how to send a networking email that won’t be ignored

If you want to ask a stranger or a distant acquaintance for networking or career help, the initial email you send can determine whether you get a response or never hear anything back. Many of the people whose help you’d most like are busy and often get more email than they can respond to. And since emails from strangers often go to the bottom of the list, it’s important to craft an email that that they won’t be inclined to ignore.

Here are seven ways to write a networking email that gets a response—and hopefully the action you want.

1. Start with some context. Briefly explain who you are and how you came to contact the person. Don’t give your whole life story—a couple of sentences is all you need—but do set up some context before you plunge into what you’re looking for.

2. State clearly what you’re looking for—and be specific. Explain exactly what you want. Are you looking for a phone call, a meeting, an introduction? Information about their field? Career advice? Don’t make them guess—either about the topic or about what you’d like from them in particular. Most people you’re reaching out to are going to be busy; they don’t want to spend their time trying to read between the lines and figuring out what it is that you’re asking … and you don’t want to make them fear that if they agree to talk, they’ll end up in an open-ended call or meeting where you’re not prepared with clear and specific questions.

3. Explain why you’re reaching out to them in particular. Why do you think that this person, out of all the people you could have contacted, can help you? Is it because you’re alumni of the same school, or she worked somewhere you’d like to work, or he wrote an article that you found helpful? Give enough context that the person can understand why you think they have something that will be helpful to you. And by the way…

4. Be flattering. If you’re reaching out to someone, you must think he or she is insightful enough to want his or her help for a reason. Tell him or her what that reason is. Explain what it is that you admire about him or her. This will soften most people right up, and make them a lot more inclined to help you out than if you just launch right into what they can do for you.

5. Be concise. Busy people don’t have time to read lengthy emails, and sending five paragraphs when you could have sent two doesn’t show you respect their time. Keep it brief—there will be time for more later if they agree to talk with you.

6. Make it easy. Whatever you’re asking for, think about the easiest way for that person to give it to you. Don’t suggest lunch when a coffee would be faster. Or suggest a phone call instead. And always say that you’ll make time for it whenever is convenient for your contact. You want to make it as easy as possible for them to say yes.

7. Say thank you. Most people like to help other people out, but they like to be appreciated for their time and effort. There’s no faster way to leave someone feeling cold toward you than to accept their time and help and not seem appreciative.

{ 7 comments… read them below }

  1. Toni Stark ` Stark Enterprise

    Everyone needs to read this. I had someone contact me for “career advice” that I use to work with. He wants to get into the same organization I work in. I agreed to talk with him at a specific time. He showed up earlier than that as I was just getting off a conference call. When I seemed taken aback by her earliness, he didn’t seem to get it. 10 minutes into the conversation he basically asked if I were a hiring manager. I said no and that I am a self-contributor. He then said “Oh, I thought you hired people.” I guess maybe he was hoping I would hire him??? He ended the meeting about five minutes after that but not before he asked how he could get my job.

  2. Christine

    Okay….so how do you handle such a contact with a person you approached at the end of a presentation? A few weeks ago, I attended a presentation given by someone in a field that I’m pretty interested in exploring. Afterwards, I approached her, and she enthusiastically agreed to speak with me further, and gave me her contact info, requesting that I call her to set up a time to speak, as well as to send her my resume in case she sees something come along that I may be interested in.

    Well…..I think I blew this one. The number I dialed didn’t work (though it turned out I was misdialing…d’oh!) so I emailed her instead. Nothing, so about a week later, I called. Still nothing. The one thing I didn’t do was send along my resume because I’m not all that confident with it.

    Yeah…..I blew it :(

    1. fposte

      I’d say you still should have sent along your resume, since it was specifically stated that you should and that was kind of the point. But I don’t think an email instead of a call is why you didn’t hear–I think her good intentions didn’t carry her through to action once she want back to the office.

      It’s not like networking either gives you a great success or else you blew it–it’s like job-hunting that way, in that you have to expect that you’ll reach out and not make a connection sometimes.

      1. fposte

        Sorry, I don’t think I carried this through clearly to my conclusion–and that therefore its not working out doesn’t mean you blew it, so just assume some of those networking attempts aren’t going to sprout from seeds no matter what you do.

      2. Christine

        Oh I know it’s not for a specific job, just networking/general career advice. I wonder if I could go ahead and just send her what I have now, saying that I forgot to send it before. On the other hand, I already tried to contact her twice (one email, one phone call), so a third contact seems like overkill.

        1. fposte

          I would let it go at this point unless you hear back from her.

          But don’t allow yourself that resume loophole again. If you wait until you have a resume you’re really confident about, you may never send it out at all. There is some sticking your neck out involved here, and I know that can be daunting, but it’s a waste of your time and other people’s if you try to negotiate the connection while protecting yourself from the vulnerability of judgment. If somebody asks to connect with me–or, as in your case, if I invite them to do so–I have no problem with a flawed resume, and in fact that’s something I can really be useful with. I have more of a problem if somebody would like my help but makes me take the extra trouble of asking repeatedly for the material I would need to do them the favor. So if it helps you overcome your self-doubts, remember that sending what’s asked for is making a favor easier, which is what you want to do.

  3. Jesicka309

    Thanks for this Alison. I had a networking meeting last Friday and completely forgot to write a thank you!! Lucky we work in the same company, and we have a good rapport anyway. I will definitely be writing that letter now! :)

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