SmartRecruiters Blog

Approach Passive Candidates Without Being Creepy

Not too long ago, I received a one-sentence email from someone I didn’t know, asking me to reply with tactical details around my most recent role, and to attach samples of the best performing content I created as part of that role. No introduction. No details on what kind of marketing need they may have. Just a request to provide an email full of proprietary information, without any context. That didn’t get this potential employer off on the right foot with me.

Similarly, it’s important to do your homework before sending someone an email pitch. Off-target requests, such as emailing a senior professional about an entry level gig, rarely get answered at best, and can give you negative word-of-mouth.

“The worst recruiter emails, and the ones that I’m certain to delete or flag as spam on LinkedIn to make sure I never hear from that person again, are the ones that make it clear that the recruiter has done so little reading of my resume that having them represent me in any capacity would be an embarrassment and would make me look worse than I would if I just cold-called the employer,” says a small technology company employee who asked to remain anonymous.

“The worst I’ve ever seen was the in-house recruiter at a company that I was working at, who after ‘reading’ my LinkedIn profile that listed our mutual employer as my current workplace, suggested that she could help me find a job there.”

When you’re reaching out to a new person, especially within an employment context, your first communication sets the tone for your conversations to follow and may even be the deciding factor on their part as to whether or not to even listen to your pitch.

Please, avoid these 4 creepy communication moves at all costs:


1) Don’t send strangers pushy unsolicited emails at work, requesting confidential information.

Why it’s creepy: Would you corner a stranger at a cocktail party, in front of their friends and their employer, and ask them to share confidential data with you, followed up with asking what their base salary is? No? Then you shouldn’t do that in an introductory email either.

What to do instead: Email your prospect at a personal email address, use a clear and compelling subject line that gets their attention but doesn’t imply they are job seeking or that they already know you, and briefly outline who you are, what your organization does, and why you are reaching out to them. If you only have a work email address, position your email as a request for referrals within their network for an interesting position you have open.

“My pet peeve,” says software engineer Joe Posner, “is anything that tries to tries to trick me into reading the email, like having the subject be ‘RE: our conversation’ when we haven’t ever spoken. I’m totally fine with a cold-call email (or a phone call if you really must) from a recruiter who has obviously read my resume and has a job or two that’s a close fit. But drop the BS unless you want BS from your candidates.”


2) Don’t post your pitch on an individual’s Facebook page.

Why it’s creepy: Even if someone’s Facebook timeline is not locked down, posting on their timeline if you don’t know them is creepy. It’s a place for friends, colleagues and their network to wish them Happy Birthday or share a link of interest – not the right place for you to pitch why they should come work for you.

“It’s a pet peeve when strangers contact me via my personal (as opposed to my company’s) social media trying to sell something or send me an obvious press release,” says Lisa Hix, Associate Editor of CollectorsWeekly.

What to do instead: What drew you to them on Facebook in the first place? Was it a great comment they wrote on a shared connection’s timeline? Or a post they made in a group? Reply to them in that context, with a request for their expertise – do they know of anyone with a similar background who’d be interested in your position? If you just found them via searching and they’ve yet to express interest in working with you, Facebook may not be the right channel to send the first message.


3) Don’t tweet and ask if they are looking for a new position.

Why it’s creepy: Twitter is a public place – it’s likely their employer and coworkers engage with them there. So tweeting a link to your job listing and suggesting they reply (or tweeting and asking if they are looking for a new gig for that matter) is a faux pas. Ditto for tweeting a request for a follow because you have something to discuss with them.

What to do instead: Follow them and if they tweet about work related topics, tweet and ask (possibly over DM) if they know anyone in their network who would be interested in your role. People who are using Twitter for professional networking enjoy being able to be useful to their followers and are likely to pass along the listing, usually after checking it out first. This gets their eyeballs on your position without putting them on the spot publicly.


4) Don’t make a cold call to them at work.

Why it’s creepy: Now that we’re in the age of the open workspace, taking telephone calls of any type can be challenging. Getting a call about a potential job opportunity, while seated across a table from your boss can be mortifying (and career limiting). So it’s unlikely you’ll get more than a request to send an email with more information to hurry you off the phone.

What to do instead: Connect with them via email instead, keeping the above tips in mind. Put in a request to talk on the phone in your closing, and ask them to propose a few times that work with their schedule.


Take the Time to Make a Great First Impression – it Pays Off!

It can seem daunting to reach out to strangers, especially given the many personal preferences and pet peeves that abound around being contacted on personal communication channels. But if you put time into crafting a simple yet informative introductory message, you may find that even if your current need isn’t one that person you reach out to can fill, it may still pay off in the future.

“The single best way a recruiter can help themselves is by making me want to put them in touch with other people,” says Posner.  “Generic ‘exciting pre-IPO startup in hot space’ spam won’t get forwarded. Something with some thought will get forwarded to my friends who, quite frankly, are more likely to respond to a forward from me than they are from an recruiter’s cold-call.”

Many people are open to hearing from you – as long as you can clearly articulate what’s in it for them, and send a communication that feels personalized and targeted (versus being the same generic email copy and pasted at sent out across a wide audience).

“If a stranger approached me with something that could help me, such as letting me know they could be an asset to my company in solid ways, then I would appreciate that,” said Hix, who added, “Especially on social media channels, it’s important that it feels both organic and authentic.”


Approach Passive Candidates Without Being CreepyErika Heald (@sferika) is a San Francisco-based content marketing and social media consultant, with over 15 years experience creating content for HR and financial services audiences. Photo Credit The New Yorker.

SmartRecruiters is the hiring platform with everything you need to source talent, engage candidates, and make the right hires.

Erika Heald