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A Beginner’s Guide to Cold-Emailing

This post is from a student, parent, or professional contributor. The opinions expressed by the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect the positions, viewpoints, or policies of Niche.

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As undergraduates, we tend to focus on career development and are constantly looking for new opportunities that can provide us with experience and guidance on where we want our careers to go.

Oftentimes, though, and especially during a pandemic, these opportunities are difficult to find or require amounts of prior experience that are simply not possible for someone with our backgrounds.

It can be frustrating or disheartening, but don’t lose hope! For many fields, such as biological research, it can be most effective to reach out directly to a potential employer, head of a lab group, or other potential internship leader, even if they do not know you personally or are not affiliated with your university.

To do this, I recommend using “cold-emailing,” which essentially means sending an email to someone with no prior contact. It’s the equivalent of “cold-calling” but in email format.

Obviously, this can be intimidating. You may feel like you do not have the authority to be cold-emailing someone, but many potential employers are happy to hear from you and will likely respond. Here are a few general guidelines that can be followed to craft an effective and attention-grabbing email to give you better odds of finding an employer!

Properly Address Your Prospective Employer

First, figure out how to address the person you are contacting. This is important because it’s in the first line of the email (first impressions are everything!), and you want to show you are respectful and did your research.

Oftentimes, Dr. is a safe choice, but only use this if it is factually correct and the person holds the title of doctor. Professor is a common choice as well if the person is university-affiliated, but also make sure they are in fact professors at that institution.

If this information is difficult to find, you can try searching LinkedIn or falling back on Mr. or Ms. Avoid addressing them by first name as you do not know each other and may indicate a lack of respect.

This may seem obvious, but pay close attention to spelling their name correctly. If you spell someone’s name wrong, they may feel slighted or think you have not done your research. It gives the impression that you are sloppy and don’t care. If an employer thinks you are not committed or do not care about a position, it’s going to be difficult to convince them to give you a chance.

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Do Your Research

When writing the body of the email, there are a few things to do to make your writing more effective. The first is to thoroughly research the company and position in advance. Knowledge is power, and this will help you in conversations with the employer. They’ll be more impressed with applicants who are clearly interested and motivated.

Oftentimes, people use a general template that they apply to all their cold emails that they send and change a few details for each person that they contact. This may be fine to do but only if you are making it clear you are writing each email for each specific opportunity. In other words, don’t simply change the name in the header.

Each time you email someone, ensure that the email is tailored to the position. Tell the employer a bit about yourself first, then continue with why you are interested in this specific position.

As someone who is interested in neuroscience and disease research, I usually choose places that focus their research on at least one of these areas. I read about their latest work and publications and tell them what my focuses are and why their approaches are interesting to me, and I tell them why I think this makes me a good fit for a position there. This shows that I’ve already dedicated time to learning what their lab is doing and put thought into choosing them by sending a personalized email.

Make sure your email is digestible and not long-winded. Show your interest concisely and meaningfully. A few sentences about your background and goals should be sufficient to get the point across. In some instances, you may want to elaborate more, and that is okay! Just make sure that all the details you are including are relevant and contribute to the point you are making.

Remember: Rejections Are Common

People we’re interested in working with may not have space for us or even have time to respond. This is not an indication of your worth!

It’s not uncommon for undergraduates to have their emails disregarded. Sometimes, employers are looking for people with more experience who can dedicate more of their time, and it might be a waste of their time to respond just to say no. Other times, they will respond and let you know they are not interested for various reasons.

It’s easy to feel hurt and see this as an indication of your worth as a student or employee, but in reality, they simply have their own reasons for being unable to hire you. It is not reflective of who you are or what future contacts will say.

If an employer cannot accept you, they will sometimes mention another person to reach out to or program to look into. These tips are great and should be taken seriously – they are offering this advice to help you! Be sure to look into the places they recommend.

In the end, do not be discouraged by failure. It is especially common when searching for positions with this method. It may take ten, twenty, one hundred, or any number of tries to find a position that will work for you. It often comes down to luck, timing, and persistence.


Job-searching is important but stressful, and it never seems to go as easily as we would like. Cold emailing can be an effective tool to use as students with a small network at this point to find a potential job or internship that fits your specific needs and aspirations. Even if you don’t get the job, you will still gain valuable experience and connections.

Though it may seem intimidating and the results can be discouraging, it is a great tactic that can have a high success rate if used properly and often. If it is something you have never done before and you are looking for employment during an upcoming break or semester, now is a great time to try it! Good luck!

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Author: Heidi Temple

I am a first-generation student at Princeton University. I am currently planning to concentrate in Molecular Biology there. Then, I plan to go to grad school and eventually pursue a career in medical research.