January 9, 2020

10 subject line tips when looking for work

5-minute read

Anyone who’s looking for work knows it can be a challenge to figure out what to write as a subject line for emails to prospective employers. After all, if no one opens your email, it doesn’t matter how great your cover letter and resume are.

So much depends on so few words.

It’s raining emails every day. Yours has to stick.That’s why our expert recruiters at TalentWorld say it’s worth your time to come up with excellent subject lines.

Consider this:

Lifewire reports the number of consumer and business emails sent per day around the world in 2018 was a mind-blowing 281+ billion. That number is projected to rise to 333 billion by 2022.

Here are some other Canadian stats about emails that could be relevant to job-hunters, according to a 2017 Carleton University survey of six companies:

  • People spend one-third of their time at the office dealing with emails, and 50% of their time when they work at home.
  • People spend 11.7 hours at work and 5.3 hours at home on emails—every week.
  • Each day, people send/receive 86 work-related emails from work and 25 from home.

The science behind the subject line

MailChimp conducted a major data study to find a winning formula for subject lines. Their system analyzed the subject lines of a whopping 24 billion emails. Sadly, there’s no magic formula for getting an email opened. Although some things can help.

TalentWorld’s expert recruiters looked at the data from the MailChimp study, and combined it with our job-hunting expertise, to put together this list of 10 subject line tips for those looking for work opportunities:

1. Follow the instructions.

If you’re responding to a job posting, follow the instructions for what to include in your subject line. Typically, you’ll be asked to include the job title, the job ID number (if there is one), and your name.  

2. Include the name of someone the reader will know.

Of course you should only do this if it’s appropriate. For example, “Jane Smith suggested I contact you” or “Referred by Jane Smith for the marketing position.” The data confirms that personalization does increase open rates.

3. Do your research.

Look online (LinkedIn especially) to see if the person you are emailing has written any blogs or articles that interest you, has done something you admire, or if you have unique activities in common. However, don’t claim to share activities if you don’t.  

Another way to personalize the subject line is to write something like, “Inspired by your article on X,” or ”fellow (school) alumni,” or “fellow diver would like to ask…” 

4. Never pretend to be friends with the reader.

We’re not surprised that the study found that inserting the reader’s name into the subject line does not improve open rates. 

Do not try to trick a reader who doesn’t know you by using their name and being informal rather than professional. Writing something like, “Hey David, you’ll love this resume,” could make people feel manipulated rather than respected.

5. Avoid these two words: “help” and “reminder.”

According to MailChimp data, the words “help” and “reminder” have poor open rates. These words trigger suspicion rather than interest.

If you’re writing to get guidance or input, don’t ask for “help” in the subject line. Instead, use words such as “advice,” “guidance,” “expertise,” “insight,” “input,” and “opinion.” If you’re sending an email to follow up, use the term “follow-up” in the subject line.

6. Thank people if it makes sense.

Everyone likes to be thanked, and there’s research to back this up So if you’re following up after an interview, write, “Thank you for…”

7. Use fewer characters.

Our study found subject lines should be 50 characters or fewer. Also, about half of all emails are read on smartphones, which typically cut off the subject line after 33 to 35 characters.

So put important words at the start of your subject line, since it may be all anyone sees. Don’t waste space with “hello,” or “do you have a minute?” Get straight to the point.

8. Don’t sell. Do tell.

Subject lines that tell, not sell, what’s in the email get the most attention and the highest open rates. 

So say it like it is, and describe the reason for the message. For example, this is an example of a subject line that describes what will be in the email: “Pharma marketing expert seeking contract.”

9. Keep it interesting, but keep it real.

Hyperbole backfires. People nowadays are wary and instantly delete over-the-top claims.

When you have a unique selling point—perhaps you have won awards or are a top-seller—put it in the subject line, but stick to the facts. For example, include “award-winning X…” or “top seller,” or “bilingual.” However, don’t use hard-sell lines such as “Stop your search; you’ve just found the best.”

10. Write and send yourself test subject lines.

Our expert recruiters at TalentWorld suggest taking time to write out a few subject lines until you get the wording just right. As always, we urge anyone looking for work to consider things from the point of view of the employer, the recruiter, or the contact.

Once you’ve written several options, send yourself four or so test emails, each with a different subject line. Imagine you’re the person receiving them.

Quickly scan the subject lines, and ask yourself, “Which of these emails would I be most willing to open?” 

Chances are you would pick the emails with the subject lines that tell you quickly and honestly what the emails are all about. And that is what employers are looking for too.

Also, remember that when it comes to sending emails to prospective employers, timing matters. There’s no sure way of knowing when the best time is to send unsolicited email, but studies suggest avoiding the weekend when people look less at their email.

Looking for a job? Makes sense since you’re reading this blog post. Check out our job postings and see where your talent can take you.

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