4 Rules That Will Make People Respond to Your Emails

In the job search, you are sending lots of emails. From what I have heard, many people struggle to get responses on their emails. In this post, I want to share some useful rules for increasing email responses.

I found these rules through the company Boomerang. They have analyzed millions of emails. They analyzed them to understand why people are responding to emails or not. After doing so, they found 4 rules that increase the responses on your emails. I wanted to share these four rules with you and how you can use them in your job search.

1. Include 1-3 questions in your email

This is pretty self-explanatory. That you need a question to get a response. But, you will be surprised how often people write emails without a clear question. My recommendation is that you start writing the question that you want an answer to first and then work from there.    

So if your question is: “would you open to grab a cup of coffee next week?”, then you need to give the person the reasons and explanations for why you are writing your email before that. For this particular question, I would like to have answers to the following questions for context:

  • Who are you?
  • Why are you contacting me?
  • Why do you want to have coffee with me?

The reasons and explanation can be just one sentence per question. An example could be:

Who are you? I am a software engineer in Stockholm looking for a job in the startup industry.

Why are you contacting me? I am contacting you because I have read about you on your website and saw that you are doing very interesting things.

Why do you want to have coffee with me? I would love to have a cup of coffee with you and hear more about your business.

This is literally everything I need to know.

2. Write emails that are between 50-125 words

So many times, I hear people telling me that they won’t get responses when they reach out to recruiters/CEOs. I ask them if I can see their last job application and I receive a wall of text. Many people write really long emails with the hope that it will show the person that they have experience in the field and is a good person for the job. If this is the first email that you are sending to a person, then it better be short and to the point.

Think about how people are reading their emails these days. Almost everyone has their email connected to their phone and they will read emails everywhere. At home, on the way to work, while taking care of their kids and so on. So, when they are receiving that email, they are not really in the position to read a novel. A good rule of thumb is to make the email maximum 1.5 scrolls on a smartphone. This is a good length for a first email to someone.

Two exceptions from this rule:

Exception 1: When you are sending job applications. Less is still more, but if you are sending a job application, there will often be a screener that will filter your application. This means that there is a system that is sorting the applications and therefore you need to have all the keywords for the job ad in order for you to rank high in the filtering system.

Exception 2: When you have established a relationship with someone. Some emails will have to be long and others don’t need to be that long. When you have built up a relationship you can have longer emails every once in a while. But only if you really need them.

3. Have 3-7 words in the subject line.

Once again, think about the person reading your message. They will see it on their phone. Given that the phone is pretty small, they will only see a couple of words and your email must make sense in a condensed version also. This means, keep your subject line short and sweet.

Also, make sure that you have a subject line that tells the recipient something. I sometimes get emails with no subject line and it makes it really hard to scroll the messages later on. So write something in the email line like “Experienced Programmer Available for Hire” or “3 Reasons to Hire Me”.

4. An 8-9 years old person should be able to understand

This is especially true if you are not sure about the person on the other end. Sometimes, the recruiter for a specific position might not be 100 % secure about the technical terms that you have. The recruiters are most often not experienced in the same type of work as you are applying for. This means that you might take away some of the key technical terms in the cover letter or at least give some context to them. Target the message to whoever you send it to.

However, do remember that sometimes the recruiters have applicant tracking systems (ATS) which automatically rank all the candidates by technical terms in the job ad. So, you need to include these in the CV. Just make sure that whenever you can use a simpler word, do so. Here is a quote from one of the most popular writing guides in the world:

The secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components. Every word that serves no function, every long word that could be a short word, every adverb that carries the same meaning that’s already in the verb…these are the thousand and one adulterants that weaken the strength of a sentence” – William Zinsser, On Writing Well.


Next, try these four rules and see if they work well for you also when you are writing your emails. Include questions, write shorter length, write simpler and have 3-7 words in the subject line. See if it increases your response rates.


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