Sending an email to your CEO can feel like approaching a celebrity — exciting and nerve-wracking all at once.
That’s because, while you could impress your CEO with your knowledge of the company and passion for your job, you could also turn him or her off with signs of carelessness or stepping out of line.
To help you figure out how to craft the perfect message, we consulted Amanda Augustine, a career management expert. Augustine outlined seven simple steps to sending a thoughtful, readable email — and getting the feedback you need.
1. Consult your direct manager first.
Unless the CEO is your direct manager or you’re responding to a direct request from him or her, it’s wise to let your boss know that there’s something you’d like to email the CEO about.
That way, your boss can decide whether it’s something that really requires the CEO’s attention.
Your manager “probably has better insight into what makes sense and what doesn’t make sense,” Augustine said. “You want to go through the right chain of command and the right lines of communication.”
It doesn’t matter if you have the most wonderful idea for the company, Augustine added — you’ll want your boss to vet it first. Once you get confirmation that an email to the CEO is appropriate, you can CC your boss or add him or her to the message.
2. Write a short and action-oriented subject line.
You should always write your subject line before you write the body of the message — otherwise you might forget to include one.
Augustine advises that you limit your subject line to eight or fewer words, especially since your CEO may be reading the email on a mobile device that cuts off part of the text.
You’ll also want to indicate if you need a response by a certain date, so your boss can prioritise the requests he or she is receiving that day. Augustine suggested setting the deadline a day or two before you actually need your CEO’s response. That way, if your CEO gets really busy and responds late, you won’t be in trouble.
Here’s an example of an ideal subject line: “Project XYZ proposal — please reply by EOD.”
And unless you have a really good reason, avoid marking your message high importance or high priority. “That’s almost as bad as putting everything in caps,” Augustine said.
3. Use a salutation and sign-off that’s appropriate for your company culture.
If you’re uncertain how to address your CEO, Augustine suggested asking coworkers on your level how they have addressed him or her when they have sent emails in the past. You could also ask your direct boss for advice.
Another option is to look for email threads between the CEO and other employees and see which salutations they used.
But if you still can’t figure out what’s appropriate, Augustine said you should always err on the side of formality (e.g. “Dear Mr. Smith”).
Your sign-off should be similarly short and simple. “Best, [your name]” generally works well. If you’ve already established a rapport with your boss, you can also use your initials.
4. Keep the text short and specific.
You definitely don’t want to send an email with blocks of text, Augustine said, especially since your CEO could be reading the message on a mobile device.
In order to make the email more easily readable, Augustine recommends using a short opening paragraph and then outlining each topic using bullet points. You may also want to bold or highlight the call to action (e.g. “Please reply by EOD”).
Though you don’t need to adhere to a specific word count, Augustine said, “use just as many words as you need to get your point across and not a sentence or a letter more than that.”
Think of the email as being a summary, or the CliffsNotes version, of the topic you want to discuss.
Ultimately, Augustine said, keep in mind that “if they want more information, they will be sure to ask for it.”
5. Review your message for misspellings and grammar mistakes.
Always re-read your email before you send it, especially since there are words that your computer’s spell-checker doesn’t automatically pick up.
In many cases, Augustine said, this message will be your CEO’s first impression of you and your professional brand. “You don’t want to be thought of as the person who can’t spell correctly and can’t string a sentence together without making a mistake.”
6. Avoid jokes.
Because we’re so accustomed to communicating via texts and social media, we might be less formal than we should in important emails.
Specifically, Augustine said, “sarcasm can often be lost in [email] translation,” so be careful not to include anything that can be misconstrued.
“Don’t leave your message up for interpretation,” she said.
7. Follow up politely.
Your email should include a call to action, or a deadline when you need a response by. Set a reminder in your calendar to follow up the day after that if your CEO still hasn’t gotten back to you.
Here’s an example of an appropriate follow-up (you can tweak as necessary): “I’m following up on [whatever issue] and wanted to make sure you saw this item. Please let me know if you need any additional information from me before you can respond.”
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