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Sending emails asking for a job can be tricky. In just a few lines, you need to introduce yourself, communicate your professional offerings and entice this powerful stranger to respond favorably to your request.
Chances are, the person receiving your message already has a clogged inbox, and will read your email on a tiny device while rushing to a meeting or while sitting at a computer desk with multiple tabs open on the browser.
How do you get these busy professionals to respond to your emails? More importantly, how do you get them to read your email in the first place? Here are some tips:
1. While it is fun to use puns and nicknames, save those for personal use.
Try not to use random letters or obscure nicknames in your official email address. Accounts with the names: LoveToFish302 or HandsomeHunk53 are probably not the way to go.
Use your first and last name in your address, if possible. Try to avoid ambiguous characters – a zero and the letter “o” can get mixed-up more often than you’d think.
Remember that there is a 100 percent chance of not getting a response if the email was never received.
2. Your subject line is the first impression your reader will see.
Make it clear. One way is to include the recipient’s first and last name in the subject line along with your own, so that they realize that this isn’t spam. Try to always include a word or two about what the email is about or the position for which you are applying.
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3. Titles are important.
Be sure to address your contact with their preferred title, especially if it is a Dr. or President.
If you are sending something to someone who speaks another language, you could start and end the email with hello and thank you in their native tongue—it will show thoughtfulness.
You could also include respectful, cultural titles at the end of names, such as jan or san/sama, if appropriate.
4. Never start your business email with “My name is…”
Your message should be interesting enough so that the recipient can identity who you are and what you want by the time your email signature appears.
Lead with the most important thing. You can say that you are a designer, or an engineer or a specialist working at a certain company, but your specific name should only appear at the very end. That’s what the email signature is for.
5. Check the clock—and the timezone of the person you are emailing.
Send your message an hour after the official business hours begin in that country.
At that point, that person would have already cleared their inbox (which is usually done shortly after reaching the office) and your email would be the first new thing waiting to be opened.
You could compose the email hours in advance and save as a draft, then click send when it’s time. Or schedule the email to go off at a specific time.
6. Try to always use a reference—even if invented.
For example, call the main number of a firm and ask the secretary for the president’s email address. Make sure to write down the secretary’s name (and google to make sure to spell the name correctly).
In your email to that president, write: “I spoke to Pat on the phone…” If you have a real reference, that’s even better. You should mention your reference (real or created) at the beginning of your email.
7. Always send an email first with your resume attached and then follow-up with a call.
That way, when you speak to HR, you could both scan your resume together on the spot. The less work employers need to do to gain an employee, the better.
8. Check their social media feed to find out what they like or dislike.
If you’ve met in person, mention something from that time. A visual clue is often helpful, so reference a funny thing that happened or something you talked about.
If you took a business card, always scribble a brief description on the back to remind you of the conversation, and use it in the email.
9. Follow-up, but don’t be a pest.
Contact them then give them space. If you don’t hear back for a week, it might be time to either send a fresh email with a different subject line or reach for the phone.
10. Never make the email too long.
There’s nothing more intimidating to a busy person than opening up an email to find a giant block of text. Try to break down the words into shorter paragraphs that contain three or four sentences each.
11. Research the person and personalize it.
Include a sentence about their work or something interesting you found out based on your readings. While employers expect that you will copy/paste some of the same message to others, nobody likes an email that is completely generic.
Show them that you took the time to craft an email based on your interest in that specific company. Make sure that they still work at that company.
12. If you send a thank you note after an interview, don’t expect a reply.
If you do want a reply—say so. End with an action that you want of them. “Let me know if we can meet for coffee next week—would Wednesday work?” is an example.
13. Leave your brand logo out of it.
It is tempting to include your brand’s logo in your email signature, but remember that most smartphones and tablets identify them as attachments.
This may confuse readers when they see the tiny paperclip icon next to the message and then don’t see anything attached once opened. A better way would be to just include your company name and job title in plain text and hyperlink to the main website or social media handle.
14. Fancy or creative typefaces should remain in museums or greeting cards.
Don’t use multiple colors and underline words or excessively highlight or bold/italicize words in the body of the email—they are often hard to read and look juvenile. Which brings us to…
15. …Make sure font size & colors match up.
If you need to copy/paste text from, let’s say a Word or Google Doc or a name from their website, make sure that you format all of the email so that the font size/colors match up. Consistency is key.
16. Limit the use of “I” in your emails.
A sentence such as “I was wondering if you could let me know when I could schedule an appointment,” seem less confident than “When can we schedule an appointment?”
17. Try to eliminate hints of sarcasm.
Some things are just better left said—and unread.
In general, jokes are usually about the physical delivery and don’t always translate well to text—and they usually don’t translate at all in a business email context. Unless you are a professional comedian asking for a comedy gig and it is expected of you, try to never use phrases that could be misunderstood in an email—especially if you have never met that person before.
You may never meet at all if the reader doesn’t get your sense of humor.
18. DON’T GET TOO EXCITED!
Limit exclamation points to one or a few per email, and try to never write an email WITH ALL CAPS. It can appear to be over-emotional and perhaps even rude.
19. Write simply.
Don’t use “big words” or jargon just because you think it’ll make you seem smart. Use words that you already know—or read up on the industry terms to make sure that you fully understand what you are saying and that the sentence makes sense. Also, spell out all abbreviations and acronyms unless they are very common.
20. Be cognizant of who you're emailing when you hit "Reply."
Disclaimers from company emails usually point out that the message was only intended for that person and is not to be forwarded to others. This is probably a good policy in general. Be careful when you forward the message from a recruiter to your mom, especially if you have an account which groups all same-subject-emails into one place. You could easily send the original sender the message in error.
Try to start a new thread and copy/paste the email to your mom in another window entirely. Also, if you receive a message as part of a mailing list, let’s say from the head of HR announcing a job opening, be careful to not hit reply-all if you meant to just send it to the HR person—the whole group will then read your private message.
21. Keep it brief.
Just as you wouldn’t call a 1-800 number and tell the operator your whole story without first hearing a voice on the other end, your initial email should not just be a flood of words. Make sure that this is the correct email first and that this is the appropriate person to send this information to.
22. Be careful what you say.
Similarly, never disclose sensitive or legal information without first receiving a reply from the person. This way, you’ll be sure that you are not sending sensitive material to a random person in error. Always triple-check that you are sending the email to the correct address if you have it saved in your contact list. If it is a common name in your address book, you may accidentally send it to the wrong person, which could cause embarrassment or delays.
23. Be specific.
Use full names when you mention people in the body of the email. Don’t just say, “Received your email address from Sam.” Sam who? Be clear. If you mention an article or company in your email, link to it.
24. Include your contact information.
Before signing your name, make sure to include more than one way to reach you. Provide a phone number, a hyperlink to your personal portfolio, company website or Twitter handle. If applicable, offer to contact them to follow-up within a week or as appropriate.
25. End on a sincere note.
Make sure to include your last name in your signature! Your first name won’t do on its own—unless you are Beyonce or Prince.
While there are no guarantees of a response—even if you turn on the “read receipts” notification—there are ways to improve the chances of receiving one. Be sure to always read your full message to check for spelling and grammar before clicking the send button. Good luck!