8 Tips to Getting a Reply Every Time
How many times have you emailed someone about a possible design position just to get zero response? Why is it so difficult to get a reply from the company you wish to work for or intern at? What can you do to get around the email obstacle? Let’s look at these questions and how to (nearly) guarantee a response when you send out an email to a potential employer.
1. Get in their shoes
It’s 4:30 pm on Monday, your boss reminds you of a deadline due end of day tomorrow. You still have 4 more emails to reply to from various supervisors. An urgent change needs to be made to a design that was supposed to be wrapped up last week there goes beating the traffic home. Your spouse/significant other texts you with the bad news that the laundry machine stopped working. You also need to attend your son’s bimonthly Cub Scout meeting tonight.
Then, another email shows up — Subject: Seeking design opportunity
You think, while reaching for the delete key, I don’t have time for this sh —
This is how busy or stressed you need to assume everyone you’re emailing is facing. With more important tasks than time to deal with them, you need to find a way to be a welcome break from the day’s overwhelming chores. When composing your email and choosing a subject, try to avoid the cliche phrases. My rule of thumb is that the first one or two phases you think of are junk. They’re probably the first one or two phrases everyone else thought of before emailing the person you’re about to email. Challenge yourself to come up with something more interesting and attention-grabbing. Be sure to remain professional. For instance, “You’ve just won…” is a sure way to get your email marked as spam.
Actionable step 1: Put yourself in your recipient’s shoes. Choose words that you’d be interested or curious to read if you were inundated with chores, dumb emails and lots of work. Re-word your subject line until you’re actually satisfied with it. Be clever.
2. Give them a reason to reply
Consider how many emails you receive a day. According to the * Radicati Group, in 2015, the average business email receives 84 emails PER DAY. The average number of emails that get sent out of business emails is 41. How many emails do you actually reply to, and why do you reply to them? Often, there’s an incentive to reply to emails. For example, to not get fired, to progress a project, to enter a contest, to say hi to a family member, to verify a fact.
Ask yourself what incentive your email recipient has to respond to your email. Without making the benefit clear to the reader, it’s often tough to earn a reply. What are some possible incentives to reply to someone asking for a job, interview, internship, portfolio review, etc? Most people in the professional world are looking for ways to make their life easier, improve the quality of their work or reputation.
Actionable step 2: Provide a clear benefit to responding to your email. Avoid sounding pushy, demanding or like a desperate sales person.
3. Keep it personal
I’m willing to bet you’ve been on the receiving end of a generic email that screams, “I’ve been sent out to over 100,000 other email addresses!” How obnoxious is that? I tend to mark those and the sender as spam to ensure I never lose precious time to that sender again. Never EVER send out a generic email template to a job, internship or interview prospect. If the person you’re contacting is worth your time, he or she will be intelligent enough to know you’re email blasting a bunch of other companies at the same time. It’s lazy and that’s the last word you want attached to your name.
Take the time to learn about the person you’re emailing and the company he or she works for. Use these facts to add a personal touch to the email. If the email is tailored and empathetic to the receiver, there’s a better chance of it being interpreted as sincere, which is what you should be after.
Actionable step 3: Use personal touches to establish a connection between you and the email recipient. Did you go to the same school? Do you both comment on the same forum online? Are you both raving fans of the same sport? Use a common thread to create a connection somewhere in your email. The header/subject is a great place to drop this since it’ll pull the recipients attention toward something he or she spends time doing or thinking about outside of work. This should create that welcome distraction mentioned earlier.
4. Respect their time
Before you go sharing your life story, and how long you’ve been stalking your email recipient, consider how you tend to avoid reading long emails when you’re busy. Since we’re already assuming your email recipient is crazy-busy, let’s keep it short. I can’t remember where I heard it, but someone famous once claimed that if an email exceeds 5 sentences, a phone call would be more efficient. I don’t necessarily suggest abandoning all emails longer than 5 sentences, but the principal remains the same. Try to keep it as short as you can without losing the integrity of the message.
Actionable step 4: Edit your email. Don’t send it after writing it. Leave your computer for a few minutes and read it once you return. Can you make it shorter, less-wordy, more succinct? Look for cliches and unnecessary details that you can pull out to condense your email. A shorter email is preferable.
5. Get to the point
Similar to step 4, but more specific is getting to the point. I get frustrated thinking of the number of emails I receive where someone just throws paragraph-shaped grenades at me. If I receive an email where no clear question is asked or I’m unable to determine the purpose of the email, I’ll be sure to ignore it. Nothing feels more like a waste of time to me than that. Please don’t ‘think out loud’ in an email. The recipient should know exactly how to reply to you.
Actionable step 5: Edit your email to see if you can get to the point sooner than you did in your first draft. Make sure that you omit sentences that deviate from the goal of your email.
6. Ask the right person
First I should note, that an initial or ‘cold’ email really shouldn’t be an ‘ask’. By this I mean that the only thing you should be asking for is permission to connect with this individual. Asking for his or her time, or an interview, or a job is a really greedy thing to do. Next, make sure that if you’re asking for something, it’s something the recipient of your email is capable of doing. For example, emailing a junior designer who’s a relatively new hire and asking for an interview won’t do you much good. You’re better off asking a director, president, C-level or other upper-management if you’re looking to get hired. This way, whoever does the hiring can be contacted from a higher-up and he or she will need to act upon the request of a supervisor, not the request of a stranger (you).
Now, if all you’re looking to do is to establish a first connection or get the contact info of a Sr. designer, then perhaps contacting a junior or new hire would be appropriate. It’s a tiny ask and very quick task to perform, increasing your chances of getting a response.
Actionable step 6: Make sure that the person you’re emailing is the appropriate recipient for the email you’re sending.
7. Baby steps
Sending a cold email asking for a job is a long shot. I’ve found a better way to create a relationship that encourages dialogue, rather than leaves you in an awkward position of rejection. Imagine there being stepping stones creating a path to your desired position. What would each of those look like? Maybe there’s 5 or 6 of them.
This whole progression should feel natural and not forced. I’d recommend spreading it out over 4–6 weeks. This establishes a relationship, one where you offer value first.
Actionable step 7: Break your email sequence into as many steps as seems appropriate to work up to what you’re really asking for. Many professionals are smart enough to know what you’re doing, but so long as you’re respectful and honest he or she should’t mind your approach.
8. Casual, respectful tone
Consider the tone you use in your emails. Remember, you’re not able to use body language or voice tone to your advantage in an email. It’s easy for a joke or sarcasm to get lost in an email. That can be the death of your email. Be sure to ask someone you trust to proof your emails and make sure you don’t come off as pretentious, rude or pushy. You want to come off as someone who’s easy to be around and communicate with since communication is one of the pillars of any design job.
Actionable step 8: Get someone you trust to proof read your emails. Do you have anyone in your family who works in a professional office setting? If so, send the email to him or her first and get a second opinion before sending.
Got all that? It might seem like a lot of work, but it doesn’t take much longer than firing off a few lousy emails and I’m sure you’ll be pleased with the responses you receive. Besides, if you do get a job or internship out of a string of emails, isn’t the time worth it even if it does take a few hours? Below is the list one more time so you can copy and paste it into an Evernote checklist as I often do.
- Get in their shoes
- Give them a reason to reply
- Keep it personal
- Respect their time
- Get to the point
- Ask the right person
- Baby steps
- Casual, respectful tone