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5 tips—and sample scripts!—for cold outreach in your job search

Cold outreach can be a valuable tool in your job search. Here's how to increase your odds of getting a response.

Is the thought of cold emailing making you break out in a cold sweat? Whether you’re hoping to expand your network, learn about a new career pathway, or reach out about a specific job, cold emailing can be a valuable tool in your job search. Here are some simple guidelines and scripts to increase your odds of getting a response.

The basics of cold outreach

A cold email is one you send to a person you’ve never met or been introduced to. So it’s extra important to make your message memorable. Take the time to craft your message carefully: the more personal and tailored it is, the better your chances of hearing back. Use these same tips for weak connections, like a recruiter you met at a career fair.

  1. Do take the time to make it personal: make the recipient feel that no one else could have gotten the same message.
  2. Do explain why you’re reaching out to them and what your specific request is.
  3. Don’t ask for more than a half hour of their time, and politely end the conversation at the 30-minute mark (but if they want to keep talking longer, that’s fine.)
  4. Don’t be pushy: avoid sending more than one follow-up email if you get no response.
  5. Don’t forget to follow up and thank them after you connect. If the conversation went well, you can add, “Is there anyone else you think I should talk to?” You may get a warm intro to another connection!

Cold emailing for networking

There’s a few different ways to use cold emails to build out your network. You can reach out to people at employers you’re interested in to learn more about company culture and what they value in candidates. Or, you may find someone with a job title or career path that you’re curious about, and ask for an informational interview.

Where do you find people to contact? You can find profiles on Handshake or LinkedIn. You can also try contacting speakers at an event you attended, a content creator, the author of an article you found intriguing, or in an online community. Your career center is another great resource to connect with your school’s alumni network.

Here’s your formula when reaching out:

Hello X,

We haven’t met, but I found you through [the alumni directory/Handshake/a Google search/an event I attended]. I am [describe yourself in 1-2 sentences, and say what you are hoping to get out of the conversation.]

I’m looking for [advice about applying to your company/to hear more about an open role/to hear how you got to where you are/to ask how you picked your major/to ask about a specific project you did.] Would you have a half hour to speak to me?

I’m available any time except Wednesday mornings, and I’d be happy to meet in person or schedule a phone or video call.”

How it sounds in a sample message:

Hello Asa,

We haven't met, but I found your profile in the Acme University alumni directory, and I was really intrigued by your career path. I am currently a third-year student at Acme, majoring in psychology, and I am trying to figure out my career path after graduation. Last summer, I completed an event planning internship at a local youth nonprofit, and while I loved the nonprofit, I realized I didn’t want to pursue event planning as a career.

What struck me about your background is that you’ve worked in multiple nonprofit roles. Your current position in donor relations is very intriguing to me, and I’d love to be able to ask you about your work and how you got to where you are. Would you have a half hour to speak with me? I’d be incredibly grateful.

Warm regards,


Cold emailing a recruiter about a job

In general, it’s much better to reach out to a recruiter before a role is open, not when you’re about to apply. But, you can still try your luck if you’re genuine and respectful.

Janel Houston, Lead Recruiting Specialist at Deloitte, says, “My best advice for cold emails is, be thoughtful. Use your judgment about what the most impactful message could be. Recruiters are just people, so put yourself in their shoes and try to imagine what kind of message they’d appreciate receiving.”

How it sounds in a sample message:

Dear Cindy,

I’m a junior at Acme University majoring in psychology, and I am interested in the Digital Marketing Internship at Eastwestly Labs. I completed a marketing internship last summer, and fell in love with this career path. I am very interested in interning with your company because of your leading role in internet infrastructure.

I did have one question: the role asks for SEO knowledge, and while I did some SEO blog writing in my last internship, that wasn’t the main focus of my role. Would that be a deal breaker for this role, or is this a skill I could learn on the job?

Thank you!


Cold emailing for a referral

Although some sources recommend trying to get a referral through cold emailing, this path can be tricky. For context: many companies, especially in tech, give current employees a bonus if someone they referred is hired. This can—in theory!—give employees an incentive to refer you, even if they don’t personally know you.

If an alum of your university or college works at the company you’re applying to, you can certainly try your luck and reach out. But be very sure you meet at least 70% of the job requirements. Your contact will get zero benefit if you are screened out in the first phone interview. (And keep in mind that executives, recruiters, and HR employees are usually not eligible for referral bonuses.)

Set realistic expectations

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get a response to every cold email. In fact, that’s normal! If even one person responds, that’s one more networking connection that you never would have gotten if you didn’t try.

Photo courtesy of Startup Stock Photos via Pexels

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