There are more than a few good practices that people use when successfully networking, but prior to enacting those practices, you actually have to meet the person. With the Internet well underway, it is imperative for the budding professional to use it to connect with new people and expand that network effectively.
These days that means having a solid presence on LinkedIn, or a personal website. Still, you may never land a job by just showing up to a job fair, likewise you should not expect a job to be thrown your way simply by having an online presence.
That’s where cold emailing comes into play. Cold emailing essentially involves sending an unsolicited email message to another professional or potential employer; it can be seen as the electronic equivalent of a firm handshake and strong introduction when done properly.
Salespeople have used cold emailing as a marketing tactic, and while there are legalities that apply to businesses for spamming reasons, normal people will never violate the CAN-SPAM Act.
There have been a few instances where reaching out to a total stranger has given me incredible opportunities and lifelong professional connections.
The first time I saw success with this tactic was during my senior year of high school. I was working on a senior project in the engineering academy at Antioch High School. My team and I were attempting to make a 3D printed gas turbine. The design was simple, but the science behind it was over my head, my team members’ heads, and my instructors’ heads.
Two months into our eight month long project, we were stuck, so I decided to do research to find someone with a degree and experience by emailing departments from multiple companies until someone answered.
Eventually, word got back to me from someone at Rolls Royce, who was interested in the design. However, they did not quite understand it either so the design was sent further up the chain.
Finally, we got an email back from the company’s Director of NASA Programs and Advanced Systems Studies, who, after some further correspondence and a conference call, informed us that the engine design would not make the compression required to ignite the fuel efficiently.
Still, without reaching out, we may never have gotten an answer.
More recently, I used the method of sending a professional email to get work as a freelance photographer for a popular automotive blog, Jalopnik.com. While that work didn’t pan out due to internal miscommunication, I now have my foot in the door as a familiar and reliable name.
The most recent success I’ve had with reaching out over email involved a glowing worm I came across at work. Not knowing what the worm was or why it was glowing, I started researching online and found enough to figure out what kinds of scientists study them.
That led me to researchers on staff at the California Academy of Sciences department of Invertebrate Zoology and Geology, which after an email, got back to me and invited me to their lab to help identify the worm. I also got a tour of their 800,000 specimen underground archive.
The gist of this is, if you email a professional in a specified field with well thought-out questions, you can have great experiences while gaining invaluable connections. The practice is good journalists and salespeople alike and you should use it too.