Career Network for student Scientists and Postdocs at Yale

Creating a platform for discussion of scientific careers

(When To) Send Your Follow-Up Email

It’s been three business days and five actual days since the CNSPY Third Annual Networking Event, and by now you should have sent all of your follow-up emails.

But if you haven’t, it’s ok! You can certainly still do it, and by putting it off… you may have actually done yourself a small favor. Read on!

Have you ever considered the timing of your follow-up email?

WHEN you send your email can be just as critical as what you write in it.

We’re all told to send it the next day, or maybe even two days afterwards, to remind our potential network connections who we are and express our interest in building a relationship with them.

But think about this… following an organized event, if everyone follows the same guidelines and everyone emails the same network connection at roughly the same time, your email will be lost in a sea of very similar emails. With so many emails of the same nature flooding someone’s inbox, they’re likely to brush them all off and “deal with them later,” which may or may not actually happen.

Alternatively, if you waited just a touch longer (after the rush had passed) and sent your email three or four days after the event (maybe even five days later), your email may be the lone “It was greet meeting you” subject line waiting in someone’s inbox.

The odds of someone opening one of these emails and responding are much higher than the probability of them opening multiple emails and responding to all of them.

Just as we’ve highlighted before that you want your conversation to stand out AT the event, you also want your email to stand out AFTER the event. So strategize!

Think about what everyone else will likely do, and then do something different.

Additionally, waiting a little longer (but not too long!) to send your email can prevent your potential network connection from getting the wrong idea about you.

If you send an email on Friday morning at 9am after a Thursday night cocktail hour networking event, you will come across as over-eager, verging on desperate. This can overwhelm your network connection (i.e. “Whoa!”). This eagerness can also be very off-putting to a potential employer because it gives the impression that you are clinging to them as if they were your lifeline. No employer wants to hire someone that everyone else passed up, so don’t give the impression that this is your only hope of finding a job.

Another thing to consider is that some career mentors have families to care for, and being out late on a weeknight can throw off their normal routine and overstretch them. They’ll get home later than usual but still have all of the regular chores to do, so they’ll get to bed later but still have to get up early in the morning to get the kids ready for school and get themselves off to another day of work. Let’s face it… they may need a day or so to recover, and hearing from the very people who were the reason for their late night is probably the last thing they want to deal with first thing the following morning.

Give them some space. Give them a chance to recover and get back to their normal routines before asking for additional favors, keeping in mind that their attendance at the event was a HUGE favor in and of itself!

So… much like the old-school dating rules – “wait at least X number of days before calling him/her” – wait at least a day or two before you do anything, and if it was an organized event with many participants, waiting longer than that (perhaps 3-4 days) may help your email stand out.

In all of this… an important point that needs to be made here is that “days” refers to “business days.”

In our case, the CNSPY Annual Networking Event was held on a Friday. It is never advisable to send a follow-up email on the weekend… for many reasons:

  1. Respect their weekends. Many scientists leave academia because the hours are never-ending, and they want their weekends. It’s very possible that, in their non-academic world, weekends are reserved for family, friends, and “me” time. Sending them a work-related email on the weekend suggests that you expect work to continue on Saturday and Sunday (which may be true), but if work stops on the weekends for them, it’s best that you respect it. And since it’s impossible to predict whether someone does or doesn’t work on the weekends, it’s best to play it safe and hold-off until the following week.
  2. You’ll look over-eager. What did we just talk about? With an event on Friday evening, sending a follow-up email at 9am on Saturday morning is WAY too soon! Not only will you come off as over-eager and possibly desperate, you might overwhelm your network connection. Overwhelming them will only make them shy away from you – this is the exact opposite of what we want! Don’t do it.
  3. You’ll be at the bottom of Monday’s Inbox. If you send an email on Saturday morning, your email will get bumped further down in the inbox as more emails roll in over those two days. By Monday, your email will be at the bottom of the inbox list, and your network connection might not get down to it or may not even notice if it’s buried in a huge pile of messages. If you must email over the weekend, at least do it on Sunday night so that you’re closer to the top of the inbox list, but even doing that isn’t advisable… (see the next point).
  4. Mondays are Mondays. Research shows that Mondays are the least favorable day of the week for many people. In fact many people DREAD Mondays. So, think about the type of mood someone will be in on a Monday (versus a Thursday, for example). Mondays are longing for Fridays, while Thursdays are excited for both happy hour and Friday, of course! We’re not saying to send all your emails on Thursdays, but it’s best to at least avoid Mondays. As one additional note, it’s been said that the best days to email someone when asking for favors, a job, etc. are Tuesdays, Wednesdays, or Thursdays. So, again… avoid Mondays!
  5. They might be playing catch-up. If your network connection indeed takes the weekends for non-work activities, it’s very possible that they travel on the weekends. Thus, Mondays may be their day to regroup, catch-up, and get up to speed with work for the week. In other words, you will be their last priority. Not that you will ever necessarily be their first priority, but if they are struggling to recover from a busy travel weekend where their flight got delayed, they got home late, didn’t have time to do laundry, and certainly didn’t have time to address a few work-related things here or there on Sunday evening, that means their Monday morning is a game of catch-up and you won’t make the short list of things to do. If this is the case, your email might get put off until “later,” which sometimes means it’s forgotten about. It’s best to let them use their Mondays to regroup and send them an email on Tuesday when their mind is more collected.

So, no follow-up emailing on the weekends! It really won’t hurt your chances to wait until the workweek is underway, and in some ways it may even help you out.

Another way to strategize your email is to think about what time of day your network connection will receive it.

Should you send it in the morning? Mid-day? In the afternoon? Or maybe in the evening? When is the best time? Is there a strategy involved? Yes…

Let’s explore these options…

First thing in the morning:

During the workday, this is when people are the least stressed. It’s early and they haven’t had any meetings yet, so nothing bad or urgent has had a chance to come up yet. They’re also usually savoring a cup of coffee and easing into the day. Things are pleasant, and they’re generally in good spirits.

If they receive your email now, they’re happier and may be in more of a giving mood at this time. The odds of getting a positive response – or a response at all – are high.

Around the lunch hour: 

At this point, the daily frenzy is underway. They may have had a meeting or two in which something drastic has occurred, leaving them feeling suddenly overwhelmed. When they get back to their desk, they are more likely to be writing emails than answering emails in desperate attempts to deal with whatever may have transpired in the meeting.

If they receive your email now, they may completely disregard it because they have more important things to do. They may notice it and plan to get to it later, but by the time “later” rolls around, they may have forgotten about your email and may accidentally never respond even if they intended to do so.

Mid- to late-afternoon:

By now, they’ve probably had a busy few hours post-lunch, and the earlier crisis is either resolved or still in limbo. When they check their email again, their goals may be to address the next issue of the day’s earlier meeting or, if the issue is resolved, they may be trying to plan out the next day before having to rush out of the office. This is hopefully a time when the stresses of the day are calming down, but this is also a time when stress about ‘time’ itself starts to heighten. Many professionals need to rush home to meet spouses, care for kids, deal with after-school activities, etc. If so, they may take care of the bare minimum necessary and leave the rest for tomorrow as they quickly try to wrap up the day.

If they receive your email now, it’s a toss up. You may or may not get a response, depending on how the day went. If it was a terrible day for them, you surely won’t hear from them. If the day ended well, you might get a response as they try to check minor things off their to-do lists – indeed many people do settle down in the afternoon for a regrouping period, during which they tend to emails and other small tasks (which is good for you!). However, regardless of their mood, if they are racing to get out of the office by 5:00 pm sharp, only imperative tasks will be addressed and you will be pushed to the side and possibly forgotten.

In the evening:

It depends on the person and how they prefer to operate. Some people will open their computers and address a few work-related odds and ends in the evening, generally after caring for the kids and tending to family time. If so, this is generally a low-stress time because there are no impending meetings, no bosses over their shoulders, no one rushing them or hurrying them to get things done or get to various places, etc. They may very well be in the right frame of mind to address your email and help out.

However, on the other hand, some people treat their evenings the same way they treat their weekends: they’re reserved for family time or “me” time. In other words, work stops at the end of the workday – again, this is one of the main reasons why many people leave academia! So while PIs will often respond to emails within minutes regardless of what time of day it is, non-academics may not.

Given these different attitudes and stress levels throughout the day, it’s best if they find your email in the morning.

The morning is when they’re in the best mood and their minds are refreshed. You can either send your email early in the morning, or if you’re a night owl, write your email so late in the evening (which may be incredibly early in the morning) that your email ends up being the most recent message at the top of their inbox – this way, your email is at the front of the line when they start sifting through their email during their morning coffee.

So…

As you can see, there IS indeed a strategy that goes into the timing of your follow-up email.

WHEN you send it can be just as important as what you WRITE in it in terms of getting a response and moving forward on your lead.

One of the most important aspects of timing is that you ideally want your connection to respond to your email AS SOON AS THEY OPEN IT.

Do not let them see it and put it on the “later” list. If your request gets shoved to the “do it later” list, it may get forgotten about. You do not want to be forgotten!

The reasons you’ll get shoved to the “do it later” list are:

  1. If they receive it during a stressful time.
  2. If they receive it as they are trying to rush out the door.
  3. If they receive it when they are tired, exhausted, drained, etc. and don’t want to deal with it at the moment.

Think about how you would react to an email at various times of the day, and try to send your email when you think they’ll be in the best mood without a million other things to worry about.

Again, the goal is for them respond to your email WHEN THEY FIRST READ IT.

So, let’s recap today’s post…

Strategy for sending your follow-up email:

  1. Do NOT send it the day immediately after the event/meeting.
  2. After an event, wait an extra day or two (3-4 days out) to avoid the surge of follow-ups and stand out in their inbox. Note: This does not apply for one-on-one meetings. In that case, when you’re the only one, waiting 2 days is sufficient.
  3. Do NOT send it on the weekends. Just don’t.
  4. Aim for them to receive it in the morning.
  5. Aim for them to receive it on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday – the days when the workweek is in full swing, not winding up (Mondays) or winding down (Fridays).

By implementing these strategies, we hope that all of your follow-up emails will lead to something great for you in the future!

Good luck!

 

** Try it out and let us know how it goes! **

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3 Comments

  1. school of communications and business

    October 6, 2016 at 3:13 am

    friends, thanks a lot for her article, well done …

  2. Cynthia Carpenter

    December 6, 2016 at 10:09 am

    As always, very good article Victoria.
    Solid tips are always appreciated, and so far only this write up and this one about the dreaded follow up email after interview have come through with great advice.
    Again, thank you for the article and keep it up!

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