How to: Cold Calls

Cold calls. Everybody hates them. Everybody hates receiving them and, maybe even more, making them. But sometimes cold calls are useful. Especially during a pandemic, since we cannot meet people in person. But cold calls aren’t so bad, when done right. Let me give you some pointers on how to cold call without cold sweats.

  1. The not actually “cold” cold call. So, you want to contact someone you don’t know. Be it an actual call, an email or a message in a bottle. Perhaps an internship with them, or you want a favor. The first thing to consider is, is the cold call actually “cold”? To warm it up a bit, use a connection between you and the other person. It doesn’t matter if it’s a stretch. Maybe you know someone in their lab? Or you know someone who knows someone? It’s always better to start off with “[person that you know] has recommended that you are the right person for my issue” than “you don’t know me, but…”.
  2. Show that you put in some effort. If your email reads like you wrote it in 2 minutes, the recipient will be way less charitable than when you show some effort. This does not mean that the email should be long, quite the contrary! No one wants to read long emails, especially not busy people. It’s actually hard to be concise. Don’t ramble. Streamline your sentences, make them easy to comprehend. No typos. Also, state what you want right at the beginning, before offering details. For example, start by saying “I am interested in doing an internship with you” and then explain why and who you are. If you need several sentences to get to the actual point, the reader might get impatient!
  3. Make it also about them, not only about you. Of course, you want to tell them who you are (concisely!). It’s often a good idea to attach a CV or include your LinkedIn information, if you have a well curated profile. However, don’t make it all about yourself. Also show your interest in them. Don’t use cookie-cutter phrases like “I want to be in your lab because your research is very interesting”. You can say that to anyone. Be concrete. Tell them what exactly fascinates you about their work. Reference a current publication or other work of theirs and tell them what you liked about it. That way they know you didn’t send the same email to 25 other people and have genuine interest.
  4. A reminder is a courtesy, not an annoyance. If you don’t get a reply, don’t give up! Often, a gentle, friendly reminder will get you one. Ask them if they read your email and that you would be thankful for a response. Keep it very brief. Such reminders are not annoying, they are actually a courtesy! I often want to reply to someone and then forget. When I receive a reminder, I am grateful, and usually reply right away. And hey, what do you have to lose? If they still don’t reply after your reminder, it just wasn’t meant to be. Don’t feel bad. You don’t know why exactly they didn’t reply, so don’t take it personally. They are probably still very nice people.
  5. Embrace the audacity. In general, what you mostly need to make cold calls is courage. It’s surprising how many accomplished people are often very audacious. Don’t ask for permission, ask for forgiveness! You must prep yourself up a bit. Dare to write to that big-shot person. Do it and fail rather than never try, ought to be the spirit! Sometimes, it’s surprising what works. And if you write with confidence, like someone who thinks they’re going to get an answer, you are more likely to actually get one! Don’t be overly humble. Be polite and courteous, but confident. And really, what’s the worst that can happen? You don’t get a response, or they say no? That’s practically the same outcome as if you hadn’t tried at all.

So there you have it—my guide on how to do cold calls. We all have to do them at some point. Let’s find the courage together and write that bigwig professor. With confidence. And one last thought: When we inevitably find ourselves at the other side of such a correspondence in the future, let’s be nice 🙂

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