7 things job-hunters need to know about subject lines


You’ve pasted your covering letter into the email.  You’ve attached your resume.  Finally,  you are ready to hit ‘send’.  But not so fast!  You still have about six important words left to write.  It is these words that can get your email noticed, or deleted, in a flash.

The subject line!  So much depends on so little.

Just about everyone at some point in their job-seeking efforts has stared long and hard at the word Subject and worried, “What do I write?”

It’s an excellent question.  There are an estimated 89 billion business emails sent every day around the world.   With inboxes flooded 24/7, people nowadays are eager to eliminate, without stopping to investigate, any unsolicited mail.

Concerned, MailChimp recently conducted a study of subject lines to find the magic bullet.  The online specialists in e-newsletters analyzed the open rates for more than 200 million emails.   Sadly, there is no hard and fast rule to ensure someone will open your email.

But our expert recruiters at The Bagg Group have taken a look at the findings of MailChimp’s research and put together this tip list to help your email break through the clutter.

We know a thing or two about subject lines.  The Bagg Group has five divisions, which all told, successfully place thousands of candidates every year across the GTA.  As you can imagine, our work means we get barraged with incoming emails.  So here’s our advice…

No surprise, people open personal messages the most.  The MailChimp study found that after opening personal messages, people will open emails from affiliations and those that offer timely, relevant news.

  • Tip #1:  If you can, make your subject line personal by using a name that the recipient knows.  If you’ve been referred to the recipient, don’t save it for the body of the copy, let the reader know right away.  For example, write: Jane Smith suggested I contact you or Referred by Jane Smith for marketing position.

Two words to avoid:  The MailChimp researchers say they didn’t anticipate that the words help and reminder would have poor open rates, but they do.  It seems these words trigger suspicion more than interest.

  • Tip # 2:  If possible, ask for the recipient’s opinion, input, expertise, insight instead of help.  For example, Request your input on job opportunities.
  • If you are sending an email to follow up on an action that the recipient agreed to take, use the word follow-up rather than reminder.

Don’t pretend to be friends:  The study found the use of the recipient’s name in the subject line does not improve open rates.

  • Tip #3:  Don’t try to trick a recipient who doesn’t know you by being informal rather that professional.  Writing for example, Hey David, you’ll love this resume makes people feel manipulated rather than respected.

Less is more:  The study found subject lines should be 50 characters or less.  Also, about 50% of emails are read on smartphones, which typically cut off the subject line after 33 to 35 characters (in portrait view).

  • Tip #4:  Put important words at the start of your subject line –it may be all anyone sees.  Don’t waste space with hello, or do you have a minute? Get straight to the point.

Subjects lines that tell, not sell, what’s in the email get the most attention. The emails with the highest open rates have subject lines that do what they are meant to do –describe the reason for the message.

  • Tip #5:  Say it like it is.  For example, Pharma marketing expert seeking contract.   
  • Also, if responding to an actual job posting, include the position, ID number (if there is one) and your name in the subject line.   Many professionals have filters and folders set up to manage their email so it’s important to include keywords so the system knows where to place your email.

Keep it interesting, but keep it real:  Hyperbole backfires. People nowadays are wary and instantly delete over-the-top claims.

  • Tip # 6:  When you have a unique selling point –perhaps you have won awards or are a top-seller — put it in the subject line, but keep to the facts.  For example, put in Award-winning … (fill in blank), or Top-seller, or Bilingual, but don’t use hard-sell such as Stop your Search, you’ve just found the Best.

Timing may matter: There’s no sure way of knowing when is the best time to send an unsolicited email, but studies suggest avoiding the weekend when people look less at their email.

Our recruiters at Bagg ProfessionalBagg Technology Resources (BTR), Bagg @ Your Services, Bagg Managed Resources and Turn Key Staffing Solutions all agree that it’s a good idea to take some time and write out a few subject lines until you get the wording right.

As always, we urge our candidates to see things from the point of view of the hiring manager –or in this case, the recipient of the email.

  • The best tip of all:  Send yourself four or so test emails, each with a different subject line.  Imagine yourself as the person you are sending your email to, look at the screen with all the test emails, and ask yourself, “Which of these emails would I be most willing to open? Which would I find easiest to understand, which would I find confusing, annoying, or distrustful?” Chances are you would pick the email with the subject lines that tells you quickly and honestly what it’s all about.

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