I get a lot of email, and I’m zealous about staying at Inbox Zero using the Getting Things Done productivity techniques.
One of my favorite ways to handle email fast is by using templates. Email programs like Outlook let you set up multiple signatures, and I use those to respond fast to common types of emails. When I get a job posting from a recruiter, I just click Insert Signature, Recruiters, and in pops this:
Thanks for the email about the position! If you can forward on the full job description and salary range, I’ll be happy to pass it along to my peers, too. I know a lot of people who are kinda-sorta-looking, but not actively in the job market.
After being repeatedly burned (hey, buddy, check out this job – oh, sorry, I didn’t know it only paid $X for Y years of experience) I have a policy against forwarding jobs without a salary range and a full job description. I hate that I have to say this, but “depends on experience” isn’t clear enough. Thanks for your understanding.
Have a great day!
The recruiter is completely clear on what they need to do next, and there’s no hard feelings. Most of the time, believe it or not, the recruiter really does reply back with a rate – and of course, the rate is a joke. (After all, one of the reasons companies hire a recruiter is that they’ve run out of contacts who are willing to work under their conditions.)
When I get a technology question, I use a similar approach. No matter how straightforward the question is, I want to teach people how to fish rather than give them a single fish. In most cases, I use this signature:
This is a really interesting question. I wish I had the time to dedicate to give you an answer that’s just as interesting, but there’s a lot of possibilities here, and I want to make sure you get the best help possible from as many people as possible.
The best way to get help on something like this is to narrow down the question as tightly as possible, then post it on http://StackOverflow.com for programming, http://ServerFault.com for systems administration, or http://DBA.StackExchange.com or http://SQLServerCentral.com for database administrators.
Include as much example code as you can so that others can quickly run it and get an idea of what you’re asking, and they might even post your code back with fixes. If you don’t get good answers within a day or two, let me know and I’ll take a look at the question to see if there’s a way we can get better answers together. Plus, bonus points: the next time someone Googles for this question, they’ll see the answer too.
This one’s a little tougher sell. Sometimes people are excited because they didn’t know about these killer free Q&A resources, and they’re thankful to learn. Other times, I gotta be honest – people are a little pissed off that I would respond so quickly with what is clearly a canned template.
I don’t use that Q&A signature in all cases, though. If it’s a paying client, I answer the question. (Duh.) Also, if I know someone’s asking a very specialized question and there’s only a few people in the world who know the answer, I’ll reply back with an introduction to one of those individuals so they can get the right answer fast. If someone’s asking a very personalized architecture question, and they include details that probably aren’t suited for public posting, then I’ll explain my options for consulting engagements. My public help like blog posts, presentations, and Q&A sites are free – I like helping as many people as I can, all at once. Helping people individually in private, though – that doesn’t really scale, and I have to charge for my time for those kinds of questions.
Using these templates helps me spend more time helping more people, and helps people get better answers and better jobs, too.