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Classic career advice works in a variety of situations, which is why you hear it time and again. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be subject to misinterpretation. Or applied in the wrong situations.

For example, some tips that are great for co-worker communication aren’t great if you’re a job seeker. Likewise, phrases that might open doors when you’re in an interview could immediately turn off a new contact you’re having coffee with.

If there’s one situation in which people seem to fall back on the wrong advice, it’s when emailing strangers. And not just any strangers, but strangers who you’d like to help you professionally. So if your message are going unanswered, read on for the advice you’re probably misinterpreting:


1. “Be Persistent!”

On the one hand, we can all commiserate about being overwhelmed with messages and the struggle to get to inbox zero. But, on the other hand, when you’re the person really hoping to connect with or hear from someone new, you figure you’ll just check in again (and again for good measure) to get the other person to write you back.


Here’s the Problem

You should never follow up on anything non-urgent in less than 24 hours. Waiting shows that you respect the other person’s time and that you understand he may be in a day-long meeting or under deadline, and the last thing you’d want is for him to emerge to three emails from you, all on the same non-time-sensitive topic.

It’s helpful to remember that the best responses can take time. Did you ask someone to look into something or let you know what she thinks? Wouldn’t you rather she respond in a day or two once she’s had a chance to compose her thoughts?

So, wait a few days and remember that people value patience at least as much as persistence. You’re demonstrating that you’re someone who won’t expect the other person to drop everything the moment you reach out, which makes it more likely you’ll get a response.


2. “If Your Typical Routine Isn’t Working, Try a Different Approach!”

You send a lengthy, formal message, and when you don’t hear anything back by the next day, you wonder if a friendly approach would’ve been better. So, you course correct and immediately send a follow-up that’s two brief lines and a GIF, all to show you’re a quick study.


Here’s the Problem

Is it possible the style of your initial outreach was not the other person’s most favorite? Sure it is. However, following up with something so different that your new contact has to check it’s the same sender won’t read as an adjustment: It’ll just be really confusing. In turn, she may not be sure what to expect—or say—and be less likely to write you back.

Avoid this worst-case scenario by putting in the effort to make a good impression the first time around. Review the basics of sending an email people will want to reply to and take style cues from the person’s public persona (like his website or social profiles).

If when he does write you back, his language is more serious (or more emoji-filled), you can always temper your response to be slightly more buttoned up (or exclamation-filled) in turn. And if you’d never dream of sending a smiley-face when communicating professionally, that’s OK too; it’s not going to make the difference in whether or not this new person becomes a close connection.


3. “No Matter What, Be Honest”

It would mean everything to you to connect with your career idol, but she ignored your LinkedIn message. So, you decide that the classic invitation was a bust and figure you might as well say how obsessed you are with the other person, because you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.


Here’s the Problem

When you send an emotional message about how you know could be friends with someone because you love everything she’s ever written (embarrassing confession: I’ve actually done this) you lose credibility. You pigeonhole yourself into the “fan” category rather than the legitimate networking contact category.

It can be challenging—especially when you’re really hoping the other person will answer a burning question or read your work—but remember, playing it a little bit cool isn’t somehow inauthentic: It’s professional. If you have to geek out to someone about how you’re dying for a reply, send that note to a friend. Then, once you’ve gotten that out of your system, work on a professional follow up to the prospective contact.



It’s hard to wait around for a reply from someone you’d love to connect with, and it’s laudable to want to be proactive and make sure you did all you could. But if you try to force someone else’s hand, even by taking advice that seems totally legit, you could end up turning off him or her off—for good. So, write an initial networking email you feel really good about, and then stay patient and professional. That way you’ll know you’re making the very best impression possible.