messages, usually emails, to prospects that the outbound recruiter selected. Every step represents an email sent to the potential candidate. The individual emails are all personalized and will include the personal information for the individual potential candidate. The timeframe of when the emails are sent is predetermined and the software will take care of sending the emails at an optimal time

This is what it can look like in action::

Email sequence with predefined sending times and reply tracking

Tracking

Automating the sending of the messages is, next to that it’s a major time saver, also a great opportunity to keep better track of all of your efforts.

By automating outreach, you will know exactly how many messages were delivered, how many were opened and how many were replied to.

This way you can learn a lot more about your activities and how they result in getting closer to that next hire.

Following up

When you put all that effort into getting in touch with potential candidates in the first place, you better follow up with them to make sure they get excited and have the right information to proceed in their decision making.

Following up can be as simple as sending a quick message to check-in and at least is answering all the questions the potential candidate has.

Curious how this all together could look like? 

You can play with this interactive demo:

6. Integrating data sources and synchronizing activities

All those outreach messages and follow ups can stack up in time, so it’s important to have a robust process for keeping track of all the messages sent. 

The challenge can be that messages are flowing through several systems, you might have sent one or two emails initially, but then the candidate sent you a message on LinkedIn and you had a call to get introduced.

All these different moments of contact with the potential candidate are called touchpoints, and you want to keep track of all these touchpoints so you know what candidate experience the prospect went through and to make sense out of your recruiting efforts, what works and what doesn’t. 

Also you want to prevent any duplicate communication to the candidate by yourself or someone from your team.

It happens too often that candidates get asked the same questions twice or that recruiters are not up to date with the current stage of the recruiting process for the candidate.

The way to best keep track of this is having the right integrations between the systems that you use. 

The most important system to integrate your outbound recruiting tooling with is your Applicant Tracking System (ATS). Your ATS should be your main ‘source of truth’.

Candidate profile data, contact details and touchpoints should be saved in your ATS to keep track of everything that happens in the candidate journey and so you can get back to candidates who you built a relationship with at a later point in time.

Some outbound recruiting tools integrate with ATSs so you can save candidate profiles including contact details and status with one click to the ATS.

Saving profiles including their contact details and status in the ATS

7. Becoming an outbound pro: know your reach, and know your limitations

As with any approach there are things to learn along the process. But some things are just better to know upfront, especially when it comes to outreach at scale.

Know your limits

Every outreach approach has its own limits. For example, you cannot send 10.000+ emails per day with the same email account. You also cannot send unlimited InMails or connection invites.

There are limitations put into place by service providers and platforms to prevent spam and irrelevant messages. So knowing your limits, or more positively formulated your maximum range, is essential in being successful with outbound recruiting.

Email

Email sending limits are put in place by email service providers to limit spam.

If you exceed an email sending limit, you could be blocked from sending emails, at least with that email account.

This is what you want to prevent:

Account locked notification by Gmail

But you do want to get most out of your outbound efforts.

The amount of emails that every email provider has varies significantly and ranges between 300 - 10.000 emails per day.

These are the sending limits per email provider:

  • Gmail (free): 100 emails per day
  • Gmail (Workspace paid account): 2000 emails per day for full paid account, 500 per day on free trial
  • Outlook: 300 per day for verified email accounts
  • Office365: 10.000 per day, 30 messages max per minute
  • Yahoo Mail: 500 per day

Other ways of getting banned are if receivers from your emails continuously mark you as spam or report malpractices like phishing.

LinkedIn

There are multiple ways to reach a candidate prospect on LinkedIn and all of them have strict limitations.

That’s why LinkedIn is considered a less scalable approach to recruiting in general.

These are the limits on LinkedIn:

  • InMails: 30 for LinkedIn Recruiter Lite, 150 for LinkedIn Recruiter. Although expensive, you can buy more InMails.
  • Connection invites: 100 connections per week.
  • Automated activity: LinkedIn bans users whose account is showing signs of automated activity and restricted use of third party tooling. The imitations here are not defined nor shared by LinkedIn.

Other platforms

Other platforms like Twitter, WhatsApp or Discord can be used to reach out. Although these platforms are considered less limited, there can be restrictions on the amount of messages you’re sending here. Every big platform has their own bot detection in an attempt to limit automated use.

Outbound resources

We know now that you need certain systems and people to make outbound recruiting happen, you can think of these as outbound resources.

Outbound resources are everything you need to do outbound recruiting but which are per definition limit in capacity or usage.

Because they are limited, they need to be managed and distributed to get to an optimum.

Outbound resources are:

  1. People: the amount of people in your team who can execute on the outbound recruiting activities and who’s email or platform accounts are available to use for outbound.
  2. Sending capacity: the sending limitations of the email service provider and platforms used
  3. Email/platform credits: the amount of email credits (email finder tools) or platform credits (eg InMail) the team has bought to reach out to prospects.

The art of outbound recruiting is balancing these resources and creating a way of working in which capacity is distributed in a way that you can optimize output.

Also, continuous testing of tools, messages, personalisations, sequences and sending times is regarded a necessity to continuously improve your outreach at scale.

There’s so much more we could write about outbound recruiting, and we will be expanding this topic with more blogs and guides.

For now we wish you a lot of fun exploring outbound recruiting as the most promising recruitment technique of this decade.

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