A 3-Step Motivations-Based Approach to Cold Outreach Content

Recruiting Outreach This is a post by Lever’s technical sourcer, James Briggs.

May has been the month of “talent innovation” at Lever; with our first ever Talent Innovation Summit taking place, which brought together some of the recruiting industry’s best to talk about some of the most important and current topics in recruiting.  Innovation in the world of recruiting can take many forms, and apply to a multitude of topic areas.  Included within that spectrum is the topic of candidate engagement, which can, admittedly, be quite broad in its own right; and is of particular interest to Lever as we continue to develop product feature sets that empower users to be more efficient, effective, and collaborative than ever before.  After all; within sourcing, in particular, engaging those we find is the greatest fundamental challenge we face today.

I’ve written about cold outreach in the past; providing a few general tips and guidelines to help one get started in crafting an effective and impactful message when deciding to contact sourced prospects.  However, in the name of innovation (and taking into consideration the just-announced Lever Nurture which, as a product, will focus on engagement & quality outreach as a core emphasis within the sourcing process), it’s worth discussing this topic to a deeper extent; more specifically, diving into how one can go about generating the content – the real meat – of outreach messages.  It’s clear that, in many domains, much of the desirable talent in the market tend to be in roles they’re quite content with; and are likely being somewhat overwhelmed by contact from many talent-seekers who can often be in search of similar things.  These days, it can take great content to stand apart.

Outreach content can clearly take a variety of forms.  It can range from being ultra-concise and light in detail to being lengthy and verbose.  There’s no one absolute right way to go about creating it, given the human element – outreach recipients are all different, and what each responds best to is difficult, if not impossible, to predict.  Let’s also not forget the impact of other factors in engagement such as timing, professional domain, and an individual’s feelings toward their existing professional situation.  Ultimately, however, our goal is to communicate what information we deem necessary or important in an effort to elicit a response and, ideally, encourage further conversation.  Depending on a company’s presence and strength of brand, this may not require much effort.  But, in many cases (such as the case of most early-stage startups), this may require more depth; really telling a story to the recipient.

So, with no guarantees as a result of human nature and the unpredictable nature of our recipients, how should we approach this?

It’s all about the odds.  No guarantees means that our best bet is to focus on the next-best-thing; giving ourselves the greatest odds of engaging the interest of as many of our targeted prospects as possible.  How?  By taking a motivations-based approach to generating our outreach content.

Let’s talk about motivations for a moment.

Humans make choices constantly.  It can be argued that a human life is essentially one immensely long string of choices and decisions; some major, some minor enough to simply go unnoticed.  For the most part, however, we don’t just make them blindly.  What drives the choices we make is an abstract concept we’re going to label as our “motivations.”  Whether these are at least partially built-in at birth, or entirely developed as we grow and evolving as we live our lives (cue the “nature vs. nurture” argument); the fact is, they are the foundation of our decision-making.  Motivations function to determine what we opt in favor of versus any other options we have in any given situation.

That said, how do we apply this idea to crafting the content of our cold outreach?

Considering that our goal for our recipients to respond to our outreach and, ideally, engage in further conversation with us; what we’re looking to do is create a message that gives us the greatest odds of motivating them to do so.  Let’s now break our process of creating such a message into 3 steps:

Step 1: Break It Down

I’ve created a set of focus areas that encompass the majority of characteristics of any given opportunity (which I’m defining as a combination of company, team, and role).  They are as follows: product/service and impact, technology and/or problem set, culture & company specifics, role scope and responsibility, individual development and role potential, and compensation.  Let’s briefly define each:

  • Product/Service and Impact: What the product(s) or service(s) your company provides (and to whom), as well as the overall impact (and the scale of that impact) that is made.
  • Technology and/or Problem Set: The set of technologies (if applicable) leveraged by a role/team/company, as well as the problems being solved/challenges available.
  • Culture & Company Specifics: Your company’s culture (values, philosophies, work environment, etc.) and general details (i.e. profitability, investors, size, etc.).
  • Role Scope and Responsibility: The overall scope of responsibilities an individual in a given role would have the opportunity to take on (contributions, projects, leadership, etc.).
  • Individual Development and Role Potential: The combination of professional growth (responsibility and/or “upward mobility”) and personal development possible over time.
  • Compensation: Total package (salary, benefits, equity [if applicable], etc.).

Our approach, in this case, is based on the assumption that any given individual cares (to some extent) and/or is driven by at least one of these areas when considering an opportunity.  “Breaking it down” means taking time to list out the positives (particularly, ways in which your opportunity stands out from the competition) per focus area.  This is information that can be gained not only from your own experiences, but from the perspectives of others around you.

*Note: Also taking note of the weaknesses of your opportunity, or characteristics that could be perceived as “negatives” (particularly in comparison to similar opportunities elsewhere), can help serve a couple of additional purposes: educating you on where you stand in comparison to your competition/the market (especially when it comes to your employer brand), and helping to prepare you for future conversations with candidates.

It’s recommended that this step be approached using a visual aid – for example, a basic matrix such as this; where “application” refers to whether a given focus area applies to either your company, the specific role, or the team the role falls within (or some combination of the 3).

Recruiting Outreach - Charateristics of an Opportunity Step 2: Distill

Now that you’ve divided your opportunity into focus areas and broken down the details within each, it’s time to make use of this information.  In doing so, let’s remember our approach: our goal is to give ourselves the greatest odds of engaging a recipient’s interest, eliciting a response, and encouraging further conversation; and our hypothesis is that every person is motivated (to some extent) by at least one of our “focus areas” when considering an opportunity.

That said, take the information you’ve broken down and distill it (the positives, specifically) down into concise, to-the-point sentences that hit on each focus area.  It’s recommended that no more than 2 sentences per focus area be created in order to avoid becoming overly lengthy/verbose (some creativity may be in order, as far as phrasing goes, to accomplish this).  You’ll almost certainly have more information than you really need, given your situation.  This is OK!  Think critically about what the most important and/or valuable details are, based on your opportunity and target population.

*Note: Including compensation details in your outreach is a controversial topic, and may be a good or bad idea depending on the role, your target population/domain, and your company’s philosophies around compensation as a primary motivating factor.  It’s up to you to determine whether to do so or not.

Step 3: Organize & Refine

At this point, you’ve generated the bulk of your core content, and it’s time to put everything together in one well-rounded, cohesive message.  Don’t be afraid to take your time here; these are details that ought not to be overlooked.  Consider strategies such as reordering your content to establish a strong flow, adjusting phrasing and tone to reflect the character and personality of your company and yourself, and personalizing to the recipient (providing some indication of why you’re reaching out to that specific person and why they should be interested in what you’re representing).

An additional consideration during this stage would be, when rounding out your outreach message, adding a reference to your own personal story when applicable.  Prefacing certain included details with phrases like “I personally love how…” or “I came to <your company> because…” can go a long way in enhancing the effect of your message in a significant way.  Again, remember the human element!


If you’ve followed this guide to creating the content of your cold outreach messaging, you should likely have ended up with a strong, well-rounded message that not only tells the story of your company and the opportunity you’re representing; but also serves to appeal, in particular, to the types of people you want most.

Remember, however, that these are just guidelines.  This is simply just no one way to approach outreach.  As I always make sure to note: at the end of the day, recruiting and sourcing are human-centered and ever-evolving domains.  Find your voice, find what strategies and approaches work best for you, and keep your mind open to learning and adaptation.

Source on!

For more from James, read Cold Outreach Basics: Foundational Guidelines to Engage Passive Talent