The science of cold emails: connect with anyone, anytime

2019-05-24 | BY Proven Recruiting's Editorial Team | IN Hiring, Job Search Starter Kit, Job Seekers, Recruiting

The science of cold emails: connect with anyone, anytime

The best cold emails don’t feel like cold emails at all – they’re unconventional, highly targeted, and they offer a clear point of connection. These emails defy industry standards; whereas most professional emails garner open rates of 15.22% to 28.46%, expert emailers can see considerably higher numbers – sometimes nearing 40-50%.

The more people you can engage through email, the better your chances of landing that new client or opportunity. Whether you’re struggling as a salesperson getting targets to respond, or you’re a job seeker looking to connect with high-level decision makers at your desired company, you’ll need to boost your open rates if you want to get ahead.

And the best part is – cold emails aren’t even very difficult to master. All you need is an engaging subject line, a clear value proposition, and a targeted call to action. It’s as easy as following these four steps:

Step 1: Surprise and delight with your subject line

After sending 1000 cold emails to some of the busiest people in America – that is, CEOs – FastCompany concluded that the length of the subject line has little influence on open rates. What does matter, unsurprisingly, is the degree to which the subject line is personalized and unique.

Including the recipient’s name in the subject line can increase open rates by 22.2%. Here at Proven Recruiting we take it a step further – by doing some basic research, we’re able to customize our subject lines to match a person’s interests or background. If you learn they’re a Patriots fan, for example, try “Tom Brady vs. [a famous player from your home team].” They won’t be able to resist.

If you’re following up after an event you both attended – but didn’t actually meet at –  try ‘last week at the Big4 Meetup.’ Whatever you do, make sure you’re writing in the same tone you would to a colleague, not the tone of a corporate email blast. You want to sound authentic.

Your hard and fast rules to subject lines:

  • Don’t be boring
  • Personalize whenever possible
  • Sound like a human, not a robot

When 35% of people open emails solely based on subject lines, it is critical that you take a little extra time to surprise, personalize, and humanize.

Step 2: Introduce yourself in terms of context

Quickly let your recipient know why you’re connecting. Share some point of connections – who do you know in common? What event did you both attend? From which university did you both graduate?

If you can’t find any solid connection, circle back to that piece of personal information you found for the subject line. Mention their company, job, and/or experience. Investigate them on LinkedIn to get a better sense of their professional history. Congratulate them on a recent promotion or project. This should take at maximum two sentences.

Step 3: Zero in on a pain point

Cold emails tend to want something. The more you can position yourself as a value-add – vs. a drain on time and money – the more likely you are to receive a response.

Go in with a hypothesis. If you’re a job seeker, that hypothesis may be that your recipient is lacking support on X team as they try to grow into a new and highly competitive market. If you’re a salesperson, your assumption may be that your recipient is overworked and could use your software/service to clear their plate and focus on what’s most important.

For example, “I read that [company name] is looking to expand your California footprint, and I know this means you’ll need a lot more support in your accounting department” or, “In your talk at [conference name] last week, you mentioned that your company is struggling to find qualified candidates with XYZ skills.”  This should take 2-3 sentences; you don’t want to overwhelm them with words.

Step 4: Be explicit about next steps

What are you looking to get out of this email? A phone call, meeting, information? End your email with a clear call to action, outlining next steps and providing multiple, specific  time slots for a phone call or follow up.

Sample cold email:

Subject line: Marketing in SD conference last week

Hi Paul,

I enjoyed your talk last week at the marketing conference and wanted to reach out about a few key things you mentioned. I always love connecting with fellow Canadian expats – especially ones who graduated from the Harvard of Canada.

Back to business – I remember you saying that your company is struggling to find the appropriate software to help streamline your email communications. I know from speaking with a number of similar sized companies that this is a growing problem – there are so many options and such little guidance. I’d be happy to offer my expertise; I’ve actually worked in marketing for the past 7+ years and have a wealth of experience with various softwares.

I know your company is growing and I would love to discuss how I can help. Would you be able to meet for a quick coffee some time next week? I’m free Monday or Thursday after 4pm. You can reach me at (xxx) xxx-xxxx, let me know and I’ll send over a calendar invite.

Thank you, and I look forward to speaking!


Like anything else, cold emails improve with practice. If you’re in sales, you’ll likely be sending out hundreds – maybe thousands – of cold emails on a regular basis. Don’t be afraid of experimenting with outlandish subject lines or different types of content. Attach an article; show vulnerability; ask a question – just keep experimenting.

Not in sales? Cold emailing is still an incredibly valuable skill. It’s one of the best ways to expand your network, find mentors, and solicit advice from other professionals. A well-crafted message can open doors you hadn’t before considered.

For more career guidance, shoot us an email at – we promise not to judge your email etiquette!

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