How to send a cold email: Find the right contact

Sending a cold email to a company you’re interested in working for is a highly effective way to escape the resume slush pile. An email gives you a chance to highlight your skills and express your interest directly to the person who is making the hire. Many people feel awkward about the idea of sending an email to someone they don’t know, but I’ve seen this strategy work over and over. Executed correctly, a cold email is the quickest way to land a job when you have no network of connections who can help you get your foot in the door.

Half the battle in sending a cold email is ensuring you’ve made contact with the right person at the right company.

To start, you should research the companies you want to contact. I recommend searching the AngelList job board to find startups that are hiring. Open up a spreadsheet and keep a list of the companies that interest you and roles for which you think you’d be a good fit. Once you’ve found a few companies that interest you, you need to figure out who to email.

Who is the hiring manager?

Your cold email should be sent directly to the hiring manager for the role you’re interested in. The hiring manager is the person at the company who requested that an employee be found to do the specified job. They are likely someone who will be managing you, either directly or indirectly, once you are hired. As a data scientist, the hiring manager you’re looking for is usually the person leading the data function: the VP, Director, or Head of Data Science.

The hiring manager is not a recruiter. Recruiters report to HR, and they will not be part of your management chain once you join the company. While recruiters are great at what they do, they are not who you want to contact with a cold email. The hiring manager is the decision-maker here—they have the ultimate authority on whether you get hired. It’s also easier to catch the hiring manager’s attention via a cold email than it is to catch a recruiter’s. If you come across in your email as a capable, talented candidate that the hiring manager can envision working with day-to-day, then they will be eager to bring you in for an interview.

How do I find the hiring manager?

To figure out who the hiring manager is, search for the company on LinkedIn. Click on “people” below the LinkedIn search bar to limit your search to people. Then click on “Current companies” and select the company you’re searching for. This will limit your search to only people currently employed at your company of interest. From there, search for the word “data” to find people at the company who have “data” in their profile.

Step 1: Search for the name of the company you’re interested in.
Step 2: Filter for people who currently work at your company of interest.
Step 3: Put “data” in the search bar and hit enter.

This search will return everyone with “data” in their profile who works at the company you searched for. From here, you can figure out who is running the data function.

Bonus: This will also give you a sense of the structure of the existing data team. Does the company distinguish between data scientists and data analysts? Do they have devoted data engineers? How senior are the people on the team already? Where would you fit in the existing group—what skills can you bring to the table, and who do you feel you can learn from? This is all valuable information to inform your understanding of how the company works and how you should approach them.

What if there is no Head of Data?

Not every startup will have a manager fully devoted to data science. If they don’t, research on LinkedIn to figure out what the structure of the organization looks like. Many mangers will mention in their profile that they manage data scientists / analysts. A Head of Product or a VP of Engineering are both the types of managers who could potentially be tasked with managing data science or analytics in place of a devoted data science manager. You can also look more closely at the job posting for the role you’re interested in—often, these postings include language like: “This role will report to the Head of [X].” Then you can go find that person on LinkedIn.

How do I get their email?

Although your research so far has been on LinkedIn, I strongly advocate that you do not send a LinkedIn message to the hiring manager of interest. A cold email is best sent over actual email: LinkedIn is too spammy and messages there often go unread.

How do you get the email address of someone you don’t know? A quick Google search will return a lot of advice on this topic, but here are my recommendations:

  • First, check the hiring manager’s LinkedIn profile, Twitter profile, personal website, and other social media profiles. Often, they will share their email address openly on one of these platforms.
  • If that doesn’t work, figure out the email domain of the company they work at. This is usually the same as the company’s website domain. So if the company’s website is http://www.awesomecompany.com, they are probably hosting emails that look like: something@awesomenewcompany.com
  • Most companies will follow a set email structure like [firstname]@awesomenewcompany.com, [firstname].[lastname]@awesomenewcompany.com, etc. Do a Google search for the email domain like this: “@awesomenewcompany.com” to find other people with emails at that domain. What is the structure of their email address? Apply this structure to the name of the person you want to email.
  • There used to be a tool called Rapportive that would tell you if an email you had guessed was a real email address or not. Rapportive was bought by LinkedIn, so it’s not functioning any more, but several alternative services have popped up to fill the gap of verifying email addresses. You can use them to check if the email you have guessed is the right one for the person you want to contact.
  • You can also Google the email address you have guessed, in quotes (like this: “something@awesomenewcompany.com”), to check if the email has been posted somewhere online before. It won’t always work, but if you get a hit on Google, that verifies that you have guessed the correct email address.
  • Look into tools like snov.io that help you find email addresses for people you don’t know.

Once you know (1) who is the hiring manager for the role you’re interested in and (2) what is their email address, you’re ready to send your cold email. Now that you’re ready to write, you can follow my templates for what to say in a cold email.

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