Last week I had a great time speaking at the Latino Student Fund’s Listo Rapido program—a one-week, intensive college prep course that teaches rising 10th-12th grade students the basics of the college admissions process.
During the presentation I talked about some of the important skills I’ve picked up along that way that I didn’t necessarily learn in a classroom. One of the key ones? “Cold emailing”. Cold emailing is basically when you send an email to someone you don’t know and ask them to meet with you. It can be an effective tool if used properly and I’ve found that people are more willing to respond than one might think.
A few days after giving the Listo Rapido talk, I was talking with someone and mentioned that I’d spoken about this. She told me that she’s in the middle of a job hunt and asked me to go into more detail about what cold-emailing entails. Which made me realize, this isn’t just a skill that rising-college students or undergraduates could benefit from—it’s a skill that even young professionals struggle with.
Why is this an important skill you ask? It fits into the idea of networking. I hate using the term “networking” because it has such a transactional connotation. I am of the mindset that if you approach it as a way to connect with people whose work or path you’re interested in, and if you are genuine in your interactions, it doesn’t have to be an uncomfortable experience. For a lot of students (🙋🏽) who didn’t have people already built into their networks that they could pose questions to, this is a critical tool for learning about industries, engaging with issues you care about, and even potentially getting your foot in the door of a particular field.
I often find that the people who are most critical about networking are the ones who haven’t had to use it to further their careers. For students who grow up not knowing lawyers, doctors, or others in their field, who can’t call on their family friend or a parent’s coworker to answer questions, networking is often the way to create opportunity.
So if you’re in that boat and want some tips about reaching out to people, this one’s for you.
First let’s start off with some simple (but important!) dos and don’ts:
Be brief and to the point. Make sure you’re clear about why you’re emailing. Don’t write more than you need to; people are busy and don’t want to wade through an essay. I try to include the reason for my email in the first or second sentence.
Use proper grammar and punctuation (no typos!) Typos and grammatical errors imply carelessness. Of course, these things sometimes happen, but in a short email, you should re-read it several times and generally be able to avoid this. An email riddled with mistakes is unlikely to be answered—especially if you’re a very junior person trying to get the attention of a more established, senior person.
Be mindful of the other person’s time. I’ve found that people are more likely to respond if you show that you understand that they have a busy schedule. Place a clear time limit on your call/meeting and show that you are flexible about scheduling a time. It demonstrates to the other person that you’re being mindful and thoughtful in your ‘ask’.
Let their email sit in your inbox for days. If you send a cold email and get a response, don’t let that response sit in your inbox for days. If you wait a week (or weeks, yikes!) to get back to someone they 1) might not even remember you 2) it’s not a great first impression to make. If you’re in high school you might be thinking, “I don’t even check my email.” But if you know you’ve reached out to someone and are awaiting a potential response, it doesn’t take much effort to pin a tab on your browser and refresh it once a day.
Say, “Hey, Joe!” instead go with, “Good afternoon, Ms. Garcia.” Don’t be overly casual if you don’t know the person—especially if they’re way more senior than you are. If you’re in high school, it’s generally good practice to address people formally. I tend to only address someone by their first name if they are my same age and not in a higher ranking position. Some people might prefer you address them by their first name. Take a cue from the way they sign their email. A good rule of thumb is to address the person by the name they use when they sign off.
Be vague. Be clear about why you’d like to speak/meet with the person. I do my research before reaching out and name specific issues or areas of their work I’d like to discuss and why it’s relevant to my interests. It’s hard for someone to understand what you want out of a meeting if you lead with something like, “You are a lawyer, I’d like to go to law school, can we meet?” Mention that you’re interested in the kind of law they practice or that you also have a bachelor’s degree in engineering, but would like to go to law school and are wondering how the degree might be relevant. This shows you’ve put thought into the message and aren’t just randomly messaging any and all lawyers.
Here’s a template of what a cold email might look like:
“ Dear _______,
My name is ______and I am writing (because I came across your profile on LinkedIn/at the encouragement of “mutual acquaintance”/am interested in learning more about ______). I wanted to ask if you’d be willing to meet with me and discuss ______.
To provide some context, I’m (insert *brief* summary of your background/interests). I’m interested/been following your work on______ and I’m eager to learn more about ______.
I understand you have a busy schedule and am more than happy to find a convenient time and location.
Many thanks in advance for your time and I hope we have the opportunity to connect soon.
All the best,
Of course, you should add any details you feel are appropriate; this is merely a rough outline to get you started. Good luck and happy emailing! (Is that an oxymoron?)