By James M. Citrin
April 23, 2015

Now that most introductions happen over email, it’s safe to say that email communication has become as important as or even more important than writing cover letters. With this in mind, here are my top five tips for communicating effectively over email:

Be incredibly responsive.

When someone introduces you to a new contact, it’s imperative that you follow up immediately. If you had a phone conversation or an in-person interview, send a thank-you email as soon as you get off the line or leave the building. Don’t worry about coming across as desperate or creepy; this isn’t a date. Whether the executive takes a few days to respond, or doesn’t respond at all, he or she will be impressed if you respond immediately.

Pay attention to the subject line.

The task of your email’s subject line is to trigger an impulse that causes the recipient to open the email. Your subject line should be enticing and express who you are and what you are writing about. Sometimes it is appropriate to include your name, and other times your school or connection or who referred you is the better way to go. Here are some examples:

  • Sarah Smythe Following Up on Ian McEwan’s Introduction
  • Indiana Student Interested in Learning more about the Marketing Services Industry
  • ESPN Internship Application – Douglas Spector
  • Middlebury Student Seeking 10 Minutes To Talk About McKinsey – Referral from Barry Rosenberg

Begin by explaining the occasion for your message.

The first line of your email will vary, but no matter the situation, your opening line should explain why you’re contacting the recipient. Here are some well-executed examples for a range of scenarios:

  • If you’ve had no previous contact: “I hope this note reaches you in high spirits and good health. I am reaching out to you with the hopes of learning more about the medical diagnostics industry in general and Medtronic specifically.”
  • If you’ve had one previous contact: “Thanks again for our conversation a couple of weeks ago. I followed up as you suggested and found three or four specific target companies with potentially relevant positions to apply to. Could we connect on the phone for 7 to 10 minutes (maximum) so I can get your input about these opportunities?”
  • If you were referred by a third party: “I hope you are having a great weekend and that this doesn’t catch you at an inconvenient time. I was speaking with my uncle Ken, and he explained to me that you direct your firm’s retail practice. I am very interested in exploring a career in retail and fashion, and I believe you would be the perfect person to talk to.”

Keep it short and easy-on-the-eyes.

Most people don’t have the time or attention span to read an email that’s longer than 10 lines. Assume that the recipient will be reading it on their smartphone (while multi-tasking). Make it snappy. Establish who you are and what you want in the first two sentences. Write your email in at least 11 or 12 point font so that the reader doesn’t have to put on his or her reading glasses.

Don’t lose your cool.

Chances are, you will be reaching out to people who are very busy. Unread emails don’t bring them joy; they make them anxious, and your email will be adding to the count. So if you haven’t heard back from someone, or if they’ve sent you a less-than-warm response, it doesn’t mean that they dislike you or don’t think you’re good enough. It doesn’t even mean the conversation is over.

More often than not, the recipient is just hesitant to add an unexpected task to the pile. Don’t be afraid to continue reaching out. Find the right frequency—perhaps once every two weeks—until your contact replies with a next step or tells you they aren’t interested. Even then, don’t necessarily cross the person or company off your target list. Just thank them for their time and consider them inactive for the time being.

You might try them again in a few months, or they might become an important contact for you years later in your career. An email can be forwarded in an instant, so don’t jeopardize your relationships and your network by writing something in the heat of the moment that will come back to haunt you.

Remember, every interaction by email is an opportunity to move your job search process forward by one small but concrete step.

Citrin runs the CEO Practice at Spencer Stuart, one of the world’s leading executive search and leadership consulting firms. He is the best-selling author of six books. This article was adapted from his latest, The Career Playbook: Essential Advice for Today’s Aspiring Young Professional, which was published this week.

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