Dear Mr. Smith: A Step-by-Step Guide to Networking Emails

Working at a university career center, one of the most common complaints I receive from employers is about the way that students communicate. We often hear about students sending email messages that are unprofessional, awkward, or downright inappropriate. Sadly, it only takes a few moments to send a poor email, but exhibiting bad communication is something that can ruin a professional relationship indefinitely. You MUST take the time and effort to communicate effectively if you wish to be taken seriously as a professional.

For students, sending networking emails is a particularly difficult challenge. How do you reach out to someone you barely know (or don’t know at all) and try to begin building a relationship? It’s not easy, and no matter how diligent you are you will not succeed 100% of the time. However, with careful thought and tactfulness, you can demonstrate communication skills that are strong enough to give you a fighting chance at establishing a connection.

Pick Your Target

The first step to a networking email is choosing who you want to contact and thinking about how you want to communicate with that person. Identifying a good networking target might happen via research online, finding someone on LinkedIn, or getting a referral from a current contact. You should select potential contacts carefully. Don’t just find a list of staff members online and send a blanket message to everyone in the company – select the person who is most likely to relate to your interests and create a thoughtful, customized message to grab their attention. People who share a common thread – such as alumni from your school or professionals with a similar major – may provide a good starting point.

A few tips: make sure you use a professional and appropriate greeting when you address your email. That means using a title (i.e. Mr. Smith, Ms. Smith, or Dr. Smith) and perhaps a salutation (such as “Dear Mr. Smith” or “Hello Mr. Smith”). Never use first names until given permission, and avoid overly-familiar salutations, such as “Hey” or “Hi.” When writing to women, use the title “Ms.” if you are unsure whether or not the person is married.

Introduction

It sounds obvious, but the introduction is a very important component of networking emails, particularly for contacts you have never met. Not only does it lay the foundation for the rest of your message, it also provides an easy way for you to begin the writing process, which (let’s face it) can sometimes be a bit awkward. Something simple will suffice here:

Dear Mr. Smith,

Greetings! My name is Andrew Crain and I am a student at the University of Georgia. I am writing you today because…”

How are you connected?

After the introduction, you should be able to lead smoothly into some mention about how you are connected. If the contact is someone you have met previously, remind them of when and where the meeting took place. For new contacts, you should indicate how you heard about them or received their information.Here is a demonstration building off of the sample above:

Dear Mr. Smith,

Greetings! My name is Andrew Crain and I am a student at the University of Georgia. I received your name and email address from one of my professors, Dr. Daniel Patterson. Dr. Patterson mentioned that you have worked at ACME Sales for a number of years and know a great deal about the industry.”

Why are you emailing?

Next, lead into the heart of your message, which explains why you are reaching out to the person in question. When explaining the purpose behind your email, try to avoid asking for favors. Instead, frame your message as a request for information. You also want to mention a little bit about yourself (1-2 sentences at most) so that the person reading the email understands the context of your situation. Here are some examples:

BAD

Dear Mr. Smith,

Greetings! My name is Andrew Crain and I am a student at the University of Georgia. I received your name and email address from one of my professors, Dr. Daniel Patterson. Dr. Patterson mentioned that you may know about openings at your company – is this true? I am very interested in sales and would love the chance to interview. Please give me a call if you have any positions available!”

GOOD

Dear Mr. Smith,

Greetings! My name is Andrew Crain and I am a student here at the University of Georgia. I received your name and email address from one of my professors, Dr. Daniel Patterson. Dr. Patterson mentioned that you have worked at ACME Sales for a number of years and know a great deal about the industry.

As a senior, I am hoping to enter the sales field myself after my graduation next May. Right now I am trying to learn more about the industry, and Dr. Patterson suggested you may be a good person to chat with about the topic. If you have any availability, I would love to chat via phone or email and learn more about your career path.”

Ask for a Referral

One good networking tactic – whether via email or in person – is to ask for a referral at the end of your conversation. Asking for a referral is a way to let the other person off the hook by sharing a contact name that may be more useful to you. Here is what that request might look like in the context of our sample message:

Dear Mr. Smith,

Greetings! My name is Andrew Crain and I am a student here at the University of Georgia. I received your name and email address from one of my professors, Dr. Daniel Patterson. Dr. Patterson mentioned that you have worked at ACME Sales for a number of years and know a great deal about the industry.

As a senior, I am hoping to enter the sales field myself after my graduation next May. Right now I am trying to learn more about the industry, and Dr. Patterson suggested you may be a good person to chat with about the topic. If you have any availability, I would love to chat via phone or email and learn more about your career path. If you are unavailable, but know of another contact who may be good for me to speak with, I would be most appreciative if you could pass my message along to the appropriate person.

Professional Closing

Finally, you want to end the message on a positive and professional note. That means two things: thanking the recipient for their time and ending the message with a professional email signature. For your signature, make sure you include an appropriate valediction (a closing word such as “Sincerely”), your full name, job title (or college major), phone number, and email address. Taken altogether with these closing elements, your networking message might end up something like this:

Dear Mr. Smith,

Greetings! My name is Andrew Crain and I am a student here at the University of Georgia. I received your name and email address from one of my professors, Dr. Daniel Patterson. Dr. Patterson mentioned that you have worked at ACME Sales for a number of years and know a great deal about the industry.

As a senior, I am hoping to enter the sales field myself after my graduation next May. Right now I am trying to learn more about the industry, and Dr. Patterson suggested you may be a good person to chat with about the topic. If you have any availability, I would love to chat via phone or email and learn more about your career path. If you are unavailable, but know of another contact who may be good for me to speak with, I would be most appreciative if you could pass my message along to the appropriate person.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you!

Sincerely,

Andrew M. Crain

Bachelor of Arts in History

The University of Georgia

(555) 555-5515 | andrewcr85@gmail.com”

For more advice on networking emails, please check out a related CareerThoughts article: “Networking Emails – Learning from the Mistakes of Another

Updated: 20/03/2017
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Andrew Crain
Andrew Crain is a career development consultant at The University of Georgia. He works with business students and conducts trainings on LinkedIn, Personal Branding, Prezi, and Job Search Strategies. Contact Andrew at andrewcr85 at gmail.com, connect on LinkedIn or visit his Prezi portfolio to learn more. The views represented here belong to Andrew Crain and do not represent The University of Georgia or the UGA Career Center. He wrote career advice articles for CareerThoughts.com. Check his profile here.

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