How to Write a Personalized Recruiting Message to Students (plus Examples)

Handshake’s customer success team weighs in.

Do you remember the contents of the last spam email you received? If it was impersonal, probably not. It’s also possible you unsubscribed. More than likely, you ignored it. If you’re not personalizing your recruiting message to entry level talent in a meaningful way, candidates may react to your outreach similarly.

Let’s visualize a different scenario. Consider the last consumer or marketing email that persuaded you to take action. How did this email stand out—was it directed towards you, and did it offer relevant, timely, and useful solutions to help optimize your strategy?

Marketing and recruiting represent two separate business functions, but they share best practices around messaging in the same vein. And for Gen Z—the “always connected” generation—email is their preferred method of engaging with companies.

Handshake findings confirm that 82% of college students and young alumni prefer learning about potential employers through online communication from recruiters, like messages in a career services platform, and 95% prefer engaging with employers that send personalized, proactive messages.

Before sending your next recruiting message to a candidate, read through these five effective strategies for personalizing your messaging (plus, check out some examples at the end for inspiration).

1. Do your research.

Today’s early talent is already doing their due diligence by researching you. It’s only fair you spend some time learning about them.

First, identify who your ideal talent segments are, then tap into their profiles to map a bird’s-eye view of their interests, extracurriculars, and student organizations or affiliations. Talent marketplaces such as Handshake can help uncover much of this information, since students complete their profiles and university career centers confirm entries with their system of record.

Complement your research with data around what motivates Gen Z through assets like Handshake’s Campus to Career or Women in Tech reports. This thorough collection of information allows you to create a rich profile of who your perfect candidate is and what they crave out of their next role, enabling you to customize your messaging and lean in on those attributes.

Let’s explore another example: say you’re asked to build an early talent pipeline to fill your summer internship program. You want all-star students with business degrees, and while the competition for top early talent remains competitive, you know your employer’s strong wellness culture is one of your best kept recruiting secrets.

With this information in mind, find relevant talent that might be interested in what you have to offer by zeroing in on candidate interests like athletics or extracurriculars like wellness. Then set yourself apart by speaking that candidate’s language.

Tip: Conducting research student-by-student and personalizing each message can be time-consuming. Campaigns, a Handshake Premium, allows you to save time personalizing your message based on student attributes at scale.

See this in action by reading Claremont McKenna student Robert Cain’s success story.

Cain landed his first internship on Handshake after receiving a message to intern as a brand ambassador. Since the program fit his interests in marketing and social media, he immediately responded and was extended an option to interview before landing the job.

2. Start with a personal introduction.

Begin your email with context around who you are and why you’re reaching out.

Include how you think this candidate can thrive at your organization, and why your employer is the best place for them to launch their career. This is also where you’ll want to reference any of their relevant interests, along with ways your company’s culture can help nurture them.

First name’s first, though. Handshake Customer Success Manager Luke Sprague says, “calling out specific student attributes—like a student’s first name, major and institution name—and referencing your search criteria can go a long way in personalizing your recruiting message.”

Example of an engaging recruiting message to a prospective candidate.

Finding commonality is another great way to establish rapport. Students are receptive to companies that have hired other students from their school, location, or age demographic. If you have that information handy, use it in your outreach. If you’re reaching out to a student at one of your core schools, imagine how much more likely they are to respond if you reference their peers’ experience. It feels less scary for students to join a company that’s already welcomed their peers.

Handshake Premium partners can filter more than five million active students on our platform using these attributes, then leverage that information to make a stellar intro. Your recruiting message should ultimately answer why your company is a great place for that candidate to work, and reference how their interests align with your key value propositions.

Financial services firm Raymond James, for example, tailors its Campaigns to students depending on open roles, allowing them to deliver a personalized recruiting experience that entices candidates to learn more about them.

3. Communicate authentically and honestly.

Career services centers are coaching students to ask about an employer’s culture during their interviews. As they graduate from nearly two decades of schooling and move into their first or second job after college, grads are nervous about the change. They’re trying to figure out your culture the entire time. And in the same way you’re screening for fit, they are too.

Handshake University Success Manager Tiffany Taylor says that “students are invited to study your office environment the moment they walk in for an interview.”

“They dissect the language in your outreach—is the message positive and hopeful, or impersonal and terse?” Tiffany adds. “Students are even encouraged to look at your email signature for clues on inclusivity, and evaluate when and how calls are scheduled. Essentially every single point of communication provides input into how a student sees the relationship.”

If a student demonstrates interest in working at a company with a flexible work environment and that’s something you offer, mention it! Illustrate how flexible work is a key tenet, and how it’s helped your colleagues better accommodate their early careers. When you start to consider these components, your hiring narrative shifts quickly.

4. Close with a call to action.

Gen Z, and those graduating alongside them, want to feel like they are the center of your attention. It’s the “about me” party, and they want to be the first to get an invite. Your job as an early talent recruiter is to prepare that party for students to arrive. But what’s the point of hosting a party if you forget to send the invites?

Always round off your recruiting message with a clear and persuasive call to action (CTA) that directs students to take action. Including a personal note at the end like, “I look forward to reviewing your application!” goes a long way. You might also consider bolding information you want students to pay special attention to, like your employer’s benefits and your CTA.

What’s in a CTA? It could direct candidates to RSVP for an upcoming career fair or event, apply to an open job or internship program, or simply learn more about you as an employer of choice. Wherever it leads, it should be focused—don’t overwhelm your candidates with multiple CTAs.

Your communication with a candidate also shouldn’t dissolve after one email. In fact, your first point of outreach should set the foundations for an ongoing, two-way relationship. Human connection begins the very moment a potential hire learns about your company. It shouldn’t end there either.

Finally, keep in mind that most candidates won’t respond to their first email. Don’t get discouraged. Following up just once has the ability to convert 22% more replies, according to industry sources. And sometimes it can take up to three emails or more to really get your audience’s attention.

Tip: Draft and schedule follow ups during this process, and feel free to reference your original message in your correspondence. Learn how Handshake Premium partners can schedule follow ups in advance, so that they never miss a moment to nurture a relationship.

5. Review, review, review.

Actionable emails succeed because they’re hyper-relevant to the receiver. They’re curated by carefully mapping content to the reader’s persona. Does your message address a student directly? Does it sound genuine and personal? Does it have an actionable CTA?

The more a student feels like they’re talking to a real person and not a robot, the more likely they are to respond and apply to your open roles.

Also, students might get over your company receiving negative coverage in the press, but one surefire way to ensure you never hear from them again is to send a generic, impersonal message. Misplacing your variables, such as your name with theirs, or disclosing inaccurate information can have equally harmful effects on your reputation if not worse.

Like any writer, it’s critical to review your recruiting message a few times before hitting send. If you’re messaging a large list, invite a colleague to proofread your message.

Tip: Keep your recruiting message between 50 and 125 words to boost your response rates by half, according to a marketing email study by Boomerang.

Whether you’re building your early talent recruiting program from scratch or rethinking how you approach your current one, continue exploring ways of iterating and optimizing your messaging.

Review message data, such as open and engagement rates, to reveal trends around language that outperforms. And identify opportunities to collect qualitative data about your candidate’s experience, like sharing questions around message relevancy and engagement in your feedback surveys.

Last, continue to be curious about who your ideal talent segments are—the more you know them, the higher engagement you’re likely to see. Download a copy of these tips for easy reference.

Early Talent Recruiting Message Templates

Hi {{student’s name}},

My name is {{your name}} and I’m a {{role}} at {{employer name}}. We’re currently hiring {{job role}}, and based on your interests in {{extracurriculars or interest}}, I think you should apply!

{{Company name}} is a leading athletic wear provider headquartered in an exciting and growing city. With access to outdoor parks, employee sports leagues, a gym, and annual company field day, our wellness culture is a place where people who are passionate about {{extracurriculars or interests}} thrive. Learn more about who we are and apply today!

I look forward to reviewing your application, {{first name}}.

{{your name}}

Hi {{student’s name}},

My name is {{your name}}, {{your title}} with {{employer name}}. Our company is a leading technology-enabled services provider. We’ll be on campus at the {{institution}} Career Fair and would love to meet with you!

{{Employer name}}’s Early Career Development Program is committed to building a diverse group of future leaders within our organization. We’re focused on creating a great place for new college graduates to thrive and offer an accelerated training program designed to build both leadership and technical skills. Our program offers an opportunity to leverage the power of your degree with real career momentum. We offer web-based, on-the-job training, mentor support, and extensive networking opportunities to help you achieve success.

We’d love to invite you to stop by {{employer name}}’s booth at {{institution}} Fall Career Fair. If you’re interested, please RSVP here.

Thank you,
{{your name}}

{{student’s name}},

Can you believe that graduation is right around the corner?

I remember being in your shoes and not knowing which career I wanted to pursue. That’s when I interviewed with {{employer name}} and launched my career less than one month after graduating from {{institution name}}. I’ve been with {{employer name}} for almost 10 years—time flies. I wanted to share this amazing opportunity with you as well!

Please reach out to me directly or click the link below to apply online. I look forward to speaking with you!

Here is a job at {{employer name}} you might be interested in:
{{link to job description}}

{{your name}}