University of South Carolina :: Darla Moore School of Business   the Competitive Edge

with Hannah Morgan

During a job search, you usually ask your recipient to take some sort of action. With so many messages and so little time, you want to craft an email that makes the recipient want to open the message.

In the workplace, your emails might ask for help with a project, meet a pending deadline or consider a new idea. In all of these instances, you're selling your recipient on the benefits of taking action.

Although every person has a different set of priorities and preferences, there are some best practices you can learn that will increase the likelihood of your email to be opened and read.

Before you send your next email, ask yourself these 8 questions to increase the odds of your message of getting a response:

  1. Is your subject line enticing?
    • Every email needs a subject line and is the first thing someone sees. But will it get the reader's attention?
    • Write your message first. Then add your subject line -- one that will interest your reader.
    • Examples:
      • If you have success improving customer satisfaction Subject: Make your customers raving fans
      • If you have success streamlining, improving operations Subject: Is streamlining your operations a priority?
  2. Is your message too long?
    • More than half of most emails are viewed through a mobile phone or tablet according to numerous recent studies.
    • Your message must take into consideration the reader's limited time and the small screen space.
    • Keep your message short and use concise bullet points rather than long paragraphs. This works well on desktops too.
  3. Have you provided the necessary information?
    • If your message is too short, the reader may search for the real meaning or hidden agenda in your message by reading between the lines.
    • Make sure your message contains the answers to who, what where, when, why and how.
  4. Have you clearly requested an action?
    • When you want the recipient of your email to take action on something, make sure it's clear and easy.
    • If the action is time sensitive, please make sure the specific deadline: date and time.
    • A word of caution: Don't use arbitrary dates or create a false sense of urgency. Don't make demands the recipient won't be capable of.
    • Example:
      When applying for a job, you shouldn't insist from a response from Human Resources by a certain date.
  5. Are you embellishing?
    • Whenever possible, use a statement that supports a point. If there's a study or testimonial that backs up your claim, include it. By including this data, you prove you have investigated the subject and lends credibility to your request.
    • Also avoid adjectives that favor bias such as amazing, incredible, terrific or disappointing
    • If you must use an adjective, back it up with facts.
    • Examples:
      • My former manager said my work on project x was amazing.
      • I would call Bob's work ethic and results nothing short of amazing!
  6. Is your tone too casual?
    • Emails can fall into 1 of 2 categories: sterile and void of personality or overly personal.
    • Refine your email to ensure that its tone and formality is appropriate for the recipient.
    • Some basic reminders when addressing someone you don't know:
      • Use their full name
      • Always use good grammar, spelling and punctuation
      • Don't use text speak or abbreviations
  7. Are you a sesquipedalian? (Someone who uses big words)
    • Use words people understand and use in regular conversation. It will make your words easier to digest and won't sound pretentious.
    • Chill out on the big, fancy words
  8. Have you taken advantage of the power of a P.S.?
    • P.S. stands for postscript.
    • It's inserted at the end of a message.
    • It serves as an attention grabber.
    • The secret is you tend to remember the last thing you read.
    • Examples:
      Your P.S. could be
      • reminder about a deadline
      • action you would like one to take
      • one sentence summary of benefits to taking action
P.S. What else have you done to get your emails read?

Before you hit the send button, review your message to make sure it takes these pointers into consideration:
  1. Enticing subject line?
  2. Message too long?
  3. Provided necessary info?
  4. Clearly requested an action?
  5. Embellishing?
  6. Tone too casual?
  7. Sesquipedalian?
  8. Got a p.s.?

Remember the real secret to your job search success is mastering how you communicate. You can make a positive impression by putting these suggestions into practice when writing your next email.