The good news is whenever most people do something terribly, the field opens up for you. And because so many job seekers, networkers and freelancers write terrible emails, you’ve got a great opportunity. All you have to do is write an email people will actually want to read — and you’ll no doubt get where you want to be, faster.
Here are a few tips to increase the chance of getting a positive response to your emails.
1. Be Succinct
There’s nothing that screams “I don’t respect your time” more than a long email, especially if you’re approaching someone you’ve never communicated with before. We’re all busy, and being brief shows you’re in touch with reality and want to make life easier for the person you’re writing to.
Not only are long emails annoying, they’re also proof that you’re not a good communicator — and employers want people who can share their ideas succinctly. This is a double opportunity if you’re trying to land any sort of writing job. Telling your story concisely is a great way to showcase your skills right from the get-go.
If you’re really smart, you might even limit your emails to 50 words.
2. Include a Clear Action Item
If the person on the receiving end of your email doesn’t know what you want, there’s no way they’ll be able to give it to you — and that means your effort has gone to waste.
So rather than writing “just to introduce yourself,” have an action item in mind, and communicate it clearly. You don’t want to ask too much the first time you contact someone, but you do want to give that person a reason to respond and continue the dialogue.
For example, if your action item is asking for advice, make sure your question is specific enough that the person can actually answer it. Avoid inquiries like, “What advice do you have for new graduates?” or “How’d you get where you are now?”
Instead, ask specific questions that show you’ve followed this person’s work or blog, or done your homework in some way — and the person will be more willing to spend time crafting a helpful reply.
3. Do Your Research
Anyone you approach will be more willing to help you if you’ve helped yourself first. So do research, and find subtle ways to show that you did.
The absolute most important research you can do is finding the name of the person you’re writing to. Don’t start your email with “Dear Hiring Manager” or “Hello blogger.” As an editor who manages several large blogs, I get lots of pitch emails, and anything with a generic greeting goes straight into the virtual trash. If you can’t take a few minutes to figure out my name, you probably won’t put forth the effort required to work together.
4. Use Flattery
I’m talking real, authentic flattery — because we can all sniff out fake flattery a mile away. If you’re a huge fan of this person’s latest book, tell him! Met her brother in an airport and found him super interesting? Let her know! Is his company your dream employer? Don’t be afraid to say so.
Not only does true flattery make the other person feel good (and realize that you’ve done your homework), it also shows you’re an enthusiastic, engaged individual who goes after what you want.
After all, that’s why you’re writing emails to begin with, right? To go after what you want. And if you’ve bothered to put in that effort, you might as well go the extra mile to make sure your emails actually get read.