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You’ve spent hours – possibly even days – perfecting your résumé, and you’ve crafted a unique cover letter that’s bound to grab the hiring manager’s attention. In other words, you’re ready to email your application for the job of your dreams.
Have you given any thought to your email’s subject line?
It may seem like a tiny, unimportant detail, but it’s one that could cost you the job if you don’t get it right.
Indeed, according to a Business2Community infographic, 47% of email recipients decide to open or delete an email based on its subject line alone. To give that percentage some context, 47 out of 100 hiring managers might ignore your email if it has an anticlimactic, spammy or generic subject line.
Even though the remaining 53 hiring managers are likely to open your email (which aren’t entirely terrible odds), you want every single one of them to open your email to ensure job search success.
So, how do you go about writing a subject line that boosts open rates and, resultantly, increases your chances of getting invited for an interview?
Here are the seven best email subject lines to use when applying for a job.
1. Address the hiring manager by name
If you know the name of the hiring manager who will be reviewing your job application, you’ll likely be addressing your cover letter to them specifically.
And it’s a good idea to address them by name in your subject line, too.
Hi Derek – Here’s My Résumé for the Graphic Designer Position
I know - it may seem weird and perhaps even a little corny to drop their name like this, but there’s a method to the madness.
It’s actually a little psychological trick.
Whatever the situation, hearing (or reading) your own name is a powerful sensation. Self-help guru, Dale Carnegie, said it best in his best-selling book How to Win Friends and Influence People [paid link]: ‘A person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language’.
Think about whenever someone uses your name in conversation: ‘Hey Ben!’, ‘How are the kids, Jane?’, ‘That’s a great idea, Sophie!’. You feel acknowledged and that all attention is on you, and you’re instantly pulled into the conversation.
And that’s exactly the goal here - to grab the hiring manager’s attention and persuade them into opening your email.
2. Use the position title and vacancy number
A single job vacancy typically receives between 75 and 250 applications. That’s a lot of résumés that recruiters need to get through.
Now, imagine what happens when they’re advertising multiple roles: their inbox is bombarded with incoming mail, and it can be incredibly overwhelming filtering through applications – particularly when jobseekers use a generic subject line like ‘Job Application’. (As a hiring manager, I can attest that this is beyond annoying for the person reviewing applications, while it simply makes the applicant seem lazy and indifferent about the position.)
A good email subject line, in this case, would include the position title and vacancy number, along with your name.
Managing Accountant – ID# MA1968 – Frank Butcher
The recruiter will certainly appreciate your making their life slightly easier – and if you make life easier for them, then that makes you useful, which is bound to score you brownie points.
3. List your experience
Hiring managers aren’t interested in applicants who aren’t qualified to do the job or who don’t have the right experience for it, so advertising your background front and centre tells the recipient that you’ve got what it takes to do the job from the get-go.
Let’s say you’re a graphic designer and the job description notes that candidates must have at least five years’ experience to be considered for the role. If you fit the bill, be sure to list your experience in the subject line, especially if you have an impressive work history.
Jennifer Andrews – Graphic Designer with 10 Years’ Experience
This tells the hiring manager that you’re qualified for the job, and they won’t think twice about opening your email.
4. Include your credentials
What’s the point of having credentials and professional designations if you’re not going to take advantage of them in your job search?
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with showing off the success you’ve had from putting in endless hours of work towards your degrees and certifications, and including them in your subject line can be particularly powerful if the job description lists your credential as a requirement.
Employers hiring a professional résumé writer, for example, typically require that candidates are certified by a reputable industry organisation, and advertising their credentials in this way will help them stand out from the competition.
Dorothy Smith, NCRW – Résumé Writer Application
If you have more than one relevant credential, feel free to include them all. That said, don’t overdo it. Indeed, if you end up listing 10 different credentials here, hiring managers might feel that you’re overqualified (and an expensive hire) and could skip your application altogether. Only feature two or three relevant credentials in your subject line, and save the rest for your résumé.
5. Use a referral’s name
One of the great things about networking is that you can tap into your Rolodex of contacts when you’re looking for a new job and ask around for a referral for a suitable position, either at their own company or at another organisation.
They’ll gladly oblige, particularly if you’re willing to return the favour somehow, and dropping their name in the subject line is bound to capture the hiring manager’s attention – especially when your referral is a heavyweight in their industry.
Referral by Elon Musk for Avionics Systems Engineer Position
It’s kind of hard to ignore!
Of course, always ask your referral for permission before using their name. The last thing you want to do is make things awkward for them if they’re caught off guard when contacted by the hiring manager.
6. Include relevant keywords
Hiring managers receive countless emails each day, especially at larger companies, and many of those emails have nothing to do with job applications, so they probably won’t focus on your email when they first see it. This is especially true if they’ve set up filters and folders to manage their inbox.
That’s why it’s a good idea to include relevant keywords in your subject line, like ‘Job Application’ or the position name. This makes your email searchable for them later.
You can also include more ‘niche’ keywords that relate to your skills and industry. Let’s say you’re applying for a content manager position: read the job description again and identify two or three keywords that apply to your skillset, and incorporate these into your subject line.
John Miller – Content Manager – Social Media and SEO Expert
Not only does this make your email more noticeable in a flooded inbox, but it also gives the hiring manager a sneak peek into what you can bring to the table.
7. Follow the instructions
If the job ad provides specific instructions for the subject line, follow them to a T and ignore all the other methods above.
Now really isn’t the time to get creative!
You, of course, want to stand out from the competition, but formatting your subject line in a way other than what’s specifically requested of you will make you stand out for all the wrong reasons. After all, hiring managers might wonder how you can be trusted to perform the job when you can’t even follow basic instructions, and they’ll likely discard your application as a result.
Let’s say the ad asks you to format your subject like so: ‘[Your Name] – Application for Social Media Manager (#1968)’. Copy and paste the text into your email subject line exactly as provided, replacing ‘[Your Name]’ with – you got it – your name.
Annie Richards – Application for Social Media Manager (#1968)
The devil is in the details here, so don’t try to adjust anything that you think needs ‘improving’, like moving ‘#1968’ out of the brackets.
Remember: hiring managers are focused on weeding out candidates whose applications don’t fit the bill. Don’t give them a reason to put yours in the ‘No’ pile before they even review it!
Tips for writing an effective email subject line
Whether you choose to use any of the methods above or have your own go-to email subject line for job applications, here are some important pointers to keep in mind:
1. Keep it short
Hiring managers review applications on different devices using different email clients that have different subject line character display limits. As such, the shorter you keep your subject line, the better. Ideally, it should be no longer than nine words or 60 characters, based on research from Mailchimp.
2. Use minimal punctuation
Mailchimp also recommends using no more than three punctuation marks in your subject line, explaining that ‘too many [...] can make your email look like spam’. Meanwhile, stick to one type of punctuation mark, like a colon or an en dash, and avoid symbols like question marks, exclamation marks, asterisks or, worse, emojis.
3. Avoid words that trigger spam filters
One thing that jobseekers often forget is that email applications are prone to spam filters. The best way to ensure your email doesn’t get filtered to the hiring manager’s junk folder (which they may forget to check or sometimes don’t even bother checking) is to avoid using words in the subject line (and, indeed, email body) that trigger those filters.
HubSpot published a comprehensive list of spam words (which includes ‘opportunity’, ‘please read’, ‘sample’ and ‘urgent’) that’s worth checking out.
4. Use title case
Research from Yesware shows that subject lines written in title case get the best results in terms of open and reply rates, at 54.3% and 32.3%, respectively. (Refresher: Title case is the capitalisation of every word except for ‘minor’ words, such as articles, prepositions and conjunctions.)
I can’t stress enough the importance of proofreading your subject line. It’s the hiring managers’ first impression of you, and a glaring typo could mean instant removal of your application from consideration – especially if you’re applying for a job that requires extraordinary attention to detail, such as an editorial position.
Whether you’re applying for a job or inquiring about available opportunities at a company, an attention-grabbing subject line will pique the recipient’s curiosity and inevitably convince them to open your email.
But remember, this is just one step of the entire application process. Your email subject line is merely your shop window. A well-thought-out cover letter and a strong résumé are what will get your foot in the door – and our expert résumé writers can help you do just that.
Got any questions about writing an email subject line for a job application? Let us know in the comments section below!