How to cold email (and get a response)

i just met you

Yesterday, I received a cold email that went something like this:

“Hi. My name is __________, and I am a student at Harvard Business School. I would like a job as  a _[INSERT vague job title]___ at your company. Attached is my resume. I would like to chat about this opportunity. I look forward to your response.”

I think this is a great example of what NOT to do with a cold email. First of all, I don’t know you, so why would I want to give you a job right off the bat. Second, this generic job title doesn’t even exist at my company, so it’s clear that you haven’t researched my company.

There’s nothing wrong with cold emails. In fact, I get quite a few cold emails from eager and ambitious MBA students and alumni. My response rate thus far is 100%. However, there is a good way and bad way to reach out, and how you reach out can affect how likely and willing someone is to help you.

What NOT to do:

1. Give too much or too little information: In my last company, an anxious student wrote to one of our partners saying that he had a dream last night. He wandered around the corridors of our office and suddenly found himself in front of the partner’s office. He was so excited and eager to enter until he found himself completely naked. Can you believe he wrote that in a cold email?!? Creepy….

Alternatively, giving too little information is also counterproductive. I’ve gotten emails with as little information as: “My name is ______. Give me a job______. Reply to me soon.” I don’t talk to people or refer them to my contacts because I get paid to do so. Therefore, your job in a cold email is to give me a reason to be interested in you. Why should I want to talk to you? Why should I refer you to one of my contacts?

2. Misspell contact’s and / or company’s name: This is one of the worst mistakes you can make, but the easiest to prevent. Last year, I referred a student to one of my contacts because I thought she had a great background and seemed quite sharp. Things were peachy until she referred to my contact by the wrong name, even though his name was in the email address and I spelled out his name clearly in my prior exchanges with her. Nothing says I don’t care about you more than messing up their name. Also, misspelling the company’s name shows that you just don’t care enough about the company. Double check. Triple check. Just make sure this does not happen.

3. Spelling and grammar mistakes: I tend to be more forgiving if someone is a non-native English speaker, but I’m probably an exception. Use spell / grammar check or a grab an English-speaking friend. These simple mistakes make you look unprofessional and incompetent.

4. Ask for a job straight away: It’s good to indicate what you’re interested in. However, demanding a job in the first cold email is too much. It’s like asking to marry someone on a blind date. You don’t do it. In the cold emails, the primary goal is NOT to get a job straight away. The goal is to get the other person interested in you. Once I am interested, then I will want to spend my time talking to you. In a phone conversation, your goal is to get me to trust that you are a capable individual with great IQ and EQ and could be a good fit in my company. Once you gain that trust, then I will be more likely to refer you to one of my contacts. This is a marathon not a sprint.

What to do: 

1. Give them a hook: Cold emails should provide a reason why the contact should be interested in you or would want to talk to you. The reason could be anything. It could be giving the contact an opportunity to talk about themselves and how fabulous their career trajectory has been (people love talking about themselves). It could be that you joined the same student clubs or have similar backgrounds, so the contact feels some sort of invisible tie to you.

2. Offer a (reasonable) next step: Instead of asking directly for a job as the next step, you should ask for something that is still relatively non-committal. Ask the contact for a 30 min chat. Make sure that the chat is for you to learn about them and them to learn more about you.

3. Personalize the email: I hate receiving emails where you can clearly tell someone used a template and just changed the recipient’s name. It feels like dating one of those douchey guys that just call every girl “Sweet Cheeks”.  It’s shallow and repulsive. You don’t want to convey either of those feelings. Therefore, it’s important to make it seem that you’ve done your research on not only the company but also the person you need a favor from.

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