Getting the Most Out of Email

With today’s busy information society, email is an accepted and efficient method for initial contact. Not all recruiters are comfortable with initiating a conversation with an email, but even if you intend to call the candidates personally, email can be a great way to break the ice and send them additional information to review while on the phone with you.

Recent studies on the effectiveness of email as a communication tool reveal that people are more likely to reply quickly to an email than to a voicemail.

This is especially true among information workers but also applies to employees whose work doesn’t revolve around technology.

Using email appeals across the board because it facilitates the multi-tasking approach that dominates the working world: email can be checked at the same time as someone is on a phone call.


The 3 most Successful Elements of an Email

There are three main components to successful email communication. The first component is to avoid having your message blocked by spam blockers which would of course prevent its delivery and render your email completely useless.

Once it’s delivered the next major hurdle is to catch the reader’s attention enough to get them to open your message. The most important component after your name and company is a strong subject line.

Compelling subject lines will make people open your message even if they don’t recognize your name and company in the “From” field. Once your message is opened all that remains is that it produces the desired result.

This can only be achieved with a concise message that is read and clearly understood, and most importantly, acted upon.



When sending a legitimate business email to a target audience, even if your target audience explicitly subscribed to your distribution list, you can fall victim to over-aggressive spam blockers. Spam filters these days are much more sophisticated than the old fashioned ones that used to come with basic mail programs and would block only “bad” words.

These days companies and email providers use advanced software like SpamAssassin, or even hardware like Barracuda, which frequently and inadvertently block legitimate business email like newsletters.

Individual users also employ spam filters like to protect their private email addresses. These programs look for patterns and add or delete points for certain factors. If the total score of your email reaches a predetermined threshold of points, your message is flagged as spam or even completely blocked.  Here are some tips to help you stay under the range of spam filters:


Use Careful Capitalization

Besides the fact that ALL CAPS is considered bad netiquette, spam filters also consider them suspicious. Excessive use of capital letters will increase your spam points. If you do want to use ALL CAPS do so in moderation and capitalize only part of a sentence, not the entire heading or sentence.


Simplify your HMTL

Using graphics and hypertext markup can make your messages much more readable. But too much HTML will get them flagged for spam.

Keep your HTML to very simple markups like bold, italics, basic color, and tables. Heavily stylized formats will hurt the probability of your message being delivered.

Don’t be lured by your marketing department into using heavy HTML and graphics. Your message is not an institutional opportunity to brand your corporate image. Like an interpersonal email, this is you directly connecting with you.

Fancy templates can backfire by alerting jealous spam filters to block your message. In addition, many email readers these days block embedded graphics. State your business clearly in simple, plain text for best results.


If you must use HTML, then here are some things to avoid:

  • Using JavaScript
  • Thick borders in your tables
  • Hidden comments in the HTML code
  • HTML forms
  • Bad hyperlinks can also cost you. For example, links that don’t have the http:// prefix are considered suspicious so be sure to include the prefix in your links.
  • If you do use color, stick to the basic 217 web-safe colors. Getting creative with color can cost you points, as does coloring text the same color as the background.
  • One other formatting problem is the use of large size fonts. If you want to enlarge certain text in your message use the H1, H2 and H3 tags. Sticking to black text and white backgrounds is generally a good idea, and of course, using plan text is the safest alternative.


Avoid Suspicious Phrases

Obviously many risqué words will earn you big points in the spam filter, but those aren’t likely words you would use in your messages. However, words like free, urgent, opportunity, profits, money, cash, rates, amazing, procrastinate, guarantee, unlimited, winning, and credit can also increase your spam score.

Refer to “Words and Phrases that Trigger Some Spam Filters,” Web Marketing Today, for a broad listing of suspect phrases to avoid using.


What not to put in your subject line

The word hello used in the subject line will earn you a heavy spam score penalty. Using dollar signs, question marks, exclamation points and the word free inside your subject line also carry big penalties.

Including the person’s user name in the subject line is just about one of the quickest ways to get your message marked as spam. You can actually improve your messages spam score by including a date in the subject line.

Be Careful with Unsubscribe

Ironically, the CAN-SPAM act requires mass e-mailers to clearly indicate how recipients can be removed from future mailings. The problem is that many spammers use fake systems, so this has raised the alarm and spam blockers look to unsubscription information as a way to catch spammers.

Using words like “to be removed” and other claims of removal from a list will elevate your messages spam score. The best way to handle this is to include in your closing paragraph a phrase expressing something like this: “If you prefer I don’t contact you again, or that I reach you at a different email address, please let me know.”

If you do use a list server, don’t use “click here to unsubscribe” but instead something like “use this link to be taken off the list.” Words like remove and unsubscribe will count against you, particularly if they are used in a mailto: link or a URL hyperlink.


Sign Your Message

The use of signatures will give you positive points towards your spam score. That means that the simple presence of your signature tells the spam program that you are less likely to be a spammer. Long signatures are best, so include your title, phone number, address, etc.

Those corporate “email disclaimers” also aid in giving you positive points. Whatever you do, don’t make any claims or mention any kind of compliance with spam law. Most filters will assign such claims as a heavy probability that the message is indeed spam.

You are sending legitimate business email. You are not spamming. So there is no need to state the obvious and it will only hurt your score.


Size Matters

Many spam messages are large in size due to extraneous text, formatting, or graphics. Keeping your message between 20 and 40 kilobytes will increase in a positive spam score making it more likely to be delivered.


Answer Challenges

Many individual users are turning to challenge systems like Spam Arrest and Earthlink to help with their spam. This works by sending back a reply to your message saying “please click here to confirm” or something similar.

You only need to do this once but if you don’t respond to this challenge none of your messages to that address will ever be delivered.


Monitor the Blacklists

If you suspect your emails aren’t being delivered, check the records in blacklist databases. These blacklist sites track complaints from e-mail users and are often used by spam filters to block emails from blacklisted addresses.

To check your email or company domain against blacklists you can visit these sites:


Target your list

This topic is saved for last because it is the most important. The best way to get your messages read is to make sure you are sending them to the right people. This may seem a bit too obvious but it is often overlooked.

If you are recruiting for nurses and you send your email to Doctors, you can appreciate how that will be highly unproductive, and even result in getting you labeled as a spammer.

The more you target your list the better your response rates will be. Consider not just job titles but geography, and other demographic criteria when building a list. Many of the databases you already subscribe to will let you slice contacts with very specific selection criteria.

Consider how job boards, CRM and ATS systems allow you to search by geography and job title. Send a different message to each specific group like Nurses in Georgia, or Software Engineers in Seattle, etc.



Bad subject lines make small networks. Just as you learned in this book’s job posting section, your message is less likely to be opened if the “title,” or in this case, the subject line, is not interesting. Before your email is read it must of course be opened. The subject line is what entices a potential candidate to click on your email.

The most compelling subject lines draw attention without turning people off. With only a few seconds to catch someone’s eye. The worst subject lines read like advertisements in the Sunday paper, while the best ones tell a story about what is inside of the message. The bottom line with the email subject line is to tell not sell.

Telling a story begins with creating curiosity in the wording of the subject line to compel someone to open your message.  Misleading or unrelated subject lines will hijack your message to someone’s Deleted folder and could result in your domain being permanently filtered to the Junk folder. Or even in you being declared a spammer.

Many experts agree that subject lines are very similar to headlines in the news. But take care not to have your subject line read like an advertisement headline instead. Like news headlines, subject lines don’t have to be complete sentences or even correct grammar.

A good newspaper headline will get the reader to turn pages to find out what’s in the article. The headline tells the beginning of the story of what is inside. Like items in your inbox, newspapers are filled with headlines and not everyone is interested in all the articles.

Some words are very effective at getting attention when they are in a subject line. Use words like how, here’s, who, which, where, when, what, and this.


These are the 3 most effective subject line styles:

Establishing Curiosity

Give them something to think about. You don’t want a subject line to completely give away the content of the message because then it won’t be opened. If you give away the meat too soon, then the sizzle will fizzle. The sole purpose of your subject line is to tantalize.

You can use a bit of humor, or just ask for help in such a way that will compel the reader to see what is in the message.

“Please help brighten a suffering recruiter’s day”

“Bold favor to as you, please read”

“Found you on Google, can you help me with something”



Answer the question foremost in the reader’s mind when they see your message come into their inbox: “What’s in it for me?” Emphasize how the recipient will directly benefit from opening your email.

This message is about your recipient, not about you.

Don’t “take this opportunity” to go into your sales pitch or introduce your brand message. Your opening lines should clearly highlight what’s in it for them. Don’t go crazy talking about your company, or your hiring needs. You are contacting them to help you with a search. Anything more than that and you risk distracting them.

“Found you on LinkedIn, want to talk with you about a job opening”

“I have a job opening that appears to be a perfect fit for you”

“When it comes to salary how much is too much”

GEM Recruiting AI

“How to get a better job in 60 days”


Making an Announcement

Tell your reader about relevant news that is applicable to them. You could take the approach of informing people about a job opening. However, don’t use flowery language or words that will get caught up in spam filters.

Another approach is to send news about your company, or about the industry. As recruiters, we are in touch with lots of information about the industry where we recruit, including things like mergers, acquisitions, layoffs, etc.

“Likely impact of merger on consulting careers”

“Software Engineer job opening – employer of choice – Atlanta, GA”

“I’m hiring Recruiters in Atlanta: excellent benefits, high growth”

One final word of advice on the subject of subject lines is to keep them short. Subjects longer than 60 characters have a tendency to over-run beyond what the reader can see in their inbox.

Be sure the most important details are mentioned first in your message. So, in case it does get cut off a little then at least the reader gets the main gist of the subject line.

Look at it this way: If they can’t read your subject line because it’s too long, it’s less likely they will open your email.



Even if you don’t plan on using email as your primary vehicle for communicating with candidates, here are some suggestions on increasing the effectiveness of your messages.

Once your target audience opens it, that is.


Again with the sizzle.

As earlier with the job posting, once they have opened your message, you sell the sizzle. Curt emails of the “Give me a call” type won’t elicit a response unless the person knows you and you have an established rapport. What is the purpose of email if you’re not going to use it to save you time by giving more information?

Focus on what you would want to see listed if you were a job seeker: Job responsibilities, salary, benefits, and the other areas covered in the Job Posting section.

Include detailed messages about what makes the location special. Such as, “…located in Denver (great weather, beautiful mountains, four professional sports teams, and inexpensive living).”

Give the candidate a reason to respond to you, or at least answer your call. Provide concrete details about what makes the opportunity exciting. Too many emails give information about what the recruiter is looking for but lack details that will stimulate a candidate to respond.


Have style.

Emotion is difficult to convey via electronic mail. Because of that, email etiquette is crucial. Trying to stand out by being cute or different can be misinterpreted and backfire.

For example, you may like to emphasize phrases by using all capital letters, but this is often perceived as too forceful and rude, and it may turn people off. Standard grammar, spelling, and capitalization make your message a bit warmer. Or at the very least not impolite.

Enable your email program’s spell-checking software to help you catch a majority of these errors before sending the message.

To impart some warmth while maintaining civil boundaries, make sure to address people in the second person (“you” or “your”) instead of using formal third-person language.


Don’t Ask, Don’t Beg

Asking questions can give the appearance of vulnerability or a weakened position. This is a professional communication from one business person to another. Often “please” and “thank you” is enough.

Keep your requests professional and factual, and avoid flowery language or a begging tone.


Read it aloud

This method is very effective in helping you understand how your message will be interpreted.

Once you read your own message out loud you may pick up some hidden tones that you did not intend to communicate.  Do you feel silly sitting there at your desk reading your message out loud? It’s a small price to pay to save yourself from a potentially huge embarrassment.

It never hurts to have a friend or peer read it, either. Einstein once said something to the effect of, “No problem can be solved from the perspective that created it.”

Be open to input from others. Once you come up with a few catchy subject lines and effective emails, you can use them over and over, and adapt them to other jobs.


Establish a Control

All this advice about message etiquette won’t help unless you can determine what worked and what didn’t. Use email filtering software or the wizards in your email client to track your responses and to automatically move them to a special campaign folder.

By inserting code into your message or into the subject line itself, you can easily track the effectiveness of a particular message. The special code can be some sort of date and version code that only you can understand. For example, 06128v1a (for the year 2006, January 28, version 1a).

You can then have a wizard or filter sort for that unique code. When you change your subject line, just apply the new code. 06128v1b, for example.

Most of the time people will ignore the nonsense number. Or assume it is some sort of internal requisition code or internal tracking number. In lieu of a special code, you can create a filter or wizard to automatically file all the replies that contain the exact subject line you used to send the message.

This way you can tell how many responses you get for that particular message. But remember, both of these methods only work if you have an accurate estimate of how many messages you sent out.

It is wise to copy the sent items into each campaign folder as well.


Be Real!

Personalize your email and contact people the way you like to be contacted. Ask yourself, would you respond to those emails? Add some pizzazz; be real.

Using the person’s name in the subject line can also be a good way to get their attention.


Take Heart.

Take the time to be respectful, personable, and provide good information about an opportunity when contacting people. You will be amazed at your response rate!


Call to Action

This point was left for last because it is the most important.

You must be very bold in your call to action, and separate it from the rest of the message. Don’t bury your request in a paragraph of text. Call out exactly how you want the recipient to act or respond.

Making it its own separate paragraph draws attention to it. The ultimate goal for your email is to get someone to click on a link, forward the email, reply to your message or call you.



This chapter on getting the most out of your email wouldn’t be complete if we don’t address spam. If your inbox can be counted among the “average” e-mail users who receive spam then probably something like 80% of the messages you get are spam.

This means that if you can deal with some of that in an automated way you can probably save yourself hours of work per week.


There are four main methods of curbing spam.

They can be classed as Heuristic, Bayesian, dictionary, and fingerprinting. The most advanced spam software uses a combination of all four methods. Applying problem-solving and self-educating techniques to improve their performance.

Heuristic email scans create a profile of a message from its headers and other core attributes to rate its likelihood of being spam.

Bayesian filters use a statistical approach whereby the filtering system is trained to distinguish between spam and legitimate email using an algorithm.

Dictionary scans are used to filter against particular words and phrases in the headers or body of an email. You know those words. The ones in the sometimes funny subject lines which can cause embarrassment at work.

Finally, email fingerprinting is used to create a hash uniquely representing known spam messages. Which is a reactive rather than a predictive technique.

When all four are combined, incoming mail is “scored” against hundreds of filters in each of these methods and assigned a score. The spam blocker may also add points for other things like third party links, web bugs, malformed headers, spoofed addresses, spoofed URLs, and so on.

If the score reaches a particular threshold set by the system administrator or user, that email is flagged. Another even higher threshold can be set so that emails that exceed it are automatically deleted and never delivered to the recipient.


Spam Filters

Your corporate email may already be protected by some advanced spam detection software and even hardware. But if you are a small business, or if you use your personal email, you may benefit from subscribing to a spam filter for yourself.

Some website providers come with built-in spam detection from providers like SmarterMail which use blacklists like those from and, reverse DNS checks, and Bayesian Filtering to dynamically block incoming spam.

But you can also purchase an ASP service that allows you to pass all your inboxes through a filter.

One such service is To add another line of defense against spam you can build an IP block file and load it into your own personal proxy service, thus blocking hundreds of thousands of known spammer IP addresses.

You could also use an inbox management system that runs whitelists atop your regular email program and only allows incoming messages to be delivered from known addresses. Unknown senders will receive a challenge email asking them to further identify themselves.

While this creates a one-time inconvenience to people who send you an email, it remains one of the most effective ways to eliminate spam from your inbox.

If you have a problem with spam and would like to learn more about how to read email headers so you can take action against spammers, read this guide.

Shally Steckerl

One of the pioneers of the sourcing discipline, Shally is the Founder and former President of The Sourcing Institute, where he has helped numerous F500 and mid-market organizations train and develop their talent sourcing capabilities for nearly 20 years. When it comes to innovative approaches to candidate search, Shally literally wrote the book. He is the author of the industry-standard textbook “The Talent Sourcing and Recruitment Handbook” as well as “The Sourcing Method: Tactics to Find Unfindable Talent.”


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