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Cold Calling Cover Letter Email Referral

I’ve always found emailing people I don’t know to be one of the hardest parts of networking.

Of course, when trying to find a job, you should take advantage of your existing network . In my experience, however, I’ve always had to send a few emails to people at companies that my network just didn’t cover.

Generally, the goal of this is to set up a meeting with someone at the company you want to work for, who can help you get your foot in the door . Sounds great, right?

Unfortunately, there are two things that make these emails especially tricky: figuring out who to reach out to and writing a message that’ll make the person want to respond.

During my recent job search, I put together a step-by-step process to address these issues and get positive responses—and it worked so well, I wanted to share it with you.

1. Find the Right Person (and the Right Email Address)

It may sound simple, but getting the address of someone you don’t know can be tricky. To track down people who work at your target companies—who you also have a degree of commonality with—your best bet is to use LinkedIn or your university’s career office. For example, I went to the University of Virginia, so I would search LinkedIn for everyone who went to UVA and currently works at a particular company.

Another good place to look is the company’s website. Small companies will often list the names and positions of staff members, so you can quickly find someone in a relevant role.

However, it’s possible that your search will yield only a list of names—but not actual emails. If you get stuck, you can always try guessing the email address as a last resort. For example, most companies’ HR teams will respond to an email sent to recruiting@companyname.com or jobs@companyname.com.

Fun fact I learned: At small companies, employees typically use their first name as the beginning of their address—so, for example, if you wanted to contact a product manager named Alex at a startup called Goal, her email would likely be alex@goal.com.

2. Be Specific and Concise

Now it’s time to write your message. I recommend keeping it quite short—e.g., a sentence introduction, a short paragraph about who you are and why you want to talk, and a final sentence asking about the person’s availability—to make it more likely that the recipient will actually read the email.

It’s important to be as specific as possible, so the person has a very clear picture about why exactly you want to talk to him or her. Make sure to address why you’re interested in the particular company, list concrete skills that show you’d be a good fit, and note how you found the recipient’s information. (And if you need more help getting started, these job search email templates will do the trick.)

3. Keep Your Ask Small

It’s much easier for people to respond if they don’t feel like they are making any big promises by replying. So, I recommend keeping your ask as small as possible. For example, it’s much easier for someone to say yes if you ask him to meet up for coffee so that you can learn more about his company, than if you just ask him to give you a job.

Ideally, this will lead to a job—but first asking to simply meet for coffee will help put your recipient at ease and make it more likely that he or she will respond.

4. Don’t Be Afraid to Follow Up

Did you send out an email a few days ago, but haven’t received a response? That’s OK! Everyone is busy, and it’s not unusual for inboxes to get backed up, especially at the beginning or end of the week. If a full week has gone by with no response, it’s perfectly acceptable to send a quick follow-up email and ask if the person is still interested in getting together.

When your own network runs dry, don’t be afraid to send a few cold emails. With the right approach, you’ll open up a whole new realm of job-search possibilities—and maybe even land a new role.

Photo of woman emailing courtesy of Shutterstock .

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When it comes to learning in-demand tech skills, you’re on the right track. That you’re certain of.

Perhaps you’re a developer or web designer, or you’re trying your hand at both. You’ve worked hard to get to where you’re at in your career, and you are ready for your tech skills to give you a leg up in the job market.

However, once you’re ready to go after a new career in tech, you still have to track down your dream job, grab the company’s attention, and make a great first impression, before you can even show off your abilities. What’s more, we’re all familiar with the tendency for many of the best jobs to be filled through personal connections and employee referrals.

So, if your only option is to apply online, how do you manage to get your dream employer to see that you’re the best person for the job?

You need to be extremely proactive. It may seem intrusive at first, but I’ve personally gotten my last two jobs in tech by sending a strategically crafted cold email to the person I suspected to be the hiring manager for the role. Both of these emails opened up a dialogue that led to a phone call, interview, and subsequent offer within about a week’s time. The same principles apply if you’re pitching your freelance services to potential clients.

It can be extremely difficult to stand out in a crowded inbox. Many of us receive hundreds of emails each day. You have a very limited amount of time to make a great impression, so if you send a cold email without careful thought and planning, there is a high likelihood that nobody will ever read it.

Here are my 6 tried and true steps to writing cold emails that will make a stand-out first impression, and get you the interview you’re after:

1. Research the Best Person to Cold Email.

The first mistake you can make when gunning for a new job is applying directly on the company’s career page, or sending your cold email to a generic address (unless you’ve already ruled out the possibility of direct contact). Your goal is to make an incredible first impression. Crossing your fingers and hoping that your email will end up in the inbox of the appropriate decision maker is hardly proactive.

You need to do some research. In particular, you need to determine who makes the decisions about hiring on this specific role. It’s ok if you take a best guess at this, or find someone who looks like they’re in a slightly senior role in the same department at the company. This person could be the head of a particular department, senior manager, or even someone who’s in a similar role and may be able to route your query to the right person.

LinkedIn is a great starting point for browsing through potential contacts by searching for people by keyword, at the company you’re targeting to work at. Here’s a screenshot of a search I ran on people in “Marketing” at company, “CreativeLive.” From here, you’ll have a targeted list of potential people you can reach out to.

Refrain from messaging them on LinkedIn if possible. You’ll have much more success by landing in their inbox. In fact, the average American employee spends 6.3 hours each day in their email inbox.

Once you’ve landed on your ideal target, do a Google search on them and see if you can locate a personal blog, social media accounts, or other relevant information that’ll help you formulate a personalized cold email.

In my experience, most companies use one of three different email formats:

  • FirstName@company.com
  • First.Last@company.com
  • FirstInitialLastName@company.com

There are plenty of alternative company email structures, but what’s most important to note is that you can check the validity of any email address using the Rapportive extension for Chrome. Once installed in your Gmail inbox, it’ll display information about the person on the other end of any email address you place in the “To” field – pulled in from their LinkedIn account. Use this extension to test out different email possibilities before resorting to applying without first making personal contact.

2. Take Time to Come up with the Perfect Subject Line.

Fast Company recently conducted a study in which they sent 1,000 cold emails in hopes of learning what the perfect cold email looks like. In their results, they determined that the open rate was primarily driven by a combination of the sender name and subject line. You cannot do much about your sender name (aside from making sure you name’s capitalized and spelled correctly), but you sure can control the subject line.

One of my best business relationships started out with a cold email featuring the subject line, “A Mutual Love for Animals and Compelling Content.” While it had very little to do with the reason I was writing this person, it sure sounded a lot different than everything else in her inbox, which got her to read on and evaluate my propositions.

Adam Grant makes the great point that “people are more likely to read emails with subject lines that create curiosity or provide utility. When people aren’t busy, they’re drawn in by subject lines that intrigue them. But when they’re busy, curiosity fades in importance; the emails that get read are the ones with practical subject lines.”

Do your best to craft a subject line that’s creative, short, and tells the reader why they should open and read your email. If you need some more inspiration, here are 171 email subject lines that are designed to pique the curiosity of your readers. (Also check out Skillcrush’s 9 Simple Tips to Get People to Respond to Your Emails).

3. Find a Connection to Make Your Email Warmer.

The less cold you can make your email, by showing you’ve done your homework on the recipient, the higher your chances of getting a response. Look for any mutual connections, shared interests, professional societies, or notable achievements that’ll give you the opportunity to mention something relevant to them.

With my example email above, I mentioned a mutual love of animals in the subject line. In my research on the person I was reaching out to, I found that she loved sharing photos of her dogs on Twitter and Instagram—so much so that she regularly talked about dogs on her personal blog as well. I happen to love dogs, so this was a natural way to make an instant connection with her. With a little time, you can find something that’ll genuinely connect you with your recipient, too.

Once you’ve built your personal messaging into the email, here are a few helpful templates you can grab for structuring what that email looks like.

4. Begin With an Elevator Pitch.

Nobody wants to read a long-winded email, especially from someone they don’t know. If the recipient has decided to open your email in the first place, you need to put value on the table instantly.

You need a captivating entrance that demonstrates you will provide actual value if you’re chosen for the role. Start with how you found the position, and give a specific example of why you would be a great fit for the job. Think of the mindset they’ll be in when reading your email. Why should they select you? What makes you stand out from the crowd? (Check out Skillcrush’s Ultimate Guide to the Perfect Email Cover Letter for more tips on exactly what to include in your cold email.)

5. Sell Your Strengths.

Since this role is in tech, the person you’re trying to establish a rapport with, will likely want to know what you can do to help the company move more quickly and effectively. What relevant experience have you had that would give them confidence in trusting you to join the company? This is a great opportunity to link to a specific example of work you’ve done.

Be sure to tailor your strengths and examples for a particular position, so that you’re putting your most relevant works first. Don’t make the mistake of linking out to your most recent project if it has nothing to do with the job you’re applying for. In your email, I suggest including a link to your best work on Github, your portfolio website, or a client project you’ve done in the past.

Provide enough details to get them interested in wanting to learn more, but not so much that they’ll stop reading halfway through.

6. Follow Up the Right Way.

More than likely, even when you’ve taken the time to carefully construct an email that’s designed to start a conversation with your decision maker, you won’t immediately hear back.

This is where most people give up. They think that not hearing back means they’ve been rejected, but that’s simply not the case. Most people involved in hiring are extremely busy and have many competing priorities—including other duties, in addition to spending time vetting new team members.

If you don’t hear back within a week, acknowledge the fact that they’ve probably missed your email or just haven’t had the chance to respond yet. After a week’s time, reply to your original email on the same thread, following up asking succinctly if they’ve had a chance to look over your email, and if there’s anything you can help elaborate on.

In your follow up, always strive to be helpful and refrain from coming across as demanding a quick response.

Here’s a basic template to get you started:

Hey [First Name],

I found your post up for a [Role Title] up on [website/job board + link to posting] the other day, and I wanted to share with you the [strategy/deliverable/etc] I already took the time to develop for [Company Name].

It’s built around what I know works, through my experience in building [Previous Company’s] [X,Y,Z Project or Product] with [JS, Ruby, HTML, etc]. Check out [Link to Project Example] I created, that’s done X,Y,Z for [Previous Company] and has had [Results, # Downloads, # Signups, etc].

I have a very solid foundation for working in/with [Relevant Languages/Relevant Tools]. I’m looking forward to helping [Company Name] deliver even more unique value to the industry.

Let me know when you have a moment to chat this week.


[Your Name]



Content Marketing Lead at CreativeLive. Online educator at ryrob.com where I teach entrepreneurs how to start a business while working full-time.

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