In a world of more remote work than ever, distanced work relationships and technology in every palm, email remains king of professional communication.
It’s an accessible platform that can shapeshift to every career desire. Want to be formal? Need to contact someone new? Email them. Just sending a friendly “hey” or a reminder to your team? Email. It’s the perfect way to “check in” on your coworkers, connections or even your new job prospects.
Yet the “just checking in!” email has clogged inboxes for the last decade. “Just checking in” becomes a catchall phrase for anything from a quick assignment to a lasting connection. I’ve “checked in” with my peers, coworkers and bosses numerous times, often to get no answer. There’s no distinguishing importance in these follow-ups, which leads to unread emails and even more frustration.
We can’t keep using the same phrase as an umbrella term for every time we want something in our professional and personal lives. The answer isn’t using synonyms or paraphrasing, but rather being specific with our check-ins. Who are we contacting? What do we want from them? How can we get them to understand what we want and call them to action? Here are some new ways to “check in” to make sure what you want is “checked off” your to-do list.
These alternatives to the annoying "just checking in" message can help move your email from unread to read.
It’s been a few days, or maybe even a few weeks, and you need to know what’s going on with your team. While you definitely should “check in,” avoid the phrase and be specific to the project and your hopes for its completion.
Make sure to contextualize in order to familiarize the contact with the situation and demonstrate your interest in the work. Then, be direct and honest about what needs to get done. If there’s a deadline, make sure you’re upfront about it — if there’s not, ask for an update within a specific time frame.
Finally, offer resources or advice. Even if you can’t assist on the process, pointing to outside resources can nudge a person in the right direction and get them out of a potential rut.
If someone has asked you to reach out a specific time, it’s important to follow up then before the window of opportunity gets slammed shut. Remember that your request or communication might have gotten lost in a slew of emails or a fuzzy memory, so familiarize your contact with what you’re reaching out about.
While your emails should always be concise, include details about what you’re asking for. Make sure to explain why it’s important to you — and should be to them. It doesn’t hurt to remind them of the specific time they wanted you to contact them, either.
Following up with a connection is daunting, but it’s also crucial to maintaining a strong career network. Instead of sending out a generic “checking in” email to your connection, take a bit more time and get creative and personal.
Connections are a two-way street, so even if you’re asking for something, always be willing to reciprocate. A “resource” doesn’t always have to be a new job opportunity or a word in for that promotion. Offer a solution to a problem they’re having at work or a new insight on their current project. If you’re hoping to facilitate conversation, extend an invitation to connect in person. Invite them to an event you’re going to in the near future, or even just for a quick coffee or lunch. Make this meet up convenient for them — offer to head over to their corner of town rather than make them trek out to meet you.
Sometimes you’ve sent a note — maybe even one “just checking in” — and there’s nothing new popping in your inbox in response. You’ve asked for something, and you deserve a reply. While the frustration might be boiling up, remember that everyone gets busy and a little scatterbrained. It’s okay to send a friendly reminder. Make light of the situation with a joke about crowded inboxes or the craziness of the work schedule. Then, reiterate what you mentioned in the previous email, paraphrasing with a call to action. Much like when you want a status update, deadlines can be helpful in ensuring a quick response.
Everyone you keep in your personal life is valuable to you in one way or another; so are the people in your professional life. It’s important to value people you want to maintain relationships with on a personal level too. Start off with something more relevant to your professional lives if you want to test the waters, and then move into more personal questions.
These don’t have to be deep and meaningful, but rather should be specific to this person and what you know about their life. Ask them about their interests or what’s been going on since you last spoke. Offer them an article that reminds you of them or an app you think they’d want to try. If you’re willing to catch up in person, invite them out for a drink or meal, once again in a place that’s convenient for them.
Nothing’s worse than nervous sitting on the phone, waiting for someone to pick up, and receiving a voicemail. It’s just as bad to show up at a coffeehouse and wait twenty minutes for your interviewer never to show. You deserve the shot at the opportunity someone didn’t show up for. A friendly, polite, but direct email can help nudge the forgetful contact in the right direction. Start off your email with a quick refresher of the situation — when and where you were supposed to meet or speak. Then, make sure to reiterate why this conversation is important to you.
Why did you want the interview, and why are you making the effort to follow up? Finally, offer the contact another opportunity. Making rescheduling easy can ensure you’ll get another chance and highlight your flexibility.
You’ve just had an awesome interview, and you really want the job. Maybe you had an awesome interview a few weeks ago and you haven’t heard anything. If either of these situations is the case, send a personal, enthusiastic, action-oriented email to the person you’re in contact with.
Start by thanking the interviewer for their time before moving into further relevant details about your qualifications for the positions. Don’t overload —stay concise — but express enthusiasm for the position. Close the email with a plan of action. Mention that you have another question about the opportunity or that you’d like to talk again in the next week. Always assume you’ll speak again in the future rather than simply hope.
We’re all tired of the tried and overused “just checking in” emails, even if we do need to reach out or send a follow-up. Using these alternatives can help get you out of the holes of clichés and into action-oriented, specific emails that lead to helpful responses. While you should always strive to send clear and concise emails, don’t nix the details if they provide the context your contact might need. If you remember to be honest, direct and polite, there’s no reason replies shouldn’t come flooding in your inbox.
Zoë Kaplan is an English major at Wesleyan University in the class of 2020. She writes about women, theater, sports, and everything in between. Read more of Zoë’s work at www.zoëkaplan.com.