Nine Rules for Writing Emails and Cover Letters that Get Interviews

Man typing on laptopPerhaps you’ve experienced the disappointment of carefully crafting an email or cover letter asking for a meeting only to get no response or turned down. In fact, all too often these messages are not even read, because the email subject line or the content doesn’t resonate or the message is too densely worded. Clients who have applied the following nine rules, however, have seen big improvements in their email response rates.

1. Make your letter easily scannable

The workplace is too fast-paced to allow time for reading through a long, dense letter. As with your resume, make your email a quick, easy read by applying these formatting techniques:

  • Use short paragraphs.
  • Use bullet points.
  • Use bold-face and/or underlining of key phrases (sparingly).
  • Consider the use of sub-headings.
  • Minimize repetition, and make every word count.

2. Always include your message in the body of the email, not only as an attachment

Do this even if you’re including the message as an attachment as well. Many people don’t like to open email attachments, especially from strangers.

3. Engage the reader with the email subject line

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 Database Marketing in AdWeek
  • Referred by Julieta Jimenez, re: Latin American expansion
  • Open to discussing Fundraising at New York University?

4. Make sure your email address looks professional won’t cut it. will make a better impression and improve the odds of your email getting past the spam filters.

5. Focus on the recipient’s needs

I get so many drafts that are all about “me me me,” when instead the focus should be on the recipient. Examples of language to use include “Our meeting could be mutually beneficial…” or “Your company’s mission to…resonates” or “My background in … could be of help, given your expansion into Health Care.”

Try to make the meeting you are seeking mutually beneficial, for example: “I would be happy to introduce you to my LinkedIn network…”

If you’re asking for help or advice, show appreciation, as in “I would greatly appreciate…” A simple “thank you” can go a long way. Sounds easy and obvious but too many clients forget these basic relationship rules in their drafts.

If you’re writing a cover letter for a job posting for which you are well qualified, consider quoting requirements from the posting followed by your qualifications. This “your requirements vs. my qualifications” approach can make it much more likely that the initial screener (often a low level HR person or a computer/applicant tracking system) will see how closely you match up with the hiring manager’s needs.

6. Communicate your purpose early on

Be sure to share the reason for your reaching out to them in the first or second paragraph. Otherwise your letter may not be read all the way through.

7. Include your pitch

A resonant pitch can really get the reader interested in tallking with you. 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 two-to-five bulleted accomplishments.

8. End with a clear call to action

Say “Would you have 15-20 minutes available to talk?” Everyone has that time somewhere on their calendar. Check out this blog post to see how to follow up effectively with a phone call.

9. Avoid Spelling & Grammar mistakes!

I review many drafts with run-on sentences, spelling mistakes, omitted words and more. Don’t sabotage your great content with these avoidable mistakes.