Sending a cold email can be scary, especially if you aren’t used to introducing yourself to strangers or asking for favors. However, cold messaging is one of the best ways to forge meaningful connections with company representatives and industry leaders.
In the process, you’ll improve your networking skills and show others that you’re an ambitious self-starter. Who knows, you might even land your next opportunity through networking!
What is Cold Messaging?
In terms of the job hunt, cold messaging is the process of contacting a company’s hiring manager and/or department heads or even helpful people in the industry to build connections for future employment. On a larger scale, it can also mean reaching out to leads: key players and personalities who you’ve never met, but who you aspire to collaborate with and learn from.
First, you’ll start by researching and recording a list of relevant contacts employed by companies you have your eyes on. Create contact cards in your Jackfruit Network tab, to save all contacts in one place, track your cold outreach attempts and take ongoing notes about each encounter.
Once you’ve generated a list of leads, it’s time to reach out. Don’t just hit send, though. In order for cold outreach initiatives to be successful, you are going to need to research and draft a targeted message with personalized content, along a strategic timeline.
Will People Even Read My Cold Message?
Niti Shree, Product Manager at Backstage.Army, who used cold messaging to transition her career into a different industry, explains that perseverance is the best remedy for low reply rates:
“The biggest thing to get your mind around is that you are likely to fail 80% of the time. Becoming comfortable with that, and expecting that four out of five people you reach out to won't respond, will help you set the right expectations so that you don't feel bad about yourself when you do it.”
Response rates vary depending on the sender and their industry. More than anything, reply rates are affected by how skillfully an email was written.
Leads reward the senders who get the cold message right. These strong introductions need to be 1) intriguing yet brief, 2) relevant and personalized, and 3) have an overarching call to action.
1. Brief and Intriguing
On that note, subject lines are like a music festival’s headliners: you know very quickly whether you’re going to attend. Studies show that 35% of people click on a cold message based on its subject line alone. And unfortunately, if it’s not persuasive enough, 69% of recipients will report the message as spam. Hence, it’s worth investing time in finding a top-performer.
- Be Casual
Beginning your subject with lowercase letters also conveys a nonchalance that leads seem to appreciate. That said, use your judgment about when this is appropriate by considering seniority, the gravity of the favor you’re going to ask for and the lead’s reputation. Even in cases where grammar rules are obligatory, strive to speak how you would talk. Test out subject lines like “Going Forward” or “Hi again!”
During Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign, most of the $690 million his team raised online came from fundraising emails. It’s safe to say that Obama didn’t personally type out every email in his outbox. And yet, his subject lines were not only intriguing, but his entire campaign was founded upon human values and the impactful use of a conversational tone: “The subject lines that worked best were things you might see in your inbox from other people,” says Toby Fallsgraff, the campaign’s email director. “‘Hey’ was probably the best one we had over the duration.”
- Be Eye-Catching
YOU DON’T WANT TO TYPE IN CAPS ALL THE WAY THROUGH YOUR SUBJECT LINE. It may get your reader’s attention, but you’ll risk being judged for using this ploy. That said, bracketing a helpful word in asterisks or typing or beginning the subject line with “RE:” to imply a previous conversation, increases the likelihood they’ll click your email. If you’re networking, always determine the appropriateness of these tactics before you send.
- Play the Name Game
When you’re cold messaging a new person, it’s helpful to give context about who you are and who you know. You can mention mutual connections as early as the subject line. For instance, “Hi Jack—Frank Stein said I should reach out.” Also, note that using your own name and/or your recipient’s name in the subject line is humanizing; both tricks have increased open and reply rates in various studies. I.e. “Jane Fink <> Joey Fineman - New Initiative”
The body of your message will take your subject line’s momentum forward and should continue to pique your reader’s interest.
A few of the above tactics will continue to apply, including brevity, keeping cool, hooking the reader and stating mutual connections. There are, however, a few key nuances.
- Be Yourself
Remind the reader you're human to warm up your cold email. Considering that most professionals are familiar with the networking game, they’ll feel humbled when given the chance to empower young go-getters. Try to write like you’d speak in a workplace, with confidence, professionalism and candor.
A study by Harvard social psychologist Ellen Langer found that people are more likely to comply with your requests if you pretend to justify them with words like because. Even if your explanation is illogical, like asking to cut the line for a copy machine because you needed to use it, Langer found that 93% of people still comply with the favor.
- Relevance via Expertise
When you’re looking for a mentor, focus on telling them about your passions and aspirations. Whether you’re selling a product or service, or saying you’d be the right candidate, it’s your expertise that makes you relevant. Laura Lopuch, a freelance writer and email conversion copywriter, kick-started her career by sending 324 targeted emails, which grew her business by 1400% in only 4 months. Her strategy? Identifying a company’s problem in order to showcase her expert ability to solve it. Hence, she’d begin emails with pressing questions like, Did you know your webpage isn’t visible on Google’s first page of search results?
2. Always Personalize Your Cold Message
When your cold message is noticeably personalized, it can increase your open rate by nearly 46 percent.
Therefore, it’s imperative that you research your lead and identify which aspects of their personality and career truly resonate with you. If you’re tailoring a new message and struggle to find suitable overlaps, consider the following questions and ideas.
- Do you have common experiences?
Next time you are researching a new lead on LinkedIn, you may find that you attended the same college back in the day. Write this down. Tell them this. Every tidbit of information they might relate to makes you less of a stranger and increases the chances they’ll reply.
- Why do they speak to you?
Maybe you don’t have the same alma mater, but just read an article about their fashion brand’s active stance against climate change. In this case, sharing your genuine admiration for their activist cause will build common ground; it will facilitate conversations that flow naturally.
- Flattery Within Reason
Want to know a strange fact? A Stanford study found that humans are susceptible to flattery, even when they know they’re communicating with a computer software. In fact, their feeling of flattery is as strong as if it were caused by a human being! If a computer can successfully flatter their recipient, so can you—and you should!
In reality, when you’re complimenting a supervisor or prospective mentor, you want to give compliments that are genuine. If you’ve spent time researching a person and pinpointing common grounds to strike up a conversation, it’s very likely you can weave flattery into your email, but you want to do this in the form of optimistic admiration.
For example: “In my Physical Anthropology class, we read your journal article about rituals in North American and Indian weddings. I really appreciated your way of comparing two very different cultures, and as I narrow down my college major, I am wondering if you’d be able to advise me and share your expertise.”
Here, the compliment—that the recipient is an expert—is subtle and grounded in reality.
Compare the above example with: “In my Physical Anthropology class, we’re told to look for mentors who might help narrow down our major. I thought I’d start my search by contacting the best of the best!”
The latter compliment doesn’t acknowledge that you’ve done your diligence on the recipient. Also, it begs the question of why you, many years their junior, have the authority to name them an expert. You are in a place to ask for their knowledge because you’re a driven student, but there’s no need to crown them with a hyperbolic title.
3. Next Steps
Last but not least, a cold message should have a strong call-to-action (CTA) - a concrete request that your lead can accept or decline.
- Pick One CTA
Avoid making too many requests in one email. Going overboard with questions might overwhelm or confuse them. For example, say that you’re inviting a thought leader to speak on your podcast. If they’re interested in collaborating, they’ll have their chance to ask logistical questions. Consolidate your CTA into a simple request.
Don't Say: Would you have time to share insight on my career development podcast? If so, I would request you post about the episode on social media afterwards. Hope to meet sometime next Monday or Tuesday!
Do Say: Let me know if you’d be interested in sharing insight during my career development podcast next week!
- Gauge Interest
CTAs that suggest a specific meeting date are fine to use, and certainly outperform requests with a vague place and time. That said, the most successful CTAs are often those which gauge interest: Would you be interested in learning more about the podcast? These types of questions have led to 30% more successful interactions—and if you think about it, it makes a lot of sense; your lead might not want to commit their time to a future meeting, but it only takes a few moments to admit they're intrigued. That gets the ball rolling and helps to schedule a meeting later on.
- Work on Timing
Pay attention to when you email during the week—and if your recipient is in the same time zone! Weekly open rates fluctuate based on the industry. For networking emails, Business Insider suggests trying Tuesdays and Saturdays, since by Tuesday, the “weekend’s haze” and busy mondays have passed, so work life has commenced; meanwhile, on Saturday, open rates are surprisingly high and worth a try.
Meanwhile, in a Hubspot survey of over 300 email marketers in the U.S., 22.6% said they received the most engagement on Mondays, 24.9% said Tuesdays and 21.3% said Wednesdays. Breaking it down by the hour, the highest engagement for their marketing emails occurred between 9 AM to 12 PM and 12 PM to 3 PM.
Follow up and Show Gratitude
If you haven’t heard back, consider adding a follow-up email to your cold outreach sequence. Doing so can increase your average reply rate from 9% to 13%. And when someone replies to your cold message, even if it’s not the answer you were looking for, be sure to end on a good note and thank them for their response.