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When embarking on a new path, it helps to talk directly with someone who has a full view of the map.
In my experience, cold emailing offers a way to get in front of the people you’re ultimately looking to reach, and it could open up opportunities that may not have been presented formally in the meantime.
Getting in touch with a person without a prior introduction requires a bit of gusto, as it goes around the usual steps for applying to a job. And let’s face it: A lot of people (me included) feel awkward doing cold outreach.
But I’ve found most people to be receptive. This approach helped me get an internship at Airbnb and New York-based startup Honest Buildings, as well as my former job at Sagamore Ventures. And it doesn’t only have to apply to the job hunt. It helped me feel more confident going out on my own and starting Gami.
So here’s a step-by-step look to serve as a guide to get started:
The first step is finding the right path. I recommend the book “Designing Your Life,” in which Stanford Design School Professors Bill Burnett and Dave Evans apply design thinking principles to provide a framework to help you organize all the thoughts scrambling around in your head about your career and life.
It allows you to narrow down three tracks reflecting your interests, hopes, dreams, and goals and find the quickest, cheapest, and easiest ways to test out each one. For example, one of my “tracks” was working on a political campaign, which I explored by volunteering on my state delegate’s campaign for re-election a few hours each week. I found out I really enjoyed it!
Testing out these paths can also include speaking with people who have the job or role you’re interested in. While there’s never 100 percent certainty in any career change, testing out things before you jump in allows you to take a more calculated risk.
Whether it’s seeking to learn from people or directly seeking a job, the cold email can help establish those connecting points. The first step is to identify people you’d like to connect with. The easiest way to do this with the highest chance they’ll respond is going through your network. You can use LinkedIn to find first and second degree connections, or another source like an alumni database. For these connections, contact information will be available to you and you can send them an email (preferable) or LinkedIn message.
If you don’t have a connection within a particular company or organization, you can find people on LinkedIn in the role that would be helpful for you. For example if you’re looking at an internship in the operations team at a startup, you could find the Director of Operations or a recruiter. There are tools available to assist with finding emails, as well.
In your initial outreach, you just want to show that you are generally interested, have done your research, and want to learn more about their company, department, and/or role. Don’t make the email overly lengthy but still substantive. I would recommend sending your resume, too.
You don’t have to reach out about a particular job posting. If you’re interested in the operations internship but there aren’t any postings about that particular role, you can still ask those people if there will be opportunities in that role or similar roles. Sometimes they will “make” a role for you that didn’t previously exist.
You have to set your expectations that most people won’t respond, especially the first time. If you put effort into writing a really thoughtful email and emphasize that you admire their work and want to contribute to their team, it will probably go over well and they’ll have a higher chance of responding. Just make sure your outreach is genuine and not templated or under-researched.
If you don’t get a response right away, don’t fret. Make sure to follow up with each contact 1-2 times. People are busy and probably won’t respond the first time.
All of these approaches are way more time intensive than applying to job postings, but I’ve found them to be more effective. They can also help you find out about paths you previously would have never considered, and eliminate the options that ultimately aren’t right for you.-30-
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