How to build your network: mastering the cold email

When you are thinking about building your professional network one of the most intimidating obstacles is getting in touch with people who aren’t already within your peripheral network. If you can’t get an introduction from a friend or colleague how can you build a relationship with someone new? A cold email can feel like a shot in the dark but it’s actually a bit of a science as well.

The structure of a cold email is fairly simple – and simple is definitely most effective. Here is an example cold email:

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1: The email starts with a formal greeting. It is always a good idea to err on the side of being too formal – especially when you are networking across cultures.

2: Next is a sentence or two on who you are. This should be short and crisp and give a general overview rather than every detail. You might include a link to your lab’s website if that’s relevant.

3: This section outlines why you are getting in touch with this particular person. You should reference their work and answer the question, “Why are you emailing me and not somebody else?”

4: The body of the email concludes with suggestions for a way forward. This should be a simple and concrete suggestion such as meeting for coffee or chatting over Skype. It might be tempting to jump right in with a suggestion to collaborate or to fulfil your real aim in connecting. However, you are likely to put people off by moving so quickly. Give yourself a chance to develop a real connection and understand their aims as well as yours.

5: The email closing is simple but important. Here you can signal how formal you would like your relationship to be. If you sign with your first name (my preference) your emails will likely become more familiar quickly. If you sign more formally (as above) your connection will stay formal.

It is reasonable to expect a 10-20% return on cold emails – and this improves as you become more senior and get the benefit of name recognition.

Cold email success is about volume so don’t be deterred if you don’t get a response from one email. Send a few emails while making sure to tailor each one. Chase once and if they don’t respond just email someone else!

I have had great success from sending cold emails and have started several lasting collaborations this way. If you send quality cold emails and persevere you will see the benefits of your hard work.

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