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Advice / Job Search / Networking

How to Get Anyone (Yes, Anyone) to Reply to Your Emails

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When it comes to email, I think there’s one conclusion we can all agree on: You want people to respond. Otherwise, why would you invest the time in writing them?

“Well, sure,” you’re muttering at your computer screen right now, while shaking your head, “But, that’s way easier said than done.”

I get it. Inspiring people to actually hit that “reply” button is a challenge—particularly when that recipient is important, in-demand, and incredibly busy. When you know you’re only adding one more note to an inbox that’s already stuffed to the gills, it’s easy to resign yourself to the fact that your message will only collect dust.

What if that wasn’t the case? What if there was something you could do to greatly increase your chances of receiving a response? Great news: there is.

So, What’s This Helpful Email Trick?

I recently read this article, published on LinkedIn by author and communication expert, Zak Slayback.

Within the post, he mentions several pieces of advice that are helpful when emailing busy people. But, the one that really stands out is this: Don’t be a time-suck.

It’s important to remember that busy people are, well, busy. So, if your message looks like it will take a lot of effort and elbow grease to respond to, it’s probably going to be left for later (and then likely forgotten for eternity).

How can you demonstrate that it’s actually easier to reply to your email immediately than it is to save it for a later time? By being explicitly (almost painfully) clear with your ask.

Wait a Minute…I’m Already Making Specific Requests

Now’s the part where you get defensive. “Hey, I graduated Email 101!” you’re saying right now, “Duh, I’m already including clear asks within my messages.”

It’s easy to think that. But, I’m willing to bet that you aren’t as specific as you like to think you are. Spoiler alert: Things like “pick your brain,” “would love your feedback,” or “let’s connect” don’t constitute as clear requests.

“They just signal, ‘Time Suck!’ to the Very Busy Person but look like clear asks to the sender,” Slayback explains, “The sender then is confused or offended when the Very Busy Person does not respond.”

So, the secret to success in getting replies is not only making your request clear, but also making it incredibly easy to address. Let’s look at an example to illustrate this difference.

Instead of typing something like:

I’d love to pick your brain and find out more about pursuing a career in engineering. Can we schedule a time to chat?

You would write:

I’m working on finding out more about the career field and I’d love to hear from you: What’s the one key skill you think someone needs in order to be successful in engineering?

See the difference? That incredibly busy recipient could reply to that second question with just one word if he or she wanted—as opposed to needing to look into who you are, coordinate his or her schedule, and decide whether or not you’re worth the time for an extended conversation.

But What About Everything Else I Want to Ask?

I know what you’re thinking: I have way more that I want from that person than one simple email could hold.

When you feel like getting in touch with someone is going to be a lot like pulling teeth anyway, it’s tempting to think that you should cram absolutely everything you need into that one message. However, that’s actually the worst approach.

“The life of a Very Busy Person is constantly managing the intersection of the urgent and the important,” Slayback explains within the article, “Your email is probably neither for them, so you should make the cost of responding essentially zero.”

Put simply, you need to start with something straightforward and easy. Once you have a response, you can continue building on that momentum. Rest assured, it doesn’t need to happen all at once.