By Jasmine Bager, Reporter
Business emails can be tricky. In just a few lines, you need to introduce yourself, communicate your professional needs and entice this powerful stranger to respond. 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? If you are a college student applying for a fall internship or a recent graduate looking for a job—or just in need of some extra tips—these should help.
1. Unless you are Bill Gates, Angelina Jolie or some other celebrity, 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.
2. 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 good ones to use for professional emails. Use your first and last name in your address, if possible. A zero and the letter “o” can get mixed-up more often than you’d think, especially if the address was written down by hand. Remember that there is a 100 percent chance of not getting a response if the email was never received.
3. Your subject line is the first impression your reader will see. Make it clear and write your full name and course number/time so that the professor can easily identify you, or specify where you’ve met someone, by writing the name of the location or company. 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.
4. Titles are important, especially if it is a Dr., Professor or President, so be sure to address that person as such. 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.
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 within minutes of 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.
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 secretary’s 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. In the case of sending an email asking for a job, 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. Also, this way, the department could easily look you up later, instead of asking each other “what was that person’s name who called this morning?” Another perk is that they could simply hit the reply button to schedule an interview (hopefully), instead of looking for the piece of paper in which they scribbled your address (especially if your address contains a zero or an “o” in it). The less work employers need to do to gain an employee, the better.
8. If you’ve met in person, signal a story or symbol from that time. A visual clue is often helpful, so reference a funny thing that happened or something you talked about. If you take a business card, always scribble something on the back to remind you of the conversation, and use it in the email.
9. Follow-up, but don’t be a pest. Depending on how urgent it is, contact them again after a few days or a week. If you don’t hear back for weeks, 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 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.
12. If you are sending fan mail where you are simply stating your opinion or feeling, praising or criticizing something or someone, 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. It is tempting to include a company 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.
14. Fancy or creative typefaces should remain in museums, greeting cards or limited to logos. 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. …if you need to copy/paste text from, let’s say a Word document draft you started 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. Limit exclamation points to one or two per email, and try to never write an email WITH ALL CAPS. It can appear to be over-emotional and perhaps even rude.
19. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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 in your email, link to it.
24. 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 the full message to check for spelling and grammar before clicking the send button. Good luck!