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How the Heck do You Write a Killer Networking Email?

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You’ve found your very own professional Oprah. A role model. A mentor. Maybe he or she is five years older or 20 years older than you are.

Your Oprah has taken a career path that you desperately want to emulate. You want to know exactly what that person did, why they did it, how they did it etc. More importantly, you want to know how you can accomplish the same things.

Maybe someone introduced you to your Oprah. Or maybe you discovered him or her online. Either way, you know you want to connect, so you hit the keyboard and start typing an email.

But once you’ve determined how you want to connect (phone call, meeting, lunch etc.), what exactly do you say to ensure a positive response? How do you write an email that will make your Oprah want to take the time to meet with you and begin building a relationship?

I write a lot of these emails to my own Oprahs, and nine times out of 10, I get the response I want. I also receive emails from younger contacts who want advice about journalism, online communications or entrepreneurship, and I’ve noticed similarities between the emails from contacts I’m excited to get to know.

So here are some guidelines for writing a first email to kick off a lasting relationship:

Explain who you are — succinctly

Write one or two sentences describing what you do and your interests. This is really important for context. But please, don’t give your life story. Unless you’re Bill Gates, no one wants to read about your high school business venture in an email. Provide just enough information so it is clear who you are, but hold back on some details so you have lots to talk about when you meet.

Take the time to thoughtfully explain why you want to connect

It’s true: Flattery gets you everywhere. There’s no need to gush unabashedly about your contact’s achievements — that’s just awkward. But explain why his or her accomplishments are meaningful for you. That way your Oprah will have a clear understanding of your purpose for connecting.

Get over your age

While you’re focusing on your Oprah’s excellent experience, don’t feel like you need to highlight your deficit of experience. It doesn’t come off as humble, it just zeroes in on your lack of confidence.

Make a specific request

For a busy person, there’s nothing worse than receiving an email without an action item. If you don’t state what you want you Oprah to do, your contact will have to think harder about your email. This usually means he or she won’t respond right away. Or worse, you might not get a response at all. I find it most effective when I put my request at the very end. Ending an email with a question about meeting on a certain date calls for a yes or no answer.

Follow these guidelines and you’re sure to maximize the chance of getting a response. Odds are your Oprah is a busy person with an overwhelming inbox. So even if you don’t hear back initially, be persistent and follow up appropriately.

Jaclyn Schiff is the managing editor of Brazen Life. She writes about media, content and business — often with a global twist — on her blog.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

  • Lola

    I really enjoyed this article. I’m not the best with writing, so how would I get a sample letter to see what this would look like.

    • http://jwschiff.tumblr.com Jaclyn Schiff

      Thanks Lola! A sample could definitely be helpful. Usually the emails I write are really specific, but brief — two paragraphs at most and I include all the information above.

    • http://www.seoinkent.net seo kent

      This is good especially to use with contacts on linked and other networks, will definitely put to use.

  • http://twitter.com/amandaabella Amanda Abella

    This is a great article! Just in time too because I just found my own Oprah a couple of days ago haha.

    • http://jwschiff.tumblr.com Jaclyn Schiff

      Nice! Thanks Amanda! Good luck reaching out… let us know if you think of other effective tips!

  • Anonymous

    Great post. I love the concrete advice, because so many blogs/articles say “find a mentor! Get an informational interview!” but they don’t actually say how to go about it.

    • http://jwschiff.tumblr.com Jaclyn Schiff

      Thanks Noel! Recently got an email from a colleague’s friend where the communication could have been better. So I took some time to think about what can make these emails effective!

  • http://twitter.com/rachaelseda Rachael Seda

    Great tips Jaclyn! I’ve found the same success by following pretty much what you wrote here. I think people often forget how important and necessary mentors are throughout your WHOLE life. Inevitably the person you are reaching out to, has had many mentors in their life and they are more often than not, willing to repay the favor.

  • Annoymous Mentor

    Is anyone interested in why I don’t accept the 20 odd mentoring requests I get every week? I think they’ve all read this advice.

    People write me because I wrote the #1 book on how to do X. Problem is, none of them have read my book (which would answer 99% of their questions); they think this arrangement would replace their need to read it. Whether intended or not, it tells me that they don’t respect the value of my time. It really doesn’t matter if they respect my time, I do. I have customers who expect me to meet my commitments. An inquiry from someone like this has made no commitments, they have no skin in the game be it their time in reading it or expenditures to buy it. Why would I commit to someone who has not first committed to me?

    Re: flattery. No matter how carefully crafted, flattery is transparent. My ego is not so fragile as to be swayed (positively or negatively) by someone who knows nothing about the business. They don’t know enough to be an arbiter or judge of what is good. My competence is not so facile that I feel a warm glow when someone thinks I’m an authority. I didn’t not get to where I am today by being so easily manipulated.

    • http://jwschiff.tumblr.com Jaclyn Schiff

      Thanks so much for your comment. I’m sorry to hear you feel you’re being contacted by people whom you think don’t take you seriously. I was not suggesting people seek mentors as a way to evade responsibility and avoid doing their own research.

      Out of curiosity, do you ever respond to these sorts of email requests and under what circumstances?

    • Grateful Mentor

      Isn’t reading your book a form of flattery? I think assuming that people are trying to circumvent actual work by meeting you is a huge leap to make.

      It sounds to me like you’re just too darn busy and focused on your own stuff to make time for ambitious, albeit naive, youngsters and were probably burned by a bad meeting with a jerky kid who you should have screened more carefully.

      If your attitude in your comment is any indication, then this is one of those situations in which the requesting party wouldn’t receive a response, and frankly would probably be better off not meeting you anyway.

      I am also competent, confident, and not easily manipulated. But when a person emails me with sincerity, flattery, and a show of ambition, I take the compliment, feel out their intentions, and then make the appointment. For all the thousands that didn’t make the effort to connect with me, the 10 who did are worth emailing back, and the one who has a point to our meeting can certainly bend my ear for 45 minutes and a free cup of coffee.

  • http://entryleveldilemma.blogspot.com Edward – Entry Level Dilemma

    I’m in this boat right now. Wednesday, I sent an email to a person in one of my target companies. Not looking for a mentor, per se (it seems to be a business/liberal arts concept, nobody I know in the sciences ever talks about a mentor), but just someone who can give me a clearer picture of how the company works and how to maximize my chances.

    I think I did a pretty good job of following this advice. Although the “achievement” I mentioned was his having a job at that company. Also brought up the fact that he used to be a member of the networking group that I am now a part of.

    • http://jwschiff.tumblr.com Jaclyn Schiff

      Good luck Edward. Hopefully you’ll get a positive response… !

      • http://entryleveldilemma.blogspot.com Edward – Entry Level Dilemma

        Six days in and nothing. I’m going to take this as a no.

        A lot of people like to compare networking to dating. Well, I hated dating too. Had the same problem.

  • Melissa Langeman

    Thanks for the write-up Jaclyn. With my last position, I had a taste of mentorship and I’d like more. These are great concrete steps I can use to try to reach out. Also, do you find phone interviews more ore less effective than correspondence by email. For a busy person working in multiple time zones, I wonder which is least offensive. Thanks again!

    • http://jwschiff.tumblr.com Jaclyn Schiff

      Thanks Melissa. I think email is always the best first step and then in the email perhaps you arrange a phone call. But in-person is always best! Don’t feel guilty asking for someone’s time in-person even if they’re super busy. If they just can’t do it, they will tell you. But just be sensitive to their schedule and make it as easy as possible to meet.

  • Jeu de combat

    Thank you very much for this tip!

  • http://www.techiespider.com Techiespidie

    Thanks great post,any one intesred in networking contact me

  • http://twitter.com/benjaminkohl Benjamin Kohl

    I always feel sorry for people that learn English as a second language. I can’t imagine what they must think when they see the use of the word “killer” in this manner.

    • Not An Englishman

      Don’t worry. Some of them know English good enough to understand it :)

  • http://twitter.com/DanaLeavy DanaLeavy

    Great article, and I think you said something really important in not making your connection about your lack of experience, but what you respect about the person and why it’s meaningful to you. Thanks!

    • http://jwschiff.tumblr.com Jaclyn Schiff

      Thanks Dana! It’s an easy mistake to make, but it really does nothing to help your cause. Better to focus on issues, not age.

  • http://www.odower.com Andy O’Dower

    This is exactly what people should be doing. Nice advice.
    We believe in this approach so much, we built an app that will help you find the right people and get meetings with them. We’re giving away 5,000 free-for-life accounts now. Get yours: http://introfly.com – we launch Aug 31.

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  • Justin Kollinger

    There is one thing that I think is missing. I have my email (actually, LinkedIn introduction request) typed up, but I am missing the subject line! I am trying to consider what I’d open, and I have something in mind, but I would like to hear your advice on subject lines.

    • http://www.jaclynschiff.com Jaclyn Schiff

      It’s a good question… could probably write a whole post on good subject lines! I think being as specific as possible while still being brief is the best way to go. So no “hellos” or other single word subjects. What do others think?

  • http://www.tonygoddardconsulting.com Tonyjg

    Jaclyn I think your post is spot on the mark. I often get ‘mentor type’ requests and if the email is constructed in the way you describe I’d generally answer it. What leaves me cold are people who send an email who are looking to use my network to help them get a job – but they try to disguise this.
    One way of getting a 95% return is to get someone the mentor knows aleady to send a note saying they have suggested you contact the mentor.

    Best wishes

    Tony

    • http://www.jaclynschiff.com Jaclyn Schiff

      Exactly… if it’s a referral from someone you know that can definitely help with the response. Good point about people who try to disguise their motives. Transparency always wins as far as I am concerned!

  • http://deepfittedsheets.org Darrenreacher

    Lol about not including your highschool business ventures. I think that thats one of the key aspects to writing these emails. Do not be boring.

  • http://www.getmyexboyfriendbackfast.com Steff@get-my-ex-boyfriend-back

    Hi Jaclyn,

    This struck me right away because I do look up to Oprah for inspiration. I used to listen to her talk on youtube on a daily basis just to get that positive vibe from her into my own life. I know it sounds weird but it works. I have a question though on getting someone to be my mentor. What exactly do you ask of this person? LIke, I set a goal and she’ll get me to achieve it?

  • http://watchrepaircentre.co.uk/ Alex

    good advice and well worth thinking about . I will give it a go ..

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