Savvy job seekers are sending email correspondence directly to new and existing contacts to follow up on job postings, to ask for job lead referrals and to inquire about exploratory job interviews. Normally, job seekers know what they want to say and get to the point in the body of the email on the email’s purpose. But then they get to the subject line…..”What do I write in the subject line?” is the question I am often asked. After all, it is the email’s first impression—it is critical to get it right! Well, here are a few ways to successfully tackle this head scratcher of a dilemma. NOTE: no tactic will work each and every time, but using your judgment to choose which tactic can work best to capture the reader’s attention can improve the odds that your email is read.
Be Very Specific
If you are aiming to circle back to a Director of Finance to follow up on a Financial Planning Manager position that was posted, then having a straight forward subject line like, “Financial Planning Manager Candidate for Job# XYZABC” can work well. Follow instructions to the T, if you are actually being asked to email your credentials and are given instructions on what to put in the subject line. If you are seeking out an exploratory interview within a marketing department where there is no job posting, you might send an email with the following subject line, “Exploratory Interview Request – Marketing Management Professional”
Be Vague—but Intriguing
For unsolicited approaches without a job posting to leverage in your email, say you are looking to network for referrals, you might consider something like, “Professional Advancement Inquiry” or “Brief Networking Question”—and then politely ask one question about what you are looking for with a brief statement outlining the context of your request.
Be Short and Quick
I like these—and I have tended to answer these. Emails with subject lines like, “Quick Question” or “Short Answer Needed” have grabbed my attention and, as long as the question was really quick or a short answer was really required, I have answered these types of emails from people I know and don’t know. This subject line approach is good for exploratory interview or informational requests.
Sometimes flattery gets you everywhere—with some people. Subject lines like, “A Quick Jolt of Your Expertise Requested” or “Your Professional Knowledge Required” or “I would like to ask you your opinion, if I may….” can at least intrigue an email recipient enough to read it. And if the request is polite and brief enough, you may get a response back to set up a call or an appointment. Again, this subject line approach is probably best for exploratory interview or informational requests.
Be a Genuine Name Dropper
Genuine is super key here. Don’t name drop if you were not referred by someone and that person said it was okay to use their name. But when you have genuinely been referred to someone by a mutual contact, leverage that information appropriately. A subject line like, “Referred to you by Lisa Rangel” or “Reaching out per Lisa Rangel’s suggestion” is perfectly acceptable way to make contact with someone to network with or to apply for a position within their company.
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Be Part of Their Business Day
This is a controversial approach—some recipients appreciate the creativity and some recipients feel duped. So use with caution. But some job seekers have used a subject line starting with the term “Re:” as in “Re: Operations Director Candidate” or “Re: Exploratory Interview Request” or “Re: Your Expert Opinion Requested” to give the impression that this is an email the recipient already responded to earlier or is an email being responded to that was initially sent by the recipient. (I hope I did not lose you there.) If the email recipient sees a subject line start with “Re:” he/she may be more inclined to look at the email thinking it was a subject already addressed and in progress. So you may get the recipient to read your email, but you run the risk of them feeling fooled into reading your email—so just know there is a risk that you assume if you use this approach. But some recipients never notice and respond and other recipients appreciate the creativity and respond…so it is your call.
Having a number of strategies to utilize can help improve the odds of your email getting read and responded to by the email recipient. As a general rule, consider what types of email subject lines you would respond to—or look at ones you have responded to, as mimic that style. Avoid pompous declarations (I.e. “Stop your search, I am the perfect candidate!”), as I would never respond to that.
Again, no one approach is a sure-fire hit each and every time, but each tactic has worked depending on the nature of the email request, the recipient and the sender. Creativity is normally appreciated, but sometimes not reinventing the wheel and using a simple subject line can be the best approach.