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How to Write a Cold Email That Actually Works

Woman at laptop

At some point in your job search, you are going to have to contact someone you do not know. Maybe you have not had luck by phone or you are trying to reach them through social media.  Or maybe a cold email sounds a little less scary than a cold call.

How do you keep your email from getting lost in the Internet black hole? With this how-to, you can make the best of your digital introduction.

The best cold email will accomplish the same things as a cold call: it will succinctly introduce you and your competencies and, following the 3-2-1 concept of cold calling, it will give you an opportunity to show your strengths, ask questions that will initiate a relationship, and provide an actionable outcome as a result of the interaction.

Use a Smart Account
Step one is to start with a smart email account. While we may love our spouses more than life itself, ‘’ is not the email you want to use to solicit a potential employer.

If you are using a personal email address that has, like the one above, a more personal handle, take this opportunity to set up a professional account. Options available from Google, Yahoo, and Hotmail are great, especially if you formulate your handle with something simple like

“You wouldn’t believe how often this happens,” says Marni, an Army wife and Human Resources professional in the Dallas area. “Just get a professional email address. HR disregards emails all the time when the address makes it clear you aren’t serious.” In other words, leave the military love for the bumper stickers and use your name for an email address.

Direct it to the Right Person
Do not send an email into the Internet ether addressed “To whom it may concern” or “I’m not sure if you’re the right person to contact, but…”

“Do your homework!” says Marni. “Most of this information is out there. If you can find an email, you can find a person attached to it, too.”

Comb the company’s website, digital directory, and LinkedIn for the person you want to contact, and address your query to them directly.

“Seeing the ‘to whom it may concerned’ just makes us laugh,” says Marni. “You can’t say you’re detail oriented in your cover letter and then write ‘to whom it may concern.’ It shows you clearly aren’t. Do the research. You won’t regret it.”

3-2-1 Content Plan
Email is a fast and easy method of communication, so make sure your interaction lives up to those standards. Get to the point right away:

You heard about the job or company from XXX and you are very interested in the position/organization.

Three: What are the three skills or experiences that set you apart and make you their ideal candidate?
Two: What two questions can you ask that will initiate a conversation with the recipient?
One: What one thing will you guarantee as an actionable item in this email that will require you to follow up?

Tai is a Navy wife in Norfolk looking for work in the medical industry. Using the 3-2-1 content plan, she found emailing her potential employer was easy.

After graduating this winter, Tai started researching potential employers and found one she wanted to contact. In fact, she found the woman who would be her direct supervisor if she got the job she wanted.

“I found her contact information on LinkedIn and wanted to reach out to her online and say hi, I’m applying for this job and I’d be great at it,” Tai said. “The 3-2-1 approach helped.”

“First I told her that I heard about the job from a friend in the Navy, and that I have already sent in my application to Human Resources. I then said to her that I am confident my qualifications meet and exceed that of my peers: I told her about my degree, my experience as a Red Cross volunteer, and an internship I did at a hospital. For my two questions, I asked her if she would be willing to review my resume, which I attached, and if she could give me five minutes discuss my application further. As my actionable item, I said I would follow up with her by phone on Wednesday.”


Wednesday rolled around, and Tai placed the promised call – to no avail. First she got a receptionist who was not particularly helpful. With a little more digging, she found a direct line and left a voicemail. “I called again that afternoon, one last time, and I got her! We went through my resume together over the phone and she agreed to meet with me to discuss the job. Technically I still have to go through Human Resources, but I have an ‘in’ with the boss now that I wouldn’t have had before.”

Tai’s strategic email and persistence in following up carried her into a connection with a potential employer she otherwise would not have experienced. “Email can be really great,” says Marni, the HR guru. “But you have to use it wisely. Leverage an email into a phone call, and leverage that into a relationship. If you do that, you’re using it right.”

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