Many job-search cold emails and cover letters that ask for a meeting or an interview are not even read by the recipient. The email subject line doesn’t resonate, or the content is too dense or irrelevant to the reader. Clients who have applied the following nine rules, however, have seen big improvements in their email response rates.
Rule #1: Make your letter easily “scannable”
People are usually too busy to take the time to read through a long, dense email. Don’t model your email after what you learned in your Classic Literature class. The approach for business writing is to make your email a quick, easy read by applying these formatting techniques:
- Use short paragraphs– no more than seven lines in any one paragraph (using an 8.5×11 Word document, Arial 11 font as a guide). Less than seven lines is better.
- Use bullet points.
- Bold-face and/or underline of key phrases to bring them out. Make sure you use this technique sparingly– too much bolding or underlining will defeat the purpose and look terrible.
- Consider the use of sub-headings.
- Minimize repetition.
Rule #2: Always include your correspondence in the body of the email, as people don’t like to open email attachments, especially from those they don’t know.
Rule #3: Engage them with the Email Subject Line
The subject line is key to your email message being read if you don’t know the recipient. The more specific and relevant the subject line, the more likely the email will be read. “Hello” is not a good subject line. Examples of good subject lines include:
- Your article about Marketing Analytics in AdWeek
- Referred by Susan Smith, re: Latin American expansion
- Open to discussing Fundraising at Ivy University?
Rule #4: Make sure your email address is professional
firstname.lastname@example.org won’t cut it. FirstnameLastname@gmail.com will make a better impression and improve the odds of your email getting past the spam filters.
Rule #5: Focus on them
I read many drafts that are focused on the writer’s abilities and needs but fail to connect these abilities to how they can help the recipient. Try to use words like “you” and “your” in your email, as in: “Your company’s mission to…resonates” or “My background in … could be of help, given your expansion into Health Care.” Be specific; “Your company is great” is too generic and sounds insincere.
Try to make the meeting you are seeking mutually beneficial. If you can find a way to do that (and follow these other rules as well), you’ll get a positive response to your inquiry the majority of the time. For example, you could write “I would be happy to introduce you to people in my LinkedIn network…”
Sometimes you might see something on their LinkedIn profile or elsewhere that might inspire you to tailor the email further, to make it more personal. Examples include “I noticed from your profile that you also made the transition from corporate to non-profit that I am seeking,” or “The point you made about x in your Ted Talk reminded me…”
On a similar note, if your email is about asking for help or advice, show appreciation, as in “I would greatly appreciate…” or “I would be grateful for…” A simple “thank you” can go a long way. Sounds obvious but too many clients forget these basic rules of relationship-building.
Rule #6: Tell them your purpose early on
They need to know why you’re reaching out to them by paragraph two. Otherwise you are risking impatience; your letter may not be read all the way through. On a side note: your purpose should be to get meetings with decision-makers whether or not there is a current opportunity. Once you meet, you established a relationship that can lead to referrals or opportunities down the road (assuming you keep in touch).
Rule #7: Include your pitch
Summarize your background in one or two sentences, link it to how you can help them, and then share some relevant background highlights by including a few “bulleted” accomplishments. A powerful pitch in your email can really help to get the reader interested in meeting with you or helping you (they may forward your email with the pitch in it). Here’s an example:
I bring over 15 years of Business Insights experience, leading teams of data scientists, modelers and business analysts. My success turning data into actionable knowledge for Marketing and Sales could be useful to your university in optimizing fundraising contacts, targeting enrollment prospects, and improving retention. Highlights include:
- Doubled Marketing’s ROI to 23% by changing the organizational culture from “intuition” to “test-learn-enhance.”
- Increased retention by 57% for high potential customers.
- Increased account acquisition revenue by 79% through better targeting.
Rule #8: End with a clear call to action
Say “Would you have 20 minutes available to talk?” It’s so easy for them to hit reply on an email and say yes, and everyone has that time somewhere on their calendar.
Rule #9: Avoid Spelling & Grammar mistakes!
I receive too many drafts with long run-on sentences, simple spelling mistakes, and more. My advice:
- Put the email away overnight and read it again the next morning before sending it out. You will wake up with a fresh perspective that enables you to spot problems you didn’t see the night before (I routinely do this).
- Have someone else look over your drafts before you send them out, if writing (or writing in English if not your native language) isn’t your thing.
- The free version of Grammarly can also help you to avoid mistakes.
Simple issues with your written communication can sabotage otherwise great content, making you look unprofessional or careless. Try to get the basic rules of written communication right.