A Meditation on Cold E-mails

As we all know, cold e-mailing and cold calling are two effective ways to network when you're starting out with limited connections, coming from a non-target, or coming from a different industry. I won't go over in great detail *how* to specifically cold e-mail in this post, as there is a plethora of information on WSO about the subject, but I want to talk a little bit about my own experience with sending out hundreds of e-mails and the limitations of this as a strategy.

First and foremost, cold e-mailing is an umbrella term: as I define it, I include e-mails to set up informational interview, e-mails asking for internships, e-mails just "reaching out", etc etc etc. Some people consider asking for an information interview to be markedly different from asking for an internship (at least via e-mail), but I would disagree. You still need to tailor your e-mail specifically to that person/firm and you're essentially asking the same thing -- everyone knows that you're going to end up _asking_ them for something, and you have to position yourself accordingly.

Really quickly, how to cold e-mail:

1. Use your alumni directory, Google, LinkedIn to find a bunch of names of people at firms that you might have something in common with (school, major, etc.). Sometimes on LinkedIn you'll just find someone's first name and the first letter of their last name - i.e. John D., and because you aren't in that person's extended network, you can't see their last name. Dodge this problem by then Googling "John D [company name]" or "John D [company name] [location]" and oftentimes you'll get to their "public" LinkedIn page which will include last name.
2. Add all of these names to a spreadsheet to keep track of what's going on.
3. Start pumping out e-mails with what you're asking -- keep them simple. You can find a template anywhere on WSO.
4. After establishing some contact with someone, update your spreadsheet, and try to keep in contact with those people and build rapport. This is where what you're trying to accomplish actually starts to matter more.

The true difficulty in cold e-mailing is sourcing names and e-mail addresses. The rest is a simple numbers game.

My own experiences with cold e-mailing have been mixed. I did land an internship through cold e-mailing, and it was one of the firms that I had to e-mail multiple times before they got back to me. After arriving at the internship, the person in charge of recruiting said they had totally forgotten about me until I followed up a few times, but then realized that they were interested in interviewing me. Following up is obviously very important, as people are busy and e-mails are among the easiest means of communication for someone to lose track of.

But I think people are too excited about cold e-mailing, and most think it's a more powerful tool than it really is. Cold e-mailing is easy: you just need a list of e-mail addresses, you don't have to call anyone (which is pretty scary), and you can send messages en masse and wait for responses without a whole lot of effort. Cold e-mailing's greatest limitation is that it's simply a foot in the door (and maybe even a toe in the door), and you have to have a game plan afterwards, or you are wasting everyone's time through sending e-mails.

Cold e-mails that I sent out months ago looking for an internship have now transitioned to e-mails where I ask for informational interviews. This is pretty simple to do: send a follow-up e-mail to the person, say you're in the area, and ask to meet for 15 minutes. This often works, but this is also the decisive point at which you need to formulate a game plan for after the meeting...the e-mail got you the meeting, but in and of itself it doesn't do a whole lot else.

For example, I met up with someone the other day who said his firm might have off-cycle openings in the near-future (this is the biggest boon in the world for me, as you all I'm sure understand). We talked for about 25 minutes, he seemed to really like me, asked each other some good questions, and the end of the conversation went in the same manner that they all do: "I can't make any promises that we'll have something opening up, but I'll let you know if I do". I used to get excited about hearing this, but once you've heard it 20 times, you start to get discouraged by those words.

And what possible plan of attack can I have now? Surely I can't keep e-mailing this person and saying "hey, remember me? I'm still looking!!!". And by now you're probably still thinking of how on earth this relates to cold e-mails...

Well, after the meeting, we're back to a strictly e-mail-based communication platform. In order to set up another meeting, or reach out again, I need to send an e-mail. But this again illustrates the point that you need to have a game plan behind every e-mail. A lot of my relationships with contacts are in limbo (they'll let me know if anything opens up), but there's a good chance they'll forget who I am, already have someone picked out, etc etc. I need to get back in touch with these people, but I can ask for the same thing again. You also tread a fine line because you want to send out as few e-mails as possible, so as to not be annoying, but at the same time need to capture someone's attention, a difficult task in itself.

All this boils down to the following: when sending out cold e-mails and meeting up with people, try your damnest to have a plan of how the interactions will occur and most importantly what you're seeking to get from those interactions. Be persistent, opportunistic, and somewhat aggressive in these meetings and messages.

Comments (5)

May 30, 2012

Good post but the ending is kind of in limbo. Certainly the following up after initial contact is one of the hardest things. So my question would be, when you have one of those in-limbo contacts what do you specifically say in the email to get in touch again?

May 30, 2012
Quaneaser:

Good post but the ending is kind of in limbo. Certainly the following up after initial contact is one of the hardest things. So my question would be, when you have one of those in-limbo contacts what do you specifically say in the email to get in touch again?

Yeah that's one thing that I am hoping to get out of this thread -- I have no idea! Some have recommended exchanging articles or pointing them to something interesting online that relates to their field, but you still have to "ask" for something, and unless they are a junior banker that you're quasi-friends with, you can't really just have a long thread where you're shooting the breeze.

May 30, 2012
Vontropnats:
Quaneaser:

Good post but the ending is kind of in limbo. Certainly the following up after initial contact is one of the hardest things. So my question would be, when you have one of those in-limbo contacts what do you specifically say in the email to get in touch again?

Yeah that's one thing that I am hoping to get out of this thread -- I have no idea! Some have recommended exchanging articles or pointing them to something interesting online that relates to their field, but you still have to "ask" for something, and unless they are a junior banker that you're quasi-friends with, you can't really just have a long thread where you're shooting the breeze.

In my experience, the essential element to my success with cold emails was finding a personal connection. Chance are you share a hobby, an academic interest...in one case I even got a mass email from one of my contacts about a charity golf tournament and in turn hooked him up with one of my friends who worked for a non-profit that pursued the same mission as the golf tournament.

If you find the personal connection, even if you barely know the person, it's a lot easier to just "check-in". Keep in mind that most people know why you're emailing them. But if you bring up something personal, at least they know you care a little bit. The golf tournament guy eventually ended up getting angry with me and asking that I stop contacting him...but it was fun while it lasted.

May 30, 2012

Note to self: Invite contact to a round of 18.

No but seriously I think that's super important. It's hard to extract that info from someone when you have 20 minutes to talk to them and you're trying to sell yourself pretty hard during that time though. :(

May 30, 2012
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GBS