The Cold Email

Career & Internship

The Cold Email

Whether you’re looking for research, internships, people to interview for an article, or guest speakers for your campus club’s event, sending cold emails might have to be your starting point.  And it can be scary. How do you request for something of someone without sounding too sheepish or too encroaching?  A few suggestions below on how to tactfully initiate that conversation.



Avoid spending too much time setting the stage for your request.  Trim the autobiography, weed out the big words.  My rules of thumb: no more than two paragraphs, each no more than three lines long.  This is to make sure your message reads with ease.


You need to show genuine interest in their story and work, not your own.  “How did you get your foot in the door?” is an easier and less invasive question to answer than “How do I get my foot in the door?" Writing that displays your curiosity, not your ambitions, will more likely compel.


Specify when you’d like to meet.  Without trying to manhandle their schedule, of course. “Within the next few weeks” is far more accommodating than “Does Sunday at 11am work?”  In general, try to suggest their time is as valuable, if not more, than yours.

Following up

Fear not if they fail to reply immediately or at all.  No response doesn’t mean rejection.  Some people are slower to remember and/or respond than others.  Depending on urgency, give it 10-14 days before sending a quick one-sentence follow-up reminding them of your previous message.  Don’t feel guilty about following up repeatedly.

Bonus tips

Conditionals are safe phrases to use (“if…then,” “should…would,” etc.).  They cushion your request without making it sound too timid and indirect.  Some examples:
  • “If you’re willing/available...”
  • "Should your schedule allow...”
  • “At your convenience...”

Also, a phrase I like to inject: “I look forward to hearing from you.”  By signing off with some variation of this, you simultaneously express excitement and give your correspondent credit for something to live up to (i.e. replying back).  All without sounding passive aggressive.

Weak Example:

Dear Mr./Ms. Social Entrepreneur,

Allow me to introduce myself.  My name is Aaron P and I graduated from Columbia where I studied classics, economics, and was also pre-med.  Outside my academic interests, I’m really keen on eventually pursuing a career in social entrepreneurship.  My experiences in Kenya and the Philippines have exposed me to a host of social problems and solutions in the education space that have nudged me towards this career path.  Since then I have volunteered at and fundraised for a number of social enterprises which have equipped me with solid skills I could offer to your team.  I’m curious to know if you’d have any time this coming week (perhaps Friday?) to chat about your enterprise and potential opportunities for me there.

For your perusal, I’ve attached my résumé.  I’d also be happy to hear any of your suggestions to strengthen my candidacy.


Aaron P

Why it’s weak

  • Too long and formal (don’t use “perusal”)
  • Too much about me
  • Too entitled and aggressive (never attach your résumé unless asked)

Strong Example:

Dear Mr./Ms. Social Entrepreneur,

Hope this finds you well.

My name is Aaron P and I am a recent Columbia graduate interested in social entrepreneurship and particularly your work in the education space, which read up on.  Dr. Advisor, who advises me on project X, gave me your contact info.

I’m wondering if you might have any time within the next couple weeks to meet over coffee or chat on the phone, as I’m curious to hear more about your story and the work you do.

I look forward to hearing from you,

Aaron P

Why it’s strong:

  • Concise
  • Polite but direct
  • Focus is on Mr./Ms. Social Entrepreneur, not me