Getting Busy People to Answer Your Emails

Did you know that 247 billion emails are sent every day. This equates to one email every 0.00000035 seconds. Somedays it feels like half of those are delivered straight to my inbox. (Source)

An invaluable communication tool, email is probably the method I use most to interact with colleagues, clients, students and friends. However, I get around 300 or so emails a day. That, combined with a very full schedule means sometimes those emails go unanswered (or even unseen). There’s no way I have a corner on the lots-of-email-busy-schedule market, so I’m often on the other end — sending an email, trying to get a busy person to reply to my requests.

So how do you get busy people to respond to your emails? Some tips:

State your subject in the subject line: Your email subject line can make or break you in a couple of ways. If your subject isn’t clear, the recipient may not open it at all. If it has any kind of spammy words, it may trigger a spam or junk filter. Don’t be clever, be clear.

My friend Sherry says she puts the action needed right in the subject line. Something like, “Info to Share: Sherry’s Awesome” or “Approval Needed: Quote for Press Release.” Another friend, Amanda Ip (UO ’09) says if you’re networking and have a referral, put the name right in the subject. That helps get her attention and makes your message a priority.

Clear subject lines also make it easier for my email program to appropriately sort or thread your message and makes it easier to go back and find it later if needed.

Start on the right foot. Your salutation is your first chance to make a good impression.

“Hey, so-and-so” is universally panned as inappropriate and annoying, especially on first contact. It’s not friendly or casual, it’s immature and disrespectful. It’s not hard to do a bit of research and figure out how formal or informal someone is in their communications. Do some LinkedIn research or look for tone in Twitter content.

It’s safer to err on the side of being more formal at first. Ms. So-and-So or Mr. Blah-biddy Blah is usually appropriate and you’re not going to put anyone off. I will say, be careful about which honorific you choose, though. I hate (hate!) when people call me Mrs. Matthews. Matthews is the name I was born with and I’m not married.

In an academic setting Professor This-and-That is usually safe (the specifics of professor vs. instructor aren’t really interesting to anyone outside academia), but be careful about Dr. What’s-Her-Name. Dr. is a title bestowed upon those who complete specific requirements for their profession. In my case, I don’t have a PhD. Again, a little research will help you know what to use.

via GIPHY

Note: Mx. as a gender-neutral honorific was added to the Oxford English Dictionary this week. I’m not sure I’d use it with just anyone, it may look like a typo, but it’s definitely worth knowing.

Don’t bury the lede. You’ve been clear in your subject line, but make sure the body of your email is equally clear. Keep the introductory remarks to a bare minimum. You don’t want to be rude (and you want to be culturally appropriate), but keep it short.

Avoid the scroll. In a world where we often check our emails via mobile devices, consider a smart phone screen the ideal length of an email.

That’s about 115 words (the first two paragraphs of this blog post). If you can’t get your point in that space, you very well may have lost the battle. Busy people have a lot of things competing for their attention.

Another mobile tip: when you can, include the text of an attachment in the body of the email along with the attachments. Not all attachments open on all devices and you don’t want that to get in the way of getting a reply.

Make it skim-able. A big block of text is hard to read on a screen of any size. Breaking up the text into no more than two or three lines per paragraph makes it easier for the reader to see the point and take in what you’re asking. Making it hard to read your email is only going to slow the reply.

Try another line. If you have tried email and not received a response, you can try reaching out on Twitter or LinkedIn. Don’t be shy about resending the email. I call my email the Pit of Despair. Once an email slides off the first screen, it can be out of sight out of mind.

Sending a follow-up is not annoying to most busy people, as long as you’re professional, polite and gracious about how you do it.

Take it off-line. As several colleagues said when I asked this question via Facebook, sometimes an in-person meeting or a quick phone call is much more productive than a back-and-forth email conversation. Ask for a few minutes of their time and set a time that you can call them. You can work through multiple screens of emails in a short time and get more done.

But don’t just take my word for it. A handful of great blog posts and resources on this very topic:

How to get a busy person to respond to your email (Medium)

How To Write Emails To Busy People (Business Insider)

7 Tips for Emailing Extraordinarily Busy People (Inc.)

What tips do you have for getting replies from busy people?

A Year-Long Plan for Senior PR Undergrads

[Updated September 2014]

 “When should I start applying for that internship?”

“Where do I start with my job search?”

“Do I need to be sending my resumes out now?”

There’s a point of recognition where the senior public relations major realizes that yes, barring any major gaffes, chances are good that they’re going to graduate and need to find a job. And then the panic sets in.

Senior year both flies by in a blink and seems to drag on forever at the same time.  Benchmarking a few key activities may help you create your own plan for prepping for graduation.

A quick note: University of Oregon is on the quarter system – we start the last Monday of September and finish mid-June, so this calendar may vary based on your University.

Continue reading “A Year-Long Plan for Senior PR Undergrads”

Asking for a LinkedIn Introduction


LinkedIn is such a valuable tool for any job seeker, but for undergrads looking for informational interviews, networking connections or to research a potential company or interviewer, it really can’t be beat.

But using it well (and not annoying your connections) takes a little know how and some LinkedIn etiquette. I think no where is this more true that in asking for introductions.

LinkedIn allows you to reach out to people directly to make a connection (I always recommend adding a personal message about why you want to connect). However, using the “Get Introduced” feature, can help facilitate a connection and give you an edge.

So how does it work?

Start by finding someone you want to make a connection with. You can do this is many ways, but my two favorite (and most basic) are to a) search the connections of one of your contacts. If you’re connected to me, you have access to my 1500+ connections. You can sort by city (say you want to move to Los Angeles) or by company or a few other filters or b) search LinkedIn directly by name or company.

Look for second degree connections. That means just one person exists between you and them.

Recently, I did a company search for Waggener Edstrom Worldwide. A lot of our grads work at WaggEd and it’s the largest PR firm in the northwest. In doing that search, I found an account director to whom I had a second degree connection. I found her profile interesting because we have so many students with an interest in event planning — and that’s what she does for WaggEd clients. Neat.

So say I want to get connected to Megan. Here are the steps to follow:

1. Click on the arrow next to “Send InMail” to get the drop down options. The first says “Get introduced.” Choose that option.

linkedin-intro-screenshot 2. The next screen will show you all the people who you and the desired contact have in common. Turns out Megan and I have several mutual connections. Choose the one that you think would be most willing to “put in a good word” for you. I chose my friend, Erica, also an account director at WaggEd. She and I did our undergrad work together in the SOJC and I know she’d be willing to facilitate this connection for me.

I started with a note to Erica about why I wanted to connect with Megan.

Screen Shot 2013-05-17 at 9.09.44 AM

 

3. The final part is the most important. To make it easy breezy for Erica to forward my connection request with her own note, I finish the request with a note directly to Megan. Consider a mini cover letter. Why do you want to be introduced?

Screen Shot 2013-05-17 at 9.15.24 AM

 

That’s it! Take a read through, do a final edit and hit “Send Request.”

Erica will get a notice in her inbox that I’ve requested an introduction with the option to forward or decline.

Have you used this feature of LinkedIn before? Any tips beyond what I’ve offered here?

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