How to Write a Cold Email That Doesn’t Suck

Trust me, I’ve read thousands

03.06.17
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Cold emailing. If that phrase makes you break out in metaphorical chills, you are not alone. I worked freelance for a year after graduating from college, and during that period I sent out dozens and dozens of cold emails in an attempt to find a full-time position somewhere (anywhere!) I could picture myself long-term. Do you know how many responses I received? Zero. That’s zero as in: zero. I’m a little embarrassed to be sharing that, especially because I worked so hard on all those cover letters.

Ironically, I’ve spent the past three months fielding hundreds of cold emails for a role we’re trying to fill on the Man Repeller social team. Reading and evaluating cold emails is significantly less chilly than sending cold emails — except now that I’m on the other side of the equation, it is painfully clear to me why my own cold emails were unsuccessful.

I wish I could go back in time and tell my former self exactly what I was doing wrong (and also forbid myself from eating so many cookie dough Quest bars in 2015). But time travel is only for Hermione Granger, and those Quest bars ultimately taught me an important life lesson about the perils of artificial ingredients vis-a-vis terrible stomachaches, so instead I will impart my newly learned cold-emailing wisdom to you, right here, in the present day:

Don’t just send the cold email to a generic “Careers” or “Info” account. It’s much, much, much better to reach out to a specific person. Due to the sheer volume of emails that accumulate in a company’s generic, catch-all accounts, there is a very high chance that your precious(!) missive will get lost in the chaos. Treat your cold email like an important package and make sure it ends up in the inbox of someone who will unwrap it with tender love and care.

Don’t waste the subject line. A subject line is the first thing anyone reading your email will see, which means you should regard it as valuable advertising space — “clickbait,” essentially. There’s no single formula for crafting the perfect cold-email subject line, because the correct approach will vary by industry, and you may need to make it pretty straightforward. If you can though, be creative. Based on my own experience reading (or, frankly, disregarding) a cold email because of its subject line, a good one captures attention without being hokey. Or cocky.

Don’t give a summary of your resume. zzzzZZZZZZZ ← That was me falling asleep after reading another resume summary in cold-email form. There are two reasons why this strategy is bad news bears. First of all, it’s redundant. If you attached your resume to the email, then you already provided the necessary information about your work history. Second of all, it’s boring. Use the body of your cold email to *briefly* touch upon a) Why this company? And b) Why this role, and why you? A few sentences in answer to each of these questions is plenty. If you want to devote one of them to explaining how your particular skills/work experience would lend itself to the role, that’s fine, but there’s no need to go into tons of detail.

Don’t apply without checking what jobs are open. Some companies (especially smaller ones) don’t list their job openings online, but most do. All it takes is a quick Google — “[company name] job openings” — and you will have your answer. This simple search query takes two seconds, and it is really, really important. It doesn’t look good if you send a vague cold email inquiring about “any available positions” when they are clearly listed. It looks like you have no clue why you want to work for that particular company or where you will fit in. It also raises a red flag that you might be sending a blanket cold email to multiple companies out of cold-emailing fatigue (and believe me, I’ve been there).

Don’t ask about salary…yet. A cold email is not the right place for salary negotiations!!!!!!! That’s all!

Don’t give up after one try. If you don’t hear back after a few weeks, send a follow-up email. If that doesn’t work, find a different avenue. Send an email to a different person or account. Change your subject line. Print out your email and send it to the hiring manager in a shoe box. Just like the squeaky wheel gets the grease, the most persistent cold emailer gets a warm desk chair.

Collage by Maria Jia Ling Pitt; photos by Alfred Gescheidt and Swim Ink 2, LLC/Corbis via Getty Images. 

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