Friday Follow-up: Writing a Cold E-mail

One of the more intimidating parts of building your network is contacting people you have little or no connection to.  Before E-mail became the standard form of communication in science and business, this was even more daunting.  Making a “cold call” to a person you had never met was a scary prospect.  You never were certain how they would respond.  However, e-mail is a little less personal and thus, less of a risk.  Still, a poorly planned and constructed “cold e-mail” can get you nowhere, or worse, may actually work against you.  To make sure that your e-mail is well received and effective, follow these few tips:

Make it short and to the point:  The key principle here is respecting the reader’s time.  Everyone is busy.  No one really has the time to read a long drawn out e-mail that addresses every aspect of who you are, what you want to do with your life and the role that they can play.  Keep your initial communication on point.  Introduce yourself.  Explain that you are interested in the job that they do and how they got there.   Then, ask them for the interview.  Your entire e-mail should be no more than two short paragraphs. 

Have a clear and direct subject:  When sending an e-mail, never leave the subject line blank.  When you are contacting someone who will not recognize your name or e-mail address, make sure your purpose is clear from the subject line.  A subject line such as, “Request for Informational Interview” clearly states your purpose in writing.  If you are being referred by an acquaintance or friend of the reader, you can include your contact’s name in the subject line by writing, “Referred by John Doe:  Informational Interview.” 

Be detailed:  This may seem contradictory to making it short and to the point.  However, you can be detailed and to the point.  When you ask for the informational interview, be specific when it comes to their time commitment.  Let them know you want 15 to 30 minutes of their time.  Suggest a time frame in which to conduct the interview, such as “within the next couple of weeks,” or “between date A and date B.”  This indicates you have thought this through and shows that you are organized.  Also, show that you know something about their position or company.  Stating, “I want to be a Program Officer” only shows you know the title.  You can demonstrate a little knowledge of the field by including a comment like, “I am interested in a career that allows me to not only stay current in cutting edge research, but also be a part of moving research forward in my particular field of interest.”  However, keep it to one or two sentences.  Remember you are trying to make it short and to the point.

End with appreciation:  Even if they never respond, you should state your appreciation for them taking the time to read your e-mail.  It is amazing how far a simple “thank you” will go.  So, end your message with “I appreciate you taking the time to read my e-mail and respond.  I look forward to hearing from you soon.” 

As with all your communication, make sure that your e-mail is professional and grammatically correct.  For some tips on writing a professional e-mail, visit https://www.training.nih.gov/writing_professional_e-mail.  Also, if you want to see an example of a cold e-mail and more tips on writing an effective one, check out this post from “Career Rocketeer.”

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