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Ryan Standil is a former lawyer and the owner of Write To Excite. He leads workshops for businesses and governments about effective writing in the workplace.

Eric Janssen teaches sales and entrepreneurship at the Ivey Business School at Western University in London, Ont.

Have you ever tried to e-mail a busy person who was unfamiliar with you? Maybe you were searching for a job, seeking advice or hoping to make a sale.

A study of two million e-mail users revealed the long odds of obtaining a response: On average, people who receive fewer than 100 e-mails a day respond to 25 per cent of them, and people who receive at least 100 e-mails a day respond to just 5 per cent.

Fortunately, you can boost your response rate by applying proven techniques. These techniques are traditionally associated with what are known as “cold e-mails,” but they are also helpful for reaching out on platforms such as LinkedIn and Instagram.

The next time you write a cold e-mail, focus on three actions to elicit a response: personalize, be concise, and demonstrate your capability. We came up with a mnemonic device, and it’s not quite AC/DC, but PC/DC is pretty close.

When you e-mail a busy professional, your message must be personalized. We have relied on personalization to obtain responses from high-profile individuals such as Guy Kawasaki, Bob Iger, Zita Cobb, Chris Hadfield and Steven Pinker.

Years ago, Eric used a cold e-mail to land a meeting in New York with an executive from Lacoste. The executive explained that he received dozens of cold e-mails a day, and he only read the ones that were tailored to him. E-mails that appeared “copied and pasted” were deleted immediately.

Personalization begins in the subject line. A study from Carnegie Mellon University found that people were faster to open e-mails when the subject line was directly relevant to their work. The study also found that a good subject line piques the reader’s curiosity with an element of vagueness.

Before Ryan’s wedding, he received outstanding assistance from an employee at a major menswear chain, so he offered to e-mail the CEO. Ryan’s e-mail described how the employee altered a suit for his lanky body on short notice, and the CEO quickly replied with a beautifully written note. Importantly, Ryan’s subject line said: “Employee at your Winnipeg store,” rather than, “Excellent service from your employee.” If the subject line had reassured the CEO that there was nothing to worry about, would he still have opened Ryan’s e-mail?

After crafting the subject line, writers must compose a concise message that will grab a reader’s attention. According to Kevin O’Leary, if a busy reader sees dense paragraphs, they will delete the e-mail. Eric instructs his students at Western University to answer three questions in their first few sentences: Who are you? Why are you contacting the recipient? And why should this person care to take action?

Getting someone to care is the most challenging. To elicit a positive response, do your homework and show the recipient that you are genuinely interested in their work. For example, you could compliment their recent article or seminar and discuss how you relied on their advice.

Once you’ve established a connection, segue to your main reason for e-mailing. This is also where you demonstrate capability. If you’re searching for a job, you could highlight your expertise in an area that is valued by a potential employer. If you’re seeking a mentor, demonstrate the progress you’ve already made on a topic and be specific about the area you’d like help navigating. If you’re a salesperson, outline the positive outcomes you’ve created for other clients, which shows that you’re trustworthy and capable of adding value.

At the end of your e-mail, include a call to action. “I would love to interview for the vacant position at your earliest convenience.” “Do you have time for a 10-minute phone call on Wednesday?”

You should also consider the timing. Cold e-mails are typically ignored on Mondays and Fridays. But the concept of timing runs deeper. Because it is easier to obtain a response from a person in your network than a stranger, see if you can avoid a purely transactional, one-time outreach. Try to appear on your recipient’s radar prior to asking for a favour. To start, you can engage with their posts on social media. Then, send a note in which you do not ask for anything. Nurture the relationship every few months, and you will find a natural opportunity to make your request.

If you don’t receive a response, follow up. In our experience, approximately half of responses came after we politely followed up. Recipients usually welcome this reminder, so don’t be shy to check in.

E-mail creates a paradox. Businesspeople have become so easy to reach, but as a result, their inboxes are overflowing with cold e-mails. If you can master the art of writing a message that stands out, it may open doors that could transform your career.

To recap, remember PC/DC: personalize, be concise and demonstrate capability.

This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about the world of work. Find all Leadership Lab stories at and guidelines for how to contribute to the column here.