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How to Write a Cold Outreach Email

Sending an email to somebody you don’t know can be intimidating.  Usually if you’re emailing a stranger, they have something you want.  This could be a connection, a favor, or even a job offer.


An email like this is called “cold outreach” and when used correctly can take you places.  When used poorly though, it’ll take you straight to the trash folder.  


How do you write a successful cold outreach email?  How do you avoid the trash, and get what you need?  We have tips and a sample email you can check out, so you can hit send knowing that your email will get read.


Getting Started

The subject of an email can instantly decide whether an email from a stranger goes to the trash or is opened up for further investigation. Make the subject clear and about the recipient, and try to keep it brief when possible.  “Hello” or “Need Advice” are good ways to go straight to the trash – they say nothing and make it about what you need.  Instead, try “From one Denver accountant to another” or “Fellow Hoosier seeks San Diego relocation”.  You make a clear connection from the subject that you aren’t spam, and are willing to learn about the recipient and just sending a mass email.


In your greeting, you want to come off as polite but informal.  Use their first name, or their title and last name.  Don’t do “Dear John Smith” or “Dear Professor Linda Smith”.  These come off as very impersonal and rigid – and thus more like a mass email sent out.   “Hi John” and “Dear Professor Smith” work just fine, and give off the same vibe as if you were there in person.  


The Body

Your first sentences should make the email about the recipient, people love reading about themselves.  Perhaps link them to an article, or comment on a mutual interest or area.  Avoid “I, me, my” and use “you and your” to make the email about them.  If this is a stranger, make it clear how you know their hobby, such as via LinkedIn or Twitter.  “I’ve been watching you and I know you like to ski.” is a great way to go to spam, and maybe get a visit from the police.  “I came across your LinkedIn profile when searching for San Diego based alumni and noticed that you’re a ski aficionado.”  


If you were connected through a friend/colleague, mention that first.  Make it clear how they know them, and how you know them.  “I heard you were looking for a new web designer.” comes off as invasive.  “John Smith, your neighbor and my friend, recommended that I get in touch with you.”  Even when you’re introducing yourself, it’s important to make it as much about the recipient as possible.


After your brief connection, make it clear why you’re there.  This may be an informational meeting, or more info on a job opening.  Connect with them again on a personal level, and offer something in return.  “I was hoping I could meet a fellow Hoosier to discuss the prospect of living in San Diego.  Would you let me buy you a cup of coffee?”  The key is to make your email about the recipient, but get to your point.  People don’t have time to read a lot of emails.  Connect, pitch, and close.



Finish the email quickly and politely.  Make a quick close and thank them for their time.  Don’t push this too far by trying to add more to what you’re asking form or by adding a ton of new information.  Keep these emails short and sweet.


Putting It All Together


Subject: From one Denver accountant to another

Hi John,

Your colleague and my neighbor, Jane Smith, recommended your LinkedIn profile to me.  I read your post on skiing in Europe and couldn’t be more jealous of your wonderful vacation.

I noticed on your firm’s website that there is an opening for an entry level accountant, and I would love to learn more.  Are you free for a quick call, or perhaps I can buy you a cup of coffee?

Thanks and have a nice day.




This sample email makes the subject clear, and addresses the recipient clearly with a polite yet informal tone.  Although “I” and “me”are used in the opening sentence, starting with“Your” initiates the email to be about them.  We then connect by mentioning his blog post on skiing, and how enjoyable the trip must’ve been.


I then get straight to the point with my ask, and make it as easy for John as possible to know what I want.  John is then offered a choice, either a call or a free cup of coffee.  By offering him a choice we show flexibility and respect for his time.


We then close quickly and politely.


Looking for some easy ways to hack the recruiting process in your favor? Check out our resources on leveraging your network and optimizing your resume.


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