I remember exactly where I was when I did it — the move that would eventually land me my current role, my dream role.
It was 2018 and I was travelling the world, freelance writing as I went. It sounds like the perfect work set-up — and it was. But I didn’t want to be doing it forever. Eventually, I wanted to be based in one place, working full-time in writing or editing. And if I’d landed a role doing that, I would’ve come home to Sydney in a heartbeat.
So, I did it. I cold emailed (yes, apparently, it’s a term) an editor I admired. I remember cracking open my laptop after breakfast at a resort in Indonesia and, fuelled up on two cups of coffee and island sun, typing out an email with the subject line: ‘Potential opportunity?’.
“I was wondering if any of your titles had any upcoming full-time roles?” I wrote her. For background, this editor was in charge of several well-known digital lifestyle publications in Australia. “I love the sites and specifically your writing,” I continued, before mentioning a story of hers I’d read and loved.
I then went on to share some ideas I had for stories that might work for her sites, as well as my CV and links to some of my existing, published stories.
To my surprise, the editor replied. “Hi Sangeeta, great to hear from you,” she wrote. “We are picking up our contributor program again in July. Can keep you in mind.”
And while I never did end up contributing to those publications, two years later, when the editor moved onto a new organisation and was in charge of other publications, I reached out again and this time, she was able to offer me casual work: covering shifts for full-time staff over Christmas break.
And it had all started from a cold email.
“The percentage of vacant roles that are never advertised varies greatly, but figures suggest up to 70% of jobs may never appear on a job board,” says Leah Lambart, a career and interview coach at Relaunch Me.
“When coaching my clients, I always recommend they ‘look for people, not jobs’,” Lambart says.
“This basically means spending more time identifying people or organisations they would love to work with and going direct, rather than spending endless hours trawling through advertised roles on job boards.”
That said, Lambart notes: “Companies are not often in the position to create a new role unless there is a specific gap that you would fulfil.”
“But it can happen if the timing is right. In fact, I found my first role with exactly this approach. I researched companies that resonated with me and contacted the owner of one directly. A member of their team resigned a month later and so the owner called me to tell me she was advertising for the role and recommended that I apply for it. I ended up getting the job.”
While I hope my experience has inspired you too to try reaching out to someone you may admire at an organisation you love, I’m also very aware that things may work a bit differently in other industries. So, for that reason, I asked Lambart for some general tips on cold emailing.
How should you format the cold email?
Lambart recommends making direct contact via email or LinkedIn and using a professional, but casual approach. As a general template format, she suggests:
We haven’t met before, but I am a [profession] with [number] years’ experience that I’ve gained working for [company] and [company]. I have expertise in [several skills or knowledge areas].
I have been following your organisation for some time and really love what you are currently doing with your [area you are interested in becoming involved with, eg. marketing strategy].
I understand that you are not currently advertising for a position at this time, however, I would really appreciate you keeping me in mind should a suitable role arise in the near future. You can contact me on this email address or on my mobile [number] if you’d like any further information on my background. I have also attached my resume.
How can you flatter the person without it sounding inauthentic?
Going overboard with flattery can not only sound inauthentic, but also like you’re trying too hard. So, how can you give just the right amount?
“I would choose a few key things that genuinely interest you about working with that company or with that specific team,” says Lambart. “It may be related to what you see in the media, read on the website, or perhaps you know people who have had a positive experience working for the company.”
Interestingly, Lambart adds that if you do have internal contacts, mention them.
“Networking is a huge advantage when it comes to job search, so don’t hold back if you have a mutual connection that may help you get your foot in the door,” she says.
What should you not do when reaching out?
So, you’ve got the dos of cold emailing, but what are the don’ts?
“Whatever you do, don’t bombard them with emails or phone calls,” says Lambart. “If they don’t respond to your first email or LinkedIn message, then follow-up with an email or call two weeks later.”
And if there’s no response? Lambart recommends leaving it.
“Perhaps identify someone else in the company that you can approach at a later time,” she says.
Other things not to do include asking the person out for coffee or lunch (“You need to be super mindful of people’s time”), being too casual (“The approach still needs to be professional and you need to ensure you have no typos or spelling mistakes”) and writing an essay.
“A short, succinct email with 2-3 paragraphs is sufficient,” Lambart says. “No one has time to read a two-page letter.”
Hopefully, though, you’ve read all of this and are now inspired to also try sending a cold email. Good luck!