Cold Emailing: How To Get It Right

For internship-seeking college students, few things feel more intimidating than a cold email. When you hit “send” on that email to a complete stranger, you’re not just asking for an opportunity. You’re putting yourself out there and that’s scary.

I’m no stranger to this feeling. I sent my first cold email as a junior in high school. Looking for a way to get involved in a local college’s research scene, I Google-stalked laboratories until I had an Excel sheet crammed full of professors’ email addresses. That summer, I sent over fifty cold emails. Following several rejections and a lot of discouragement, I finally got a “maybe.” I met with a professor, loved his research and spent the rest of my summer in his protein engineering laboratory. Recently, I repeated the process and ended up scoring a summer research job at my dream laboratory. Moral of the story: cold emailing works, and I’m here to tell you how to do it.

  1. 1. Know What You’re Looking For and Find It

    If you don’t feel slightly stalker-ish while cold emailing, you’re not doing it right. It’ll take some intense Google searching to pinpoint people worth emailing in the field you’re pursuing. In my last cold-email journey, I ended up 5 redirections deep into the University of Michigan School of Kinesiology website before I found a list of laboratories and contact information that served my interests. If you’re looking for research opportunities, the research tab of your school’s website is a gold mine; laboratories often provide a synopsis of their research, a list of publications and investigators’ contact information. If you’re looking for other opportunities, try searching LinkedIn for people in hiring positions at companies or fields of your interest.

  2. 2. Stay Organized

    Applying to internships this spring turned me into an Excel maniac. It taught me that organization is key to mass emailing. My spreadsheet featured the email addresses of the labs I applied to, a link to their website, a brief description of their research, the date I sent an email and whether or not I received a response. Not only is an application spreadsheet visually gratifying, but it also helps you track which emails you need to respond to and which emails you should follow up on. It also makes it easy to access information about each opportunity if you move forward in the recruitment process. As “Type A” as it made me feel, I was so grateful for my spreadsheet through the application process.

  3. 3. Personalize, Personalize, Personalize

    I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to send personalized messages. If you’re copying and pasting the same exact email to everyone, odds are that the recipient will notice. It’s sloppy and it might not get you very far. When you send a cold email, the goal is to convince a complete stranger to take a chance on you. Sending a personalized message detailing exactly why you want the opportunity you’re seeking gives you the best chance of a response and, hopefully, an opportunity.

  4. 4. Don’t Forget Decorum

    Though it's easy to forget, there’s a real person behind the email address you type in the send bar. If you met this person in real life, you’d probably smile, introduce yourself and ask how they’re doing. It’s important to translate this energy into your message, since you’re essentially meeting a new person. Be sure to begin your message with a kind introduction and to end with a “thank you;” it can go a long way.

  5. 5. Manage Your Expectations

    It’s also important to note that the person at the other end of the screen doesn’t actually owe you anything; they’re a complete stranger. When I cold-emailed, I got plenty of rejections. But even more often than I got rejected, I got ghosted. And that’s okay. All it takes for you to score an incredible opportunity is one “yes”.

If you’re currently looking for job opportunities, I hope this guide gives you the confidence you need to hit “send” on that cold email. Even if every single response is a “no,” you should celebrate the accomplishment of putting yourself out there. That’s something to be proud of.

Happy emailing!