Job Search Secrets: How to Write an Email That Gets a Response

Man smiling at desk.

Smiling man | Source: iStock

Email is a quick and easy way to communicate during a job search. However, so many things can go wrong in an email exchange. One of the most frustrating parts of sending an email is that they sometimes don’t get answered. How can you make sure your message doesn’t get ignored or moved right into the trash bin? The Cheat Sheet reached out to Alex Moore, CEO of email productivity company Boomerang, for tips on how to send an email that gets a response.

The Cheat Sheet: What is the key to getting a response to general work emails?

Alex Moore: We completed a study recently of more than 5 million messages and came up with the following tips for how to get more responses to your emails:

  • Write with emotion: Emails that were slightly to moderately positive or slightly to moderately negative elicited 10% to 15% more responses than emails that were completely neutral.
  • Write short (but not too short!) emails: The sweet spot for email length is between 50-125 words, all of which yielded response rates above 50%.
  • Use short (very short) subject lines: Email subject lines with only three to four words receive the most responses (48%).
  • Ask questions: Emails that asked 1 to 3 questions are 50% more likely to get a response than emails asking no questions.
  • Be subjective: If your natural writing style has a “just the facts, ma’am” bias, you should consider including more opinions and subjectivity into your messages. Emails written with more subjectivity received a higher response rate (50%).

CS: What are some do’s and don’ts when it comes to sending an email to a hiring manager?

AM: When it comes to sending an email to a hiring manager, here are some do’s and dont’s:

Do’s:

Do ask questions. Not only is it going to help you to get a better response rate, but it will also show you are interested in the position and have taken the time to learn more. Do follow up. Hiring managers are likely working to fill multiple positions and receive hundreds of resumes each week. As such, it’s possible for your email to get cast aside. Follow up appropriately to gain a better response rate but also to show persistence and initiative.

Don’ts:

Don’t go overboard, but showing some enthusiasm for the position in the email correspondence can help you to appear as a worthy candidate over being flat and generic. Don’t send multiple emails to ask questions/answer questions, etc. Write one, concise email so your recipient has everything they need in one spot and doesn’t need to fish through a crowded inbox. Don’t send an email during a high volume time unless absolutely necessary. Best times to send are before work and during lunch. You can use an email scheduling program to help if necessary. Don’t send from a personal email address that is something other than your name. Hiring managers don’t want to get resumes from BigDaddy123@gmail.com. Use a professional email address for all of your sends and replies.

Man with hands on keyboard.

Man typing on laptop | Source: iStock

CS: Is it best to remain formal in tone or laid back?

AM: We’ve found that writing emails that were slightly/moderately positive OR slightly/moderately negative actually elicit 10% to 15% more responses than those that were completely neutral. But being excessively positive can hurt you – response rates for positive emails peak at 15% higher than neutral emails, but the rates declined for positive messages that exceeded what would look “normal” in an email. An example of an ideal, positive sentiment would be an email like “Hey, I’d definitely like to get together next week. Do you want to get pizza?” An example of an ideal, negative sentiment would be an email like “I had an awful experience at your store today. The clerk was very rude. Please do something to make it right.” Both emails have optimal sentiment levels that are actually more effective than a neutral tone.

CS: How can you make sure your email to a hiring manager doesn’t get ignored, or worse, deleted?

AM: You can never guarantee that an email isn’t ignored or deleted, but you can do several things to give yourself the best opportunity to have your message in front of your intended recipient. First, you need to make sure you are sending your emails during the times when people most want to read emails. Our data shows most people want to read emails at about 6:00 a.m. It’s before the work day when things aren’t hectic, and recipients have the full ability to focus. You should also make sure you are using key words in your subject lines. For jobs, consider using “apply,” “opportunity,” or “connect.” Also be sure that you are responding quickly to emails you receive from a hiring manager. Most expect a response within two days, but responding sooner can keep you top of mind.

CS: When is it safe to follow up if you don’t get a response?

AM: Our analysis has shown that the average response time for an email is 23 hours. It can be much quicker (50% of responses in our study were within two hours) or longer (90% of all people did so within two days). So it’s safe to follow up with someone if you have not heard back within two days. In fact, those that did follow up after that two-day period got a response to their follow up email 25% of the time.

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