The Comprehensive Guide to Recruiting Email Follow-up Subject Lines with Examples

Follow-up recruiting emails can be the fastest way to close open requisitions and lose the opportunity. It all hinges on your subject line. After all, it takes about 60 characters to go from your prospective candidate's inbox to their spam folder.

Email subject lines have an outsized impact on response rates. Particularly in recruiting, follow-up emails often serve as the final attempt to reach a prospective candidate in your outreach campaign. So, if you're not paying enough attention to subject lines, it won't matter how good your job offer is or how well-written your email body is; you've got a one-way ticket to the spam folder or the trash bin – neither of which are great places to be.

The data backs it up - research by various email vendors claims that 47% of email recipients open an email based on the subject line alone.

You can bet that your prospective candidates' inboxes are just as chaotic as yours. To break through the clutter, you must apply the theory of mind (TLDR; generate an understanding) of how candidates process information to write thoughtful follow-up email subject lines that speak directly to their motivations.

In an effort to help you actually get your follow-up recruiting emails opened, we'll look at the science and psychology of creating irresistible subject lines.

The Science of Recruiting Email Subject Lines: 7 Guiding Principles

Emotion drives action.

Despite the widely accepted belief that we are rational beings and that we consume information to determine our response, research indicates that our emotions drive most of our decisions. They are part of the reasoning mechanism and inform even our most logical decisions.

In his research, Harvard Business School professor Gerald Zaltman found that 95% of all cognition takes place in our subconscious or emotional brain. This is further supplemented by Antoine Bechara's seminal research on the role of emotion in decision-making that found people that had damaged the area of their brain where emotions were generated and processes, despite being still able to use logic and function completely normally, individuals void of emotion struggled to make any decisions.

The most successful recruiting emails apply established psychological and behavioral economics best practices to elicit emotional responses from prospective candidates. The emails use subject lines that truly capture attention and inspire action. Here's a look at the seven principles of framing subject lines to get responses:

1. Social Proof

Humans are social creatures, and we tend to trust others' choices. You tap into this inherent bias by highlighting social proof in your subject line. When a candidate sees evidence that others find your company or role valuable, it subconsciously validates the opportunity and reduces their skepticism. They're more likely to think, "If so many others are interested, it must be worth checking out."


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2. Endowment Effect and Loss Aversion 

People value what they already have and fear losing it. Simply put, the endowment effect means we value things we already own more than things we don't. Scientists study this through a buying and selling game. Imagine you see a cool mug at a market. The most you'd pay for it (your "willingness to pay") is one price. But if you were gifted that same mug, the minimum amount you'd accept to part with it (your "willingness to accept") would likely be higher. Studies consistently show this gap: selling prices tend to be higher than buying prices.

Why this difference? It boils down to a powerful human emotion: loss aversion. We hate giving up things we own more than we enjoy acquiring new ones. The endowment effect becomes a real-life example of loss aversion, playing out in a safe zone without the risks of gambling. Researchers continue to explore the reasons behind this behavior, delving into the fascinating workings of our minds.

You trigger the fear of missing(FOMO) out by implying exclusivity or a limited window of opportunity. This fear motivates them to open your email and learn more before the opportunity disappears.


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3. Scarcity Principle 

Have you ever noticed how limited-edition items fly off shelves? Or how exclusive events get booked instantly? It's because of the scarcity principle in action. This principle states that we value things more when perceived as rare or in short supply.

Why is this relevant to recruiting?  Because scarcity can be a powerful motivator for prospective candidates to open your follow-up emails.

By incorporating scarcity cues into your subject lines, you can subtly trigger that same desire for something limited. Imagine a subject line like Last Chance Interview Slot for [Job Title]: Don't Miss Out compared to a generic one.  The first line taps into the scarcity principle, implying a competitive opportunity with a limited window for response.

Scarcity creates a sense of urgency and increases the perceived value of something. This sense of urgency motivates them to act quickly, increasing the chances of opening your email and potentially applying before the deadline.

4. Storytelling

Stories are hardwired into our brains. They engage our emotions, create a sense of connection, and make information more memorable. You tap into this inherent human desire to be captivated by weaving a mini-narrative into your subject line.The power of storytelling is amplified by personalization. Imagine two subject lines:

  • "Exciting Career Opportunities Await at [Company Name]" (Generic)
  • "From Intern to Director: How [Candidate Name] Built a Career at [Company Name]" (Personalized)

The personalized version instantly sparks curiosity. It introduces a relatable character (potentially someone from the candidate's field) and hints at a compelling career journey. This makes the candidate wonder, "Could this be my story too? What exciting opportunities await at [Company Name]?"

5. Autonomy Bias

Human beings crave a sense of agency and control over their lives. This inherent desire for autonomy is backed by research in social psychology, particularly the concept of "autonomy bias" explored by scholars like Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein in their seminal work, Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness. The research demonstrates that individuals tend to make more favorable choices when they feel like they have a say in the decision-making process.

How can you apply this knowledge to your recruiting follow-up email subject lines?

By offering the candidate a sense of choice in your subject line, you subtly empower them and make them feel more engaged in the interaction. For example, a subject line like Own Your Career Path: Choose Your Next Challenge at [Company Name] suggests they have control over their career trajectory and invites them to explore the opportunities available.

Feeling empowered and engaged can motivate the candidate to open your email to learn more about the choices you present. They'll be curious to learn about the options they have and how they can control their career path at your company.

Autonomy fosters a sense of trust and collaboration. By acknowledging their agency, you send a message that you value their input and perspective. This builds a more positive foundation for further interaction in the recruiting process.

Here are some tips for crafting subject lines that leverage the power of autonomy bias:

  • Choice Architecture: Use phrases like "Choose Your Next Challenge," "Discover Your Perfect Balance," or "Embrace Flexibility at [company name]" to provide a sense of control.
  • Open-Ended Questions: Pose a question in the subject line to spark curiosity and encourage a response. For example, "What's Your Next Career Move? Explore Exciting Opportunities at [Company Name]"

By integrating elements of autonomy bias into your recruiting follow-up subject lines, you can increase your open rates, engage candidates on a deeper level, and build a foundation of trust for a more successful hiring process. Remember, respecting their desire for control can make all the difference in attracting top talent who are invested in shaping their own career

6. Information Gap Theory 

Human curiosity thrives on gaps in information. It's the same reason cliffhangers in books and movies are incredibly effective at capturing their readers'/watchers' imagination. The information gap theory fuels intense curiosity - humans are naturally curious and driven to close gaps in their knowledge.

Research by scholars like George Loewenstein suggests that curiosity arises from a discrepancy between what we know and what we want to know. This "information gap" creates a feeling of incompleteness that motivates us to seek out the missing information.

In recruiting, you can use the information gap theory by crafting subject lines that generate curiosity and hint at valuable information that ultimately entices prospective candidates to open your follow-up emails.

Many job seekers face specific challenges in their careers. By mentioning these challenges in your subject line and offering solutions (e.g., "Struggling to Get Your Foot in the Door? How to land an interview at [company name]"), you tap into the information gap and their desire to overcome those hurdles.

7. Temporal Landmarks & Discounting 

We all know the feeling of a fresh start – a new year, month, or even a new Monday. This inherent human desire for new beginnings aligns perfectly with the concept of temporal discounting, a behavioral economics principle explored by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky in their work, Prospect Theory. Temporal discounting suggests that we tend to value immediate rewards more than future ones.

Temporal discounting can be a valuable principle to inspire candidate action in recruiting. Writing subject lines that refer to timely events and deadlines can create a sense of urgency and encourage prospective candidates to act now.

By tying your subject line to specific events or deadlines (e.g., "Q3 Hiring Blitz: Land Your Dream Job at [Company Name]" or "Applications Close This Week: Don't Miss Your Chance!"), you create a sense of urgency. This motivates the candidate to take action before the opportunity disappears.

Many job seekers are more receptive to career changes during periods of fresh starts, such as new years, quarters, or months. A subject line like "New Year, New Career: Start Fresh at [Company Name]" taps into this desire and encourages them to consider a new beginning with your company.

People are drawn to exclusive offers with limited availability. By mentioning a deadline or limited window for applications (e.g., "Last Chance Interview for [Job Title] at [Company Name]"), you trigger the fear of missing out and encourage them to act quickly.

35 Recruiting Follow-Up Email Subject Lines that Get Responses

If you're looking for the easiest way to write recruiting follow-up email subject lines, here are a few ready-to-use subject lines for you:

  1. Did You Hear Back from Us? Your [Job Title] Application at [Company Name] 
  2. Don't Miss Your Opportunity at [Company Name]! Interview Reminder 
  3. It's Time to Make Your Move: Next Steps at [Company Name]
  4. We're Looking Forward to Hearing from You! [Job Title] Follow-Up 
  5. Last Chance Interview Slot for [Job Title]: Don't Miss Out 
  6. Limited Interview Spots Remaining: Apply Now for [Job Title] at [Company Name] 
  7. Applications Close Soon for [Job Title]! Share Your Resume with [Company Name]
  8. We've Extended Our Offer: Join the [Company Name] Team 
  9. Is [Job Title] at [Company Name] a Good Fit? Let's Find Out!
  10. Get Excited! Your Career Journey Starts at [Company Name]
  11. Make Today Count! Interview for [Job Role] at [Company Name] 
  12. How Michael Landed a Software Developer Job at [Company Name] - Revealed! 
  13. From Intern to Director: How [Candidate Name] Built a Career at [Company Name] 
  14. How [Company Name] Empowers Employees to Embrace Balance
  15. Shape Your Career Path: Choose Your Next Challenge at [Company Name] 
  16. What's Your Next Career Move? Explore Exciting Opportunities at [Company Name] 
  17. New Quarter, New Career: Join the [Company Name] Team (Scarcity & Temporal)
  18. Applications Close This Week: Don't Miss Your Chance at [Company Name]! 
  19. Don't Let This Opportunity Pass You By: Interview for [Job Title] at [Company Name] 
  20. Still Thinking About [Job Title]? We'd Love to Hear from You 
  21. Didn't See Our Last Email? Don't Miss Your Chance at [Company Name] 
  22. RSVP Reminder: Interview for [Job Title] at [Company Name] 
  23. It's Not Too Late! Apply for [Job Title] at [Company Name] 
  24. [Company Name] Culture Spotlight: Why We Love Working Here 
  25. Make a Difference: Your Impact at [Company Name] 
  26. Beyond the Job Description: What You Can Expect at [Company Name] 
  27. [Candidate Name], Your Skills Are a Perfect Match for [Job Title] 
  28. Great Interview? Let's Take Our Connection to the Next Level (Join Our Team!) 
  29. Hey [Candidate Name], Checking In – How Can We Help?
  30. Did We Lose You?
  31. Continuing Our Conversation, [Candidate Name]
  32. [Candidate Name], Here's Why We'd Make a Great Team!
  33. Let's Talk About You for A Second – What Makes [Company Name] a Great Next Move
  34. We Thought You Might Want to Know - [Company Name]'s Childcare Benefit
  35. How Our Employees Make a Difference in Their Communities: Learn About Our Volunteer Program

Before You Hit Send: The Dos and Don'ts of Recruiting Email Subject Lines

Ready to send out those follow-up emails? Take a quick look at some of the dos and don'ts of high-converting recruiting email subject lines:

Don't Blast Generic Emails:

Do: Personalize with candidate data and research

Candidates are inundated with emails that offer little value. Emails with generic subject lines get lost in the noise. Research your candidate and their background to craft a truly personalized subject line that builds on your past email or interaction. Also, highlighting a shared connection or referencing a specific skill from their resume demonstrates you've reviewed their application and show genuine interest.

Don't Skip Testing:

Do: A/B test with specificity

A/B testing allows you to see which subject line gets more opens. Specificity helps tailor your message to the individual candidate, increasing its relevance.

  • Example: Test "Did You See Our Interview with [Person]?" against "[Specific Skill] Expertise a Perfect Match for [Job Title]?" - The first option is generic, while the second leverages information from the candidate's resume, making it more relevant and engaging.

Don't Be Vague:

Do: Get right to the point with curiosity.

Vague subject lines leave candidates wondering what the email is about. Being clear and concise shows respect for their time. Curiosity can further entice them to open the email.

  • Example: Instead of "Reminder: Interview for [Job Title]," which is forgettable, use "Is [Month] Your Time to Shine at [Company Name]?" or "Make Today Count: Interview for [Job Role] at [Company Name]". - These options are clear, and concise, and use curiosity or urgency to grab attention.

Don't Use Spam Words:
Many words that may seem utterly harmless without context may be considered spammy by service providers. If your email triggers spam filters, prospective candidates will never see it, regardless of the quality of the subject line.

We've covered a comprehensive list of spam words that you should check for in your recruiting emails but here's a quick rundown of words to avoid:

  • Urgent
  • Free
  • Earn money
  • Guaranteed
  • Special promotion
  • Order now
  • Limited time offer
  • Winner
  • Act now
  • Order today
  • Bonus
  • Click here
  • Congratulations
  • Fantastic deal
  • For free
  • Certified

Don't Exceed Character Counts:

Most email clients display only the first 60 characters (roughly 9 words) of your subject line. This means exceeding that limit, even by one character, can get your message chopped off on desktops and mobile devices.

Imagine a potential candidate interested in your email, but all they see is "Reminder: Interview for [Job Title]... ". Confusing, right? They might not even open it if they can't grasp the message.


Writing effective follow-up email subject lines for recruiting that inspire prospective candidates to take action requires creativity and personalization and should evoke strong emotions. You want to create a strong urge in your candidates to open the email and engage with you.

Keep in mind the fundamental principles of crafting compelling subject lines. Ensure your reminder subject lines are concise, conduct split testing, adhere to privacy and security regulations, avoid excessive punctuation, use emojis judiciously, and maintain consistency with your brand identity.

Finally, personalize, personalize and personalize. Leverage our database to get the most up-to-date candidate data, such as their latest resume or their personal email address.

Want to see how ChatterWorks helps recruiters send emails that convert? Book a demo and see us in action.

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