One of the biggest frustrations we hear from job seekers and networkers is that their outreach emails go unanswered. Much like what is recommended in Science Careers “Cold Emails and Hot Coffee” it is important to write a good message to increase your chances of a reply.
Writing a good email means offering value and respecting their time. Most people don’t read long emails anymore, so when in doubt, edit your message down and make your request very clear.
In Steve Dalton’s book The 2-Hour Job Search, he recommends a 6-point email which is shorter, simpler, and more efficient than most messages. Here are his key six points to keep in mind:
- Write fewer than 75 words.
This might seem daunting at first, but brevity is key. Most people go into way too much detail about themselves and about their request which just dilutes their message and annoys the reader.
- Ask for insight and advice, not job leads.
Similarly, only ask for a small bit of time from the person. Do you have 20 minutes to speak with me about your career path?
- State your connection first and foremost.
People are more likely to respond to those who are apart of a shared affinity group, whether that is your alma mater or the NIH. For example, “I see we have both been postdocs at NIDA.”
- Make your request in the form of a question (ending in “?”).
Don’t be ambiguous with your request. Come right out and ask it in a direct question.
- Define your interest both narrowly and broadly.
This might sound confusing at first but this advice is intended to help inoculate you against the scenario that the person quickly replies with a blow off email like, “We’re under a hiring freeze now, but best of luck!” Doing this might look like: “I am specifically interested in learning more about X Company, but generally I would love to hear more about your career progression within Y field.”
- Keep over half the word count about the contact, not you.
Show you have done your research about them. This email is not meant to sell them on you, it is meant to open to door to an in-person/over-Zoom conversation. Help them to know you aren’t blasting this email to everyone in your contacts list.
An example of a 6-point email from The 2-Hour Job Search could look like:
I’m Shilpa Sharma, a trainee at NCI. I got your contact information from the NIH Alumni Database.
I’m trying to learn more about science policy as a career path and your insights would be greatly appreciated.
Do you have 15-20 minutes to chat with me about your experience?