You’ve poured some sweat into that resume (hopefully no tears). Now you just need to get that document into the right hands.
The last thing you want is for your message (and resume) to languish in someone’s inbox, unopened, or worse, be relegated to the spam or trash folders. Which means you need to craft a clear and compelling subject line.
You might be wondering what the big deal is—isn’t the content of your resume ultimately the most important thing here? Well yes, your resume should be in great shape, and that’s what will land you a call back. But it doesn’t matter how spectacular your resume is if no one opens the email to even read it.
The subject line is what will “determine if the email is opened and read or not. “Emails can contain viruses. They can also have information someone doesn’t care about. Busy people rarely open every email they get. You need a subject line that will cut through that noise.
If you’re hoping someone will open your email, read your message, and look at the resume you worked so hard on, here are a few guidelines to follow.
A message with an empty subject line might get filtered straight to spam and never make it into an inbox. If it doesn’t, the recipient might still delete or archive it as a reflex, especially if they don’t recognize the sender’s name.
When it comes to sending off your resume, make sure you’re keeping your subject line professional and don’t use overly familiar language with a stranger (or even an acquaintance).
The subject line doesn’t work alone. Your email address also contributes to the crucial first impression. “Please review your email address and consider how it will be received [and] perceived,” It might mean something to you—perhaps it’s an inside joke or an old nickname—“but [it will] not come across as professional to someone who doesn’t know you, Create a new one!”
In an era when people are likely to be checking emails on their phones, you have to take into account the limited number of words they’ll see before the subject line gets cut off. So, keep your subject line short and make sure you “use the first few words to get to the point.
For some roles, you’ll see a note at the bottom of the job description instructing you to submit your resume and other materials to a particular email address in order to apply. “Some of these general jobs inboxes have a specific format,” Wilson says. “That’s important to note. Make sure to follow that.” For instance, it might say: “Submit your resume, cover letter, and portfolio to email@example.com. Subject line: Senior product designer #29881.”
In these cases, you’ll want to use the exact subject line they give you, because they may be employing filters to sort and direct the messages to the right folder or person. If you want your resume to get where it needs to go and to make a good impression, “Follow. Instructions. Completely. In many cases, this is their first assessment of you. Make it a positive one.
Even if there aren’t explicit instructions about what subject line to use, make sure you include relevant details. When you’re applying for a job, put the job title and/or the job code if there is one. Try, “Full-stack engineer #1769 – Asha Murray,” or, “Regarding the social media manager role, applied 4/18.”
It’s not usually a bad idea to include your name, either. You might write, “Product marketing manager role application – Noah Cohen” or “Application for UX researcher position (Tiffany White).”
In some cases, your subject line will be dictated by a set of instructions and you shouldn’t deviate from them. But otherwise, you have a little more leeway to make it irresistible in whatever way makes sense for the situation. The most important thing is to make it abundantly clear why you’re reaching out—and to be specific. That’s why if you’re applying for a job or sending your email to a recruiter, you should explicitly mention the job title.
It should go without saying that you’d proofread your resume and cover letter for errors and typos (and then proofread it again and maybe have a trusted friend or family member give it a look with fresh eyes). Proofreading your subject line is equally as important. Again, it might be your very first impression and you don’t want it be your last.
Need a few more examples of what this looks like in action? Here are some sample subject lines.
When You’re Applying for a Job