Networking can be the perfect catalyst for professional growth. And thanks to today’s technology, you don’t even have to leave your home or office to make new connections.
But just like in-person networking, you only get one chance to make a great first impression. A subject line can make or break your networking opportunities.
Why networking matters
According to a LinkedIn survey of about 16,000 professionals, 80 percent of our workforce considers professional networking to be a top driver of career success, and 70 percent say, in 2016, they were hired at a company where they knew someone. Sixty-one percent say regular online interaction with their professional network can lead to more job opportunities. The survey even found everyday career opportunities—business deals, partnerships, etc.—get a boost when we network. Whether in-person or virtually, networking is considered the way to advance your career.
Sonia Ashok, a physician-turned-career coach, says you should expect the majority of your networking these days to be online, so it’s crucial that you have a superb email that acts as a strong introduction to who you are, and can serve as an excellent first interaction in what may continue to be an entirely virtual relationship. “Having a good pitch and having a good connection from the very start is going to help them know how they can specifically help you,” Ashok says.
Career consultant Tiffani Murray agrees, and she adds that digital networking can be more efficient than in-person networking events because you can write up emails, post in social media groups, and reconnect with people in just a few hours a week. “You can join groups on LinkedIn and other social media sites that are focused on your professional practice area,” she says. “There are groups for IT, marketing, accounting, manufacturing, retail professionals, and more. Join, but try to also engage in group discussions as this is a great way to expand your network virtually. Participate in online webinars hosted by vendors or professional associations. Many of these virtual events allow for ways to chat with other participants. You can also ask a question in the forums to engage with speakers or panelists. After the events are over look to add these contacts to your virtual network.”
Murray also says networking of all kinds is an opportunity to help diversify our workforce. For so long, people have leaned on their close personal connections to get jobs, but that practice has denied opportunities to many marginalized groups. “I think that the challenges that people of color and women have is getting that invitation to the party,” she says. “Networks are usually groups of people who are associated through one common activity or background or common workplace. Historically, there have been barriers to entry to these organizations that women and people of color have had to overcome. The challenge for women and people of color is to break into circles that may not otherwise have a red carpet rolled out.”
Whether as a recruiter, hiring manager, job seeker, or ladder-climber, expanding your networking beyond your comfort zone—the homogenous groups you might normally interact with—helps to address systemic issues that keep people from advancing. “When we think of networking, we think of going to the same place we’ve always gone, but if you are trying to expand that circle, expand that reach, or reach into new circles, you can’t really approach it in the same old way,” Murray says. “It’s almost like a workout. What worked for you three years ago may not work with where you’re trying to go now, you have to explore, and you won’t know what’s going to work if you keep staying in the same pattern.”
3 questions to ask when writing a subject line for networking email results
Now that we’ve gone over the importance of networking, let’s talk about writing a great subject line to make networking over email a success. The subject line is, after all, your first hurdle, and statistics show you have less than five seconds to convince an email recipient to open your message, so understanding how to write a subject line that captivates is key.
Before you hit send, make sure you ask yourself the following three questions.
1. Would I say this in real life?
Take a moment to say your subject line out loud. If it feels awkward to say, it’s probably awkward to read. You want it to sound authentic as well. Ashok says, “Connect with them based on any kind of shared background, for example you went to the same university or you have a shared interest that you can find on their LinkedIn page. Perhaps you read an article they wrote or published.”
2. How would I react if I was the recipient?
Is your subject line confusing or intriguing? If you can see yourself ignoring the email because of the subject line, so might the recipient. “One of the things that will likely put new prospective members of your network off is to immediately ask for something in the first email or outreach,” Murray says. “This is acceptable if reaching out to a Recruiter who has explicitly stated on their online profile that they are open to meeting new potential candidates, but in general, no one wants to be greeted with a sales pitch. Be tactful and patient. Building a strong and solid professional network happens over time, not overnight.”
3. Does it set the right tone?
What is the tone and intent of the email behind the subject line? Make sure they compliment each other. Ashok says, from the subject line to the email body, specificity is key: “When you’re reaching out for networking, show that you know the organization and have done research about that person and that you’re coming from an informed place. You’re not just reaching out to say, ‘Tell me more about Microsoft.’ You’ve really done research on the organization that you’re reaching out about, and be really specific about the information you want to share. You can even say you’ve done a lot of research about that organization and you have a comment about one of the things you’ve seen, and tell them about an idea you have about something you’re interested in improving.”
Examples of networking email subject lines to use
When composing a great networking email subject line, have a goal in mind. With only 41 characters, this takes some practice. Here are a few suggestions to consider.
Show a common acquaintance
Personalizing a subject line is great (and the greeting in your email) but it helps even more to include the name of someone you both know.
Hi, Kerry - Brad sent me
Lisa thought we should talk
Maggie says you’re the expert in H.R.
Kendra – our mutual connection
Create a link through a common interest
Use common ground, like shared schools or hobbies, to break the ice.
Fellow Iowa State alumna – Go Cardinals!
Volunteering at Ronald McDonald House
Extra opening for our girls’ spa day
Fellow woman in tech – let’s connect!
Hello from a fellow Alpha Kappa Alpha!
Women Designers LinkedIn Group
Don’t be afraid to get right to the point. If the recipient knows your intent, they’ll be more likely to respond than if they were caught off-guard.
Can I pick your brain about marketing?
Great presentation! Can I ask a question?
Would love to get coffee and chat
Open to a quick informational interview?
Read more: How to Network without Feeling Gross
Murray says you can also use job opportunities as openers for networking emails, especially if you’re interested in ones that are currently posted. “I advise my resume and career clients to ask about opportunities or if they have established a connection and have had previous communication with someone at a place they wish to work, provide them with job information they have found online,” she says. “An actual job posting gives the person something to inquire about within their organization. If there are no posted jobs, you can always inquire about future hiring needs and sharing your resume to be included for future consideration.”
Reference their work
You want the person you’re emailing to know you did your research, and you’re not just looking for a transactional relationship. Tell them why they, specifically, are on your connection short list. “Perhaps you heard them present in a virtual webinar or liked the question they asked in the chat,” Murray says. “Or maybe you have shared contacts in your networks or a similar background. Mention this in your message to establish a genuine connection.”
Enjoyed your [name of book/recent column] – let’s connect!
Your platform does amazing work
Heard you speak at TED X, would love to connect
Love your product – one suggestion
Saying hello + question about [product/column/topic]
Read your article – thought this would interest you
Your role on Smithfield’s advisory committee
Last Thursday’s panel
Examples of networking email subject lines to avoid
There are a few subject lines that are better to avoid. Are you guilty of any of the following?
Trying to make a sale right out of the gate
If you’re trying to make a sale without first making a connection, you can bet your email will stay unread.
Let’s talk about a new business insurance policy
You would love our CRM software
Being too vague
Less is more when it comes to email subject lines, but not including enough information can be a turn-off. “A lot of times if that email is really generic, like a lot of other requests like that, they can tend to ignore it, or give a very superficial or brief response, because they don’t know what exactly you need,” Ashok says. “So the biggest advice I have when people are trying to connect with others is to actually ask for what you need and be really specific.”
Hi. Let’s connect
Up for collaborating?
Making the connection
While there’s no universal subject line that guarantees an open and response, there are some methods that work better than others. If you’re unsure whether an email is the way to go, consider picking up the phone instead. “If the contact is someone you have not been in touch with, but you have previously worked with them face to face and have their phone number, take the time to call,” Murray says. “You can leave a voicemail or if they answer mention that you are looking to catch up for a chat. If they are busy, find out when they might have 15–20 minutes for a dialogue.”
Otherwise, just remember to remain authentic and consider the goal of your subject line. With a bit of practice, you’ll be a subject line for networking email expert in no time.
About our sources
Sonia Ashok is a physician and happiness-at-work coach. After pivoting through roles in medicine, public policy, and tech, she founded the Connective Coalition as a global movement to empower women to be more confident, more resilient, and more successful in their careers. Her vision is to create an army of strong female leaders who will lift up the next generation.
Tiffani Murray is an award winning Human Resources leader with over 15 years of experience at leading companies across multiple industries including consumer products, retail, automobile, hospitality, consulting and construction. She is also the owner of Personality On a Page, a career consulting and resume writing firm, advising job seekers at all levels. She’s been a National Diversity Board Member at a prior organization and has a passion for culture and engagement initiatives for professionals in the workforce, as people are the greatest asset to any organization. She attended Spelman College and Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Georgia.