Last night, after coming to terms with the fact that we were losing an awesome housemate, and also that none of our awesome friends could take her room, I put an ad on craigslist for the smallest room in our spiffy Berkeley home. In the roughly 17 hours since then, I have received around 100 emails. I have had inquiries from one Norwegian body builder, two photojournalists and more people who “enjoy hiking” than I care to count (not anti-hiking, just anti-counting). I am, therefore, temporarily an expert in what inspires a reply email—temporarily because I’m pretty sure this whole experience will consolidate into a blur within a few days. Here is a dispatch from the thick of roomie selection: 5 tips on how to get that reply.
1) The Sooner The Better
For the first hour that the post was up, I was getting close to an email a minute. With each increase in my unread mail count, my standards for replying went up too. People who might have made it gotten a reply last night were getting passed over by the afternoon. Hit the refresh button often, and don’t linger once you see something good.
2) Give At Least A Solid Paragraph About Yourself
Err on the side of more text. If all you say is, “I’m interested, does it come with furniture?” I am not going to bother to see if you are more interesting than the people who told me the last book they read and what they do on weekends. (One person promised regular free beer from her job! Do you really think, "Hi, I'm interested, bye," competes with that?) Remember: there are a lot of you. You don’t have to sell yourself, but you do have to show yourself. Showing some enthusiasm for the specific place/situation doesn’t hurt either.
Side note: a couple of people provided a short email with a link to find out more about them. Dangerous. I clicked, but I was tempted not to. I had a hundred emails to get through, making me click an extra time might just make me click “next email.” Feel free to link to say, your portfolio, but try to get the main stuff in the email.
3) Include Specific Details
Okay: “I like hiking, travelling, yoga and hanging out with my friends.”
Way better: “I go camping in the Adirondacks at least once a year, I’ve spent time in Italy, Spain and New Zealand, I do Bikram (the sweaty one), and I like bringing people over for beer and board games.”
If you are the first person, there will be twenty people a lot like you. If you are the second person, you are the only one, and I’m curious to meet you. Or maybe I’m not curious to meet you, but I know that now instead of dragging you over to my place where you’ll be a little bit forced in how friendly you are and we both find it kind of exhausting. Better to give some details so I can judge if you’re a good fit.
Not sure where to start? Try: favorite books, the last book you read, the details of your job/studies, the music you have been listening to lately, what you do when you’re bored, your signature dish, etc.
4) Use Unique Language
When you are reading scores of housemate applications, an interesting word can pop you out of your stupor. One person got a second look because they used the verb “internetting.” One applicant got a boost for mentioning that they work hard, but “I’m not a robot.” Another person caught my eye for an exclamation point after “But!” And remember: an interesting subject line beats the standard auto-subject from craigslist.
5) Include a Picture
I don’t know why this matters, but it does. Putting a face on your email taps into some below-conscious neurology and bumps up your chances. I learned basically nothing from the pictures I saw, but most resulted in a call back.