When it comes to follow-up emails, I think they fall into one of two distinct groups: Checking in because you’re desperately hoping for a response or circling back because you desperately need a response.
If you’ve ever job hunted before, you’re likely familiar with that first scenario. You’ve probably innocently popped back into the hiring manager’s inbox a few times with the faint hope that you’ll finally hear something back about next steps in the hiring process. Yes, that radio silence can be disheartening.
But, honestly, it’s the second group of follow-ups—the ones where you absolutely, frantically, without-a-doubt require a response—that can be downright infuriating.
Whether you’re waiting on a past-due piece of a project from a co-worker or you’re still keeping your eyes peeled for that necessary answer from your boss, not getting what you need when you need it can be frustrating at best. And, most of the time, this requires a different type of approach than those friendly “Just checking in!” messages you’re used to sending to potential employers or prospective clients.
So, here are four key tips to help you effectively follow up when you don’t just want a response, but absolutely need one.
1. Resist the Urge to Apologize
I don’t want to pester you. I’m sorry for clogging up your inbox. I hate to bother you about this again.
Sound familiar? They’re likely all lines you’ve used to kickoff a follow-up message. And, when you’re sending a polite email to someone like a hiring manager, they can be a somewhat effective way to segue into your request.
But, when you’re eagerly awaiting a response that someone legitimately owes you? Well, there’s really no need to apologize for that. You deserve a reply in order to continue moving forward with your own work—and that’s not something you need to be sorry for. You’ve done nothing wrong.
So, resist the overwhelming urge to begin your email with a bunch of half-hearted apologies and niceties. They really aren’t necessary.
2. Make it Easy
If you’re following up, you’ve probably already sent this person at least one (alright, a few) related emails before this one. And, chances are, your initial messages contained a lot of background information: What you need, why you need it, who you need it for, so on and so forth.
Of course, providing a little bit of context is important—the recipient should be able to glean the basics from just one email (without needed to scroll through that seemingly endless thread). However, remember that the key word there is the basics.
When you need a response, your best bet is to make it as easy as possible for that person to actually get back to you—which means you need to skip the fluff and get straight to the nitty gritty.
Don’t rely on that standard subject of “Following Up” and instead edit the subject line to clearly describe what’s needed. Use short sentences and paragraphs, and even use bullet points if it makes your message easier to skim.
Want bonus points? Include a deadline for when you need a response—in bold, if you’re feeling particularly brave. The easier your message is to read and reply to, the more likely you’ll be to actually get what you need.
Here’s an example of what this sort of email could look like:
Just reminding you that I’m still missing your graph contributions for the report that’s due at the end of the month. Here’s what I still need from you:
- Client Growth Chart
- Client Industries Chart
I need these from you by the end of the day on Monday, November 28 at the latest. Thanks!
3. Try Other Methods
We’ve all come to rely heavily on email—and for good reason. It’s a convenient and easy way to communicate.
However, considering we’re all perpetually drowning in our inboxes, it’s easy for those messages to get completely lost in the shuffle. People read your email and vow to respond to it later, only to have it get buried further and further down—meaning “later” never comes.
In a situation when you’re just hoping to receive a response, I typically wouldn’t recommend this approach (honestly, hiring managers don’t like being stalked). But, if you’re at a standstill waiting for the information you need, it might be time to venture out from behind your computer screen in the interest of getting that reply.
Pick up the phone, stop by that person’s desk, or mention it to her as you’re gathered around the coffee pot in the morning. Yes, this might push you over the line from persistent to pest. But, sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures.
4. Describe Next Steps
When all else fails, it’s time to describe how you’ll move forward if you just never get the response you need. No matter how many different tips and tactics you try, there are some people that just won’t get back to you. And, unfortunately, that doesn’t mean you can just wipe your hands of the whole thing. You need to adjust and move on.
You typically know when you’re sending your final follow-up message—your last ditch effort to get that person to finally press that “reply” button. So, when sending this final warning, end your message by detailing what will happen next if you don’t get what you need.
I know—that probably sounds a little threatening. But, it’s important that you make this clear to your recipient. Using our example from before, you could add a line like this to the bottom of that email:
If I don’t receive your charts by the deadline, I’ll move forward with finalizing the report with a note that explains that your contributions were never received.
A little harsher than you’re used to being? Yes. Effective? Definitely.
Hearing crickets in response to your emails is always frustrating—but it becomes especially irritating when you actually need an answer. And, that scenario often requires a different approach than the polite one you’re used to.
Implement these tips and you’ll improve your chances of finally getting that reply you’ve been waiting on. If not? Well, at least you’ll know you tried everything—short of sending a carrier pigeon (which, for the record, I wouldn’t recommend).
Photo of person following up courtesy of Hero Images/Getty Images.
Kat is a Midwest-based freelance writer, covering topics related to careers, productivity, and the freelance life. In addition to The Muse, she's a contributor all over the web and dishes out research-backed advice for places like Atlassian, Trello, Toggl, Wrike, The Everygirl, FlexJobs, and more. She's also an Employment Advisor at a local college, and loves helping students prepare to thrive in careers (and lives!) they love. When she manages to escape from behind her computer screen, she's usually babying her two rescue mutts or continuing her search for the perfect taco. Say hi on Twitter @kat_boogaard or check out her website.More from this Author