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.
[Editor’s note: That’s one of the reasons we launched a community of millennial women with the goal of pooling our resources to help each other succeed! If you’d like to learn more, sign up here.]
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:
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.