Yes, it’s awkward. Reaching out to anyone when you don’t already have a relationship feels unnatural. Even for you, someone who likely has cold pitched as part of your job in reporting, PR, or other editorial work. It’s really not that different. Instead of pitching a story idea or a product, you’re pitching yourself. So wrap yourself in a sweater (hey, the A/C is blasting anyway), and get yourself warmed up for some hot job leads. (Just avoid corny puns like this when you do.)
Start with a legit connection. Before you move into absolute strangers (that’s second level), begin your outreach by connecting with people who are one or two connections away from your contacts. It helps to have a name to drop in the subject line or first line of your email. And even better if you can do so with the consent of your contact, i.e., Chandra sent me, or Chandra said I should reach out. If I don’t have a referral, I will often name drop a connection; for instance, We’ve never met, but we have a few people in common, like my friend Courtenay who you worked with at Cafe Mom. Or We’ve never met, but I’m a big fan of your work and what you do at HBO. It’s much harder for the recipient to ignore you if you establish a personal connection. Still, they might and that’s OK. Give them a week and then follow up. Once. Some people really are too busy, aren’t into networking, or who knows You never know what’s going on in other people’s lives. It doesn’t mean they won’t be receptive later. But respect that it likely has little to nothing to do with you. And move on to another contact.
Try social over email. When talking to students in my Get Your First Media Job workshop, they found a lot of success cold connecting on social media. This will come as no surprise to most of you, but Instagram is best for connecting with Gen Y and Z and Facebook and Twitter for Gen X and up. One of my students (Hi Amanda!) posted on her Facebook page that she was in need of a media mentor and a woman replied and helped her get a job interview! Another student (Hi Amira!) pinged a BuzzFeed and Ed2010 writer she admired on Instagram and got a quick response. Interestingly, Linked In ends up being the least responsive social media platform for cold-connecting (even though it’s, um, made for that.) Still, it’s worth a shot if that’s your only avenue. (And often people put their email addresses in their Contact Info in their profiles.)
Explain your intent. In your outreach email or message, be clear and to the point. (You’re a content person right? Write that pithy copy!). Be honest and obvious about what you want: an informational phone chat, a referral to the hiring manager, or whatever. Don’t make your receipient have to figure out your intentions. Nobody got time for that. Be light and conversational; you want them to be eager to meet with you in person (ideally, or on the phone, second best). Don’t get too in the weeds on your background, but do link to your blog, your portfolio, or your LinkedIn. (And make sure it’s up to date with the right messaging!)
Let them off the hook. When I talk to people about why they don’t respond to cold emails, the first thing they say is “I’m too busy.” But the second thing I hear, and what I suspect is more to the truth, are explanations like this: I don’t have any job openings / I am not in charge of hiring / I don’t know what I could do to help. You want to get around those concerns by saying up front that you don’t need an assignment or a job. (Well, you do, but be patient.) You just want to talk to them about their job, what they love about it, and what needs you could help fill for them. (Hold tight: we’ll get to that.) They’ll be more likely to take a meeting with you if they know there is no obligation on their end.
Offer to come to their ‘hood. If your request is to meet for a 1:1 IRL, offer to go to their part of town, and to their favorite coffee shop. Get there early and text, Hey, I’m here early, what can I order for you? I have met with hundreds of people for informationals over the years and this so rarely happens but boy, does it mean a lot when it does. I know you’re broke, but that $4 iced latte will help smooth the awkwardness of your first “date” and automatically puts the recipient at ease, and in a position where they will be willing to help you.
Don’t wing it. Treat this like a job interview, light. Be prepared to give a short pitch about yourself (practice it before!). It should include your mission statement and your UVP (Unique Value Proposition). For instance, I’m a journalist who has edited personal finance stories for 3 years. I’m looking to take my expertise to the brand side where I can educate their consumers about the financial services products they offer. Be sure to drop in some of your best TV anecdotes. What you want out of this meeting is for them to take your resume to their ED, CMO, CCO, or other hiring manager. Or for them to say to their friend over coffee, Hey, that reminds me. I met with someone a few weeks ago who would be a great fit for you …
Don’t make it all about you. Yes, you scheduled this meeting so you could get a job lead out of it. That fact is not lost on anyone. But the odds of that happening are greatly improved if you come with questions prepared for them, about their careers, and how they got where they are today. Everyone loves to talk about themselves. Indulge them with authenticity. Take notes. Ask questions. Give them the appropriate Wows and That’s awesomes they deserve as they describe their career path to you. As they tell their story, ask about people that they mention, their friends and former coworkers. They may be willing to connect you to those people too. Don’t push, but if they offer, take advantage. This is what networking is all about.
Offer them something. More than a cup of coffee. At the junior level your rapt attention and admiration is usually enough. When you are mid to senior level, you have more to offer and therefore the expectations are greater. Give them something that can elevate them or their business. It could be as little as offering to send them a link to the digital marketing newsletter you follow or as big as providing consulting in your area of expertise. If you are a social media manager, you could take a look at their Instagram feed and offer suggestions on how to better connect with their audience. If you are managing editor, you could suggest a new project management software program you use that could benefit their team. Go with your gut and what feels right. They don’t have to take you up on your offer, but at least you offered.
Keep them in your network. Start with sending them a thank you note. For junior level, I recommend a paper one, in the mail. For everyone else, you can send thanks via email. As you move along in your job search, think of organic ways to loop in your new connection. Share an article they may find interesting, comment on their posts on Linked In (engagement is so low on Linked In it’ll definitely get noticed!), send them a quick Congrats! if you see their company had a big win, or they got a promotion. Don’t be a pest, but be on the periphery. Remember, this person may not hire you. But they could very well be the person who introduces you to the person who does.
Founder & CEO, The Talent Fairy