How to Follow Up on an Important Email — and Get The Response You Want

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We’ve all sent emails to prospective contacts, only to hear nothing in return. If you have found yourself anxiously awaiting a reply, following up is an opportunity to set yourself apart from the masses. Doing so demonstrates your commitment to building connection, and you instantly transform from just another name in an inbox to someone with a clear purpose and the chutzpah to put it into the world.

Here’s my four-step approach to following up in a way that feels heartfelt and won’t send the other person running for the hills. 

1. Spiral up, not down.

If you are anything like me or my clients, it’s easy to interpret silence as negative and begin a quick and furious downward spiral through worst case scenarios. Thoughts like this start to race through our brains: 

  • That person thinks my project is garbage. 

  • They probably don’t want to work with me. 

  • I’m never going to be able to find a way in at my dream company. 

While that knee jerk reaction is understandable, it does nothing to help you or your cause, and it’s often not based in reality. Silence is not negative or positive. It’s just silence.

Instead of spiraling down through the worst case scenarios, what if you spiraled up through the best? Reframe your worst case scenarios in a positive light: 

  • That person thinks my project is awesome, and perhaps forgot to respond because she had a fire drill at work. 

  • I’m working on something wonderful, and it will be so fun to share when we are able to connect. 

  • I hope I’m able to connect with Susie, but if that doesn’t work out, there are lots of other ways to build community and connection with my dream company.

2. Wait one week.

From that mindset of spiraling up, I advise my clients to wait a full week before following up with anyone. Waiting a week gives people time to circle back to flagged emails and prevents your messages from being interpreted as spammy or overeager. We’ve all been guilty of meaning to respond and then forgetting to do so. Giving the person on the other end of your email a little time and space is a quiet but powerful acknowledgment of everything else that’s on their plate.

3. Don’t just make a request, tell a (brief) story.

It’s easy to engage with a human narrative. When you follow up, reiterate why you want to connect with this person, rather than focusing on what you want to get out of the connection. Your why gives you an opportunity to shed light on your personal story and share your values and transforms you into a person with hopes, dreams and goals.

But remember that less is more. In any follow-up email, acknowledge your previous communication and keep your follow-up to just a few well-crafted sentences.

4. Be consistent, responsive and persistent.

If you send a follow up and still don’t hear back, try again! There’s nothing wrong with sending multiple follow up emails, and doing so continues to show your commitment to building community and connection. 

I advise sending four emails total, following the guidelines above. To the extent that you have updates, share them in your follow ups. And, if there’s been news about your contact or their company in the news or on social media, acknowledge it. 

If after four attempts at one-week intervals, you are still hearing crickets, move on. It’s very easy to believe that a single connection will make or break your progress, but there are infinite ways to further your project and find answers to your questions. No single person can derail you. 

Feel free to reach out to your contact again after six months to try again, but in the meantime, be creative and open to other connections and opportunities. Each new point of contact presents a new possibility for learning and connection, and this approach is applicable in any context.

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Ami Watkin is the Co-Founder of Integrated Hustle, a Certified Leadership Coach, corporate attorney and entrepreneur who supports women through career change and growth.