How to Write More Effective Networking Emails That Will Double Your Response Rate in 15 Minutes or Less
What’s your greatest weakness?
I’m not talking about the BS answer you give in an interview (‘I work too hard!’).
I mean your actual greatest weakness.
You might be thinking of weaknesses like “Well, I’m sort of disorganized… and sometimes I lose motivation … and sometimes I’m not good at delegating tasks.”
All of those may be real weaknesses, but they take a lot of time to fix.
But if you’re currently a student or you haven’t had much full-time work experience, you have another ‘greatest weakness’ that is easily fixable:
You can’t write effective emails.
In this post, I’m going to share:
- The top email mistakes I’ve seen – from both students and professionals.
- Examples of “emails gone astray” – kind of like watching a car accident in slow motion, but without the casualties and explosions.
- How to send effective networking emails for connecting on LinkedIn, setting up informational interviews, following up, asking about internships/jobs, and more.
- And yes: a collection of email templates that you can use for everything above.
This will be a fun one, so let’s get started:
Why Does Email Matter?
Despite the rise of social media, the business world still runs on email – and it will continue to do so for decades to come, if not forever.
Yes, you might use Instagram or Snapchat or Pinterest to talk to your friends, but you are not going to “pin” a client presentation with confidential financial projections to the CEO’s board.
So if you ever work in professional services (banking, consulting, accounting, law, etc.), you will need to be very good at communicating via email, or you’ll be out of a job quickly.
But you also need to write professional emails to network your way into these industries in the first place.
Yes, you can and should meet people at in-person events… but you will need to write a good number of emails to follow-up and stay in touch.
Finally, email matters a lot because you are bad at it.
I’m convinced that instant messaging, mobile messaging, Facebook, and other forms of online communication have made people dumber.
If you look at the average postal letter written in 1800 or 1900, it’s at least 2-3x more coherent than the average email written today… because you actually had to think before writing back then.
Here’s a rough estimate of what the thousands of emails I receive each year look like:
- 50%: Completely unintelligible; I have no idea what the person is asking. Google Translate doesn’t help because the “Gibberish” language is not supported.
- 25%: I can understand what the person is asking, with some effort, but he/she is stating it in a confusing or roundabout way. There are grammatical and/or spelling errors.
- 15%: These emails come close to being intelligible, but there are still careless errors.
- 10%: These emails are error-free and are perfect or nearly perfect in tone, content, and intent.
So How DO You Write an Effective Email?
This is a broad topic, but most of it comes back to the incredibly important article we published on communication skills in investment banking:
- Contact the Right Person – And this includes doing background research to see who the right person is.
- Use the Right Level of Detail – You should never write emails longer than a few sentences, but certain situations call for more detail, while others call for less detail.
- Use the Right Words – That’s what we’ll dig into in this article: how to avoid mistakes, how to phrase your requests appropriately, and how to sound like a seasoned professional rather than a newbie.
It’s easier to show you what not to do, so we’ll go through the top 7 email mistakes first – and then at the end I’ll give you my set of templates.
Final Note: This article is not about using email to sell a product or to raise money for your startup or anything like that – to keep it under 100,000 words, it is strictly about email in the context of networking into the finance industry.
Mistake #1: No Background Research
The most serious email mistake occurs before you ever hit the “Compose” button: you fail to research the person you are contacting.
At the very minimum, you should do the following before you write anything:
- Look at the person’s LinkedIn profile, and take note of where he/she has worked and studied before.
- Do a Google search for the person’s name plus the companies and schools associated with him/her.
- Figure out what your connection to the person is – the same school? A shared interest or hobby? A similar ethnic background? Similar industry/sector interests?
If you cannot find any connection, you could still contact the person but he/she should be lower on your priority list.
If you can find a connection, great… now you just have to leverage it correctly.
Mistake #2: Incorrect Email Setup
You should set up a separate Gmail account for networking purposes, and use it for networking only and nothing else.
You do NOT want to use a .edu address (unless you forward it to your Gmail address) because your .edu address will eventually expire. You want something permanent and separate.
This separate Gmail address should include your first name and last name, and middle initial and/or birth year if necessary, but nothing else (please, no more email addresses like “IKillUnicornz4562@gmail.com”).
Your signature should include your name, university or firm name, phone number, and email address:
UC Berkeley ‘[Graduation Year]
People receiving a high volume of email may forget some or all of that information unless you make it easy to find.
Mistake #3: Grammatical and Spelling Errors
If you are a native English speaker or you learned English before the age of 5, you have NO excuse for these errors.
If you never learned grammar in school, get a book and start learning.
If you are not a native speaker, you have a more legitimate excuse: the basic grammar of the English language is relatively simple, but there are tons of exceptions, special cases, and difficult-to-explain rules such as when to use “a / an” vs. “the” vs. nothing.
HOWEVER, many recruiters and finance professionals don’t care: they will just ignore you if your emails contain mistakes.
To illustrate, I’ll share the first part of an email sent by a reader who applied to numerous banks (I have redacted personal information to protect his privacy):
“This is [Name], junior from [University Name]. I applied for Summer Analyst position at [Bank Name]’s New York office. I wanted to follow-up with you on my application because I still haven’t got any notice from you. [Bank Name] has been my dream employer for years, so it would be sad if I didn’t have a chance to introduce myself to bankers at [Bank Name].”
In subsequent paragraphs, he went on to explain why he should receive an interview there – which itself is a questionable strategy (yes, you can do this, but keep it much shorter).
But let’s just focus on this paragraph.
Many recruiters and bankers would ignore this email because of the grammatical errors and inappropriate tone / word choices here:
- The first sentence is missing “a” before “junior.”
- The second sentence is missing “the” before “Summer Analyst position.”
- In the third sentence, you should never use a phrase like “haven’t got any notice from you” in a professional email. And the grammar is wrong because it should be “gotten” (not that “gotten” even belongs in an email like this, anyway).
- The fourth sentence, while not technically “wrong,” sounds very strange in a professional email.
An improved version of this paragraph might read:
“I am [Name], a junior at [University Name], and I recently applied for the Summer Analyst position at [Bank Name]’s New York office. I wanted to follow-up with you because I have not yet heard back regarding my application status. [Bank Name] is my first choice, so I would greatly appreciate the opportunity to interview with your team.”
If you could not detect the errors in this paragraph, then you should have a native speaker friend proofread your emails.
If you are not a native speaker and you’re reading this site right now, there’s a 90% chance your native language is Mandarin or Korean – so it should be easy to get help.
Plenty of Westerners want to learn Chinese for business reasons; a sizable number also want to learn Korean because they are obsessed with Korean dramas.
Find someone who wants to learn your language, and ask that person to spend an hour proofreading your emails each week in exchange for tutoring them or answering language-related questions for an hour.
You could also post on the Grammar Subreddit and ask for help or corrections.
Mistake #4: Inappropriate, Vague, or Useless Subject Lines
Here are the most common subject lines in emails I receive:
- Blank – Yes, really: no subject line at all.
- A single word that is impossible to interpret at a glance (ex: “help” or “debt” or “counseling” or “advice” or “Hi”).
- Several words that are still impossible to interpret (ex: “New Things” or “Excel Worksheet” or “Alien Husband”).
The solution is simple: don’t think, just use the following set of pre-approved subject lines (or variations, such as “Full-Time Roles” or “Analyst Roles” instead of “Internships” in the examples below):
- [University Name] Student – [Industry Abbreviation, e.g. IB or PE] Internships
- [Firm Name] – Summer Internships
- [University Name] Student – [Industry Name] Internships
- [University Name] student seeking career advice
- [Person’s Name] – Referral – [Industry Abbreviation, e.g. IB or PE] Internships
- Thanks for your time on [Day]
Use subject lines that are:
- Specific – Give a university / business school / firm name, or an idea of what you want to discuss.
- Credible – If you’re reaching out to a referral, mention your mutual contact; if it’s a cold email, establish credibility by mentioning your firm or school.
- Actionable – Whenever possible, give the person an idea of what you’re requesting as well (Time to speak? Career advice? A referral?).
Mistake #5: Incorrect Tone, Inappropriate Requests, and Poor Word Choices
One common misconception about the English language is that “there are no formality levels.”
True, it lacks verb conjugations based on formality, and there are no honorifics or special titles…
BUT you still use different language when writing a business professional email. Specifically, you:
- Avoid Exclamations / Smiley Faces / Emoticons – Never use these under any circumstances.
- Avoid “Imperative” Statements – No, you do not want to give a Managing Director or C-level executive “orders” or anything that sounds like “orders.”
- Soften Your Requests and Use Less Direct Language – “Please review my resume” = bad; “I would greatly appreciate any advice you have on refining my resume for opportunities in this field” = acceptable. Think “suggestion” – not “order.”
To illustrate these points, I’ll dissect a networking email that an M&I reader sent out and explain the missteps in each section:
SUBJECT: [Name] – Thank You!
Diagnosis: Delete the exclamation. Do not use your name in the subject when your name is also in the “From” field. Just “Thank you” or “Thanks for your time today” would suffice.
BODY, Paragraph 1:
“Thanks a lot for taking the time to speak with me today! Your advice is important and valuable.”
Diagnosis: Replace “!” with “.” It sounds weird to describe advice as “important and valuable”; use “I really appreciate your advice and guidance” or “I really appreciate the advice you have given me.”
BODY, Paragraph 2:
“Also, both Word and PDF versions of my resume are attached. Can you please review it and let me know your thoughts?”
Diagnosis: The first sentence is better in the active voice: “Also, I have attached both Word and PDF versions of my resume.” Replace the second sentence with “I would greatly appreciate any advice you have on refining it for investment banking internship applications.”
Side Note: You should just attach a PDF version of your resume to avoid the implication that you want the other person to edit it.
BODY, Paragraph 3:
“I can’t thank you enough for your mentorship and guidance. Let’s stay in touch!”
Diagnosis: Repeat after me: no exclamations. This is also too much of an “imperative” statement and would sound better as: “Thanks again for your mentorship and guidance. I’ll be sure to keep you apprised of any developments on my end, and I look forward to staying in touch.”
Diagnosis: “Best” is too casual. Use “Best regards” or “Sincerely” or even “Thanks” instead.
Bonus Points: This email would also be better if he gave a “polite decline” option after asking for the resume review. For example:
“I know you are extremely busy and I understand if you cannot make the time – but if you have a few minutes, I would really appreciate it and it would make a big difference in my internship search.”
Mistake #6: Emails That Are Too Long or Too Short
Yes, emails that are too short can also be a problem. If you provide insufficient context around your request, the other person will not respond.
Here are my rules of thumb on email length:
- Never write a truly “long” email – if it is over 10 sentences, you’re doing something wrong. Ideally, it will be closer to 5 sentences or less.
- Short emails (1-2 sentences) are most appropriate for follow-up after a conversation or in-person meeting, or if you have not received a response to your initial email.
- Longer emails (3-7 sentences) are best for your initial outreach to alumni or referrals, or for cold emailing to ask directly about internships or full-time opportunities.
Mistake #7: Lack of a Specific Request or Call-to-Action
You don’t need this if you’re just sending a “Thank you” note, but in other situations you need some type of request: a 5-minute chat, a referral, a resume review, or anything, really.
But you have to phrase it in a less direct way:
- Bad: “I have attached my resume. Could you please review it and give me your opinion?”
- Good: “I have attached my resume. I would greatly appreciate any advice you have on further refining it for investment banking opportunities.”
- Bad: “Could we please set up a call so you can share your career insights?”
- Good: “I know you are extremely busy, but I was hoping you might be willing to speak with me for a few minutes to discuss how you changed careers successfully. No worries if you are too busy to do this, but I would greatly appreciate any insights you could share.”
- Bad: “Are any other teams at your bank hiring?”
- Good: “I was wondering if you might know whether any other teams at your firm are experiencing high deal flow and are in need of interns. If any teams have the capacity, I could be of immediate assistance given my private equity background and financial skill set.”
How to Fix These Mistakes: Your Own Collection of Email Templates
Easy: use my templates.
Yes, you read that correctly: click here to download the investment banking email templates.
This document includes examples for LinkedIn outreach, cold emails asking for internships, informational interview requests, thank you notes and follow-up emails, and more.
These templates are more appropriate for students seeking internships, but you can certainly tweak and apply these templates for full-time roles, lateral hiring, and other situations.
Beyond this sample, there are also dozens of additional email templates included in the IB Networking Toolkit we offer.
You can check the full course outline there for the details, but we cover all the scenarios above, plus other cases, such as reaching out to recruiters, staying in touch with co-workers, cold-email/follow-up scenarios, and more.
There are also “executed examples” so you can see exactly how to write real emails using these templates.
While I give away a ton of free information on this site, most of our email training, tips, and templates are in the IB Networking Toolkit.
Your Greatest Weakness?
There’s a good chance that your greatest weakness is your inability to write effective emails.
Fortunately, it’s also an easy-to-fix weakness if you understand the guidelines and examples above and use the templates.
Since you made it this far, I’ll also make another offer: post your draft emails in the comments below, and I’ll correct them or offer suggestions.
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