The Cold Call: How to email a stranger

IN ONE OF my recent posts, I introduced the concept of a ‘cold connection’ in your network. This is someone you do not know, and no one you know can introduce you to this person. If you’re looking for a job, networking, or exploring career options, the chances are high that you will need to reach out to a cold connection. After all, asking real people with real jobs questions is the best way to see if you would like what they do. But to get to this point, you often have to send an introductory e-mail.

Some of my readers have asked for tips on how to reach out to these people for the first time.

I call this the Cold Call.

You can, successfully, reach out to these people and ask them for something you want. I believe in you! However, there are some DOs and DON’Ts of e-mailing cold connections.


Introduce yourself. 

Say who you are and offer some context. Why are you writing to this person? Did you see them speak at a conference and loved what they said? Have you been following their company for a while? Are you a student and you are hoping to learn about their industry? If you can see what I’m getting at, you can offer a wide range of things as context for your e-mail.

Be polite. 

Being respectful in your tone and style is always important, but here especially. This is the first impression that you are giving them. An e-mail that comes off pushy is not likely to be well received. Instead, give the receiver lots of flexibility in the e-mail. I like to end things by saying; “I look forward to hearing from you.” This gives the person an out. It hopes they will respond, but doesn’t expect that they will say yes to meeting with you.

Ask a direct question. 

I recently had a young person reach out to me – they are a warm connection to me. Their e-mail was okay, but they said: “I’d really like to meet with people in the policy field.” I thought to myself: Well, great! Am I that person? Do you want to meet with me? Or do you want me to recommend others? Take the guessing game out for the person and instead try: “Would you be willing to offer me 30 minutes of your time in person or by phone to talk about what you do?”

Be after information, not a job.

Many people feel comfortable reaching out to people to ask about job openings. Maybe you have done this before: “Hi there, I’m really interested in working for your company in the future. Are there any current openings for full-time positions, internships or volunteer placements?”

Even though you are being direct and asking a question, you’re also setting yourself up for a) no response or b) a ‘No’ to your question. My advice is to stay far, far away from any mention of a job when you reach out. Focus on learning about the person, the role, and/or the organization. If you reach out and get a “No – we currently have no openings, check our Careers page in the future,” you have dead-ended the conversation – and this is not what you want.


I’ve sent an e-mail that I later discovered was missing a word or had something misspelled. It sucks. Throw your e-mail into Word before you send, or use this App.


View it as transactional.

If you only want to get something and then move on from this person, STOP. DO NOT PASS GO. DO NOT COLLECT $200 DOLLARS. Relationship building is about learning. It’s about the long game, and people can tell if you only want to use them for someone and then drop them. Keep reminding yourself you are after information. If you don’t think you are, reflect more on your networking or job search process before you proceed.

Tell your life story. 

Keep it short and sweet. No one wants to have to scroll down in an e-mail from someone he or she don’t even know.

Be so nervous!

I know it can be nerve-racking to e-mail a complete stranger, but remember that everyone is a human being. Everyone has once looked for a job. You truly have nothing to lose, so go ahead and press send!

Take it personally.

If you don’t hear back, it is probably not about you. It is more likely that this person got busy, and replying to your e-mail got lost in the list of TO DOs. Do not fret. I have followed up with people I didn’t get a response from the first go around. Sometimes I wait a few weeks to a month. I’ve even followed up three times and was told: “Julia, thank you for the nudge. I meant to get back to you! Let’s set something up soon.”

If we put this all together, the e-mail would go something like this:

Dear/Hi First name, 

My name is Julia. I saw you speak at a sustainability conference put on by the [XYZ Organization] last week. I didn’t get a chance to catch you, but I wanted to pass on that I really enjoyed your remarks. I’ve since looked into the organization that you work for. The work seems very fulfilling and aligned with what I studied in my XYZ degree. 

If you would be willing, I would love the opportunity to learn more about what you do at this organization.  

Would you be willing to have a coffee with me sometime in the next few weeks? 

Thanks for your time,

Julia Hawthornthwaite