I’ve always found emailing people I don’t know to be one of the hardest parts of networking.

Of course, when trying to find a job, you should take advantage of your existing network. In my experience, however, I’ve always had to send a few emails to people at companies that my network just didn’t cover.

Generally, the goal of this is to set up a meeting with someone at the company you want to work for, who can help you get your foot in the door. Sounds great, right?

Unfortunately, there are two things that make these emails especially tricky: figuring out who to reach out to and writing a message that’ll make the person want to respond.

During my recent job search, I put together a step-by-step process to address these issues and get positive responses—and it worked so well, I wanted to share it with you.


1. Find the Right Person (and the Right Email Address)

It may sound simple, but getting the address of someone you don’t know can be tricky. To track down people who work at your target companies—who you also have a degree of commonality with—your best bet is to use LinkedIn or your university’s career office. For example, I went to the University of Virginia, so I would search LinkedIn for everyone who went to UVA and currently works at a particular company.

Another good place to look is the company’s website. Small companies will often list the names and positions of staff members, so you can quickly find someone in a relevant role.

However, it’s possible that your search will yield only a list of names—but not actual emails. If you get stuck, you can always try guessing the email address as a last resort. For example, most companies’ HR teams will respond to an email sent to recruiting@companyname.com or jobs@companyname.com.

Fun fact I learned: At small companies, employees typically use their first name as the beginning of their address—so, for example, if you wanted to contact a product manager named Alex at a startup called Goal, her email would likely be alex@goal.com.

2. Be Specific and Concise

Now it’s time to write your message. I recommend keeping it quite short—e.g., a sentence introduction, a short paragraph about who you are and why you want to talk, and a final sentence asking about the person’s availability—to make it more likely that the recipient will actually read the email.

It’s important to be as specific as possible, so the person has a very clear picture about why exactly you want to talk to him or her. Make sure to address why you’re interested in the particular company, list concrete skills that show you’d be a good fit, and note how you found the recipient’s information. (And if you need more help getting started, these job search email templates will do the trick.)

3. Keep Your Ask Small

It’s much easier for people to respond if they don’t feel like they are making any big promises by replying. So, I recommend keeping your ask as small as possible. For example, it’s much easier for someone to say yes if you ask him to meet up for coffee so that you can learn more about his company, than if you just ask him to give you a job.

Ideally, this will lead to a job—but first asking to simply meet for coffee will help put your recipient at ease and make it more likely that he or she will respond.

4. Don’t Be Afraid to Follow Up

Did you send out an email a few days ago, but haven’t received a response? That’s OK! Everyone is busy, and it’s not unusual for inboxes to get backed up, especially at the beginning or end of the week. If a full week has gone by with no response, it’s perfectly acceptable to send a quick follow-up email and ask if the person is still interested in getting together.

When your own network runs dry, don’t be afraid to send a few cold emails. With the right approach, you’ll open up a whole new realm of job-search possibilities—and maybe even land a new role.

Photo of woman emailing courtesy of Shutterstock.