Wrong Way sign

Three reasons you’re not getting answers to your networking emails

I have gotten several versions of the following question in the last days:

Hi Michelle,

I have been trying to follow your guide and I have started to send out networking emails but I’m not getting replies. What am I doing wrong?

– Ibrahim

I admit I was quite surprised at these emails. It’s true that nobody gets answers to 100% of their networking emails: some people are just busy, others never answer emails from people they don’t know, and for others, you may have an email address that is outdated. But if you’re not getting answers to at least 20% of your emails (and really, you should be getting answers to about 30% of them), then there’s something going on.

I have seen three types of mistakes that are very easy to avoid when writing networking emails.

1. Your emails have many grammar and spelling mistakes.

Quite frankly, writing is a core skill for the majority of jobs in international development. Most international development jobs require you to write reports and to communicate in writing with donors, partners, and with your supervisors. There are many people you will only meet through email when working in international development, and writing professional emails is a skill that you will need.

So although an email that has one or two mistakes is ok (and probably just reflects that you went back and forth, making changes to make sure your point was coming across), emails that do not have punctuation, that are all in lower case, or that reflect only a basic knowledge of English probably won’t get a good response rate.

2. Your emails are too informal

This is another common mistake, and probably also reflects a generational divide. Do remember that many of the people that you are writing to think of email as a form of professional communication. Even people who are at your level expect a certain level of formality from a stranger who is contacting them and asking them for advice.

I would think of these emails as a business card. They should be professional enough so that you’d be comfortable having them shared publicly. And believe me, these will often be shared. Often, you’ll write to someone you want to meet, and they’ll decide that it would be better if you met their colleagues, and will share your email with their whole team!

3. Your emails are too long

Yes, it is true that your networking emails need to show that you’ve done some basic research and have very concrete reasons why you’ve chosen to write to this particular person. It is also true that your emails should say something about you. But some of you have sent me sample emails that are 3-4-5-6-7 (!) paragraphs long. Really, your email was supposed to just ask people for a quick meeting to get advice. Remember, people are busy. The only purpose of your email is to get people to want to talk to you for 20 minutes. That’s all!

In the next few days, when you write your networking emails, do try to avoid these few mistakes. My next email will go beyond my Guide to Getting a Job in International Development and will give you templates that you can use when sending your first networking emails to someone you do not know.

Until then, I’d love to hear from you. Please do let me know if I can help with your job search! I answer every single email.



P.S. If you want to sign up to my mailing list, you can do so here. If you sign up, you’ll get more emails like this one and you’ll get notified when I complete my next guides. I think you’ll like what I’m putting together.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash