‘Twas the summer of 2016, and I was desperate for an internship somehow related to publishing. After my searches for internships showed that there were no relevant ones in St. Louis, where I would live for the summer, I had to figure out how to get the professional experience I desired. I had a list of publishers and literary magazines in St. Louis, so I started cold emailing. Not all of my cold emails were successful; most recipients never acknowledged my emails, in fact. But two were successful.
I emailed Amphorae Publishing and Open Books Press/Brick Mantel Books, introduced myself, and asked whether they needed an editorial intern for the summer. Both publishers responded that yes, they could use an intern.
Now, I’m not suggesting that I know some special secret about cold emails. I don’t—I just got lucky. But if my emails succeeded, maybe they’ll work as helpful templates for writing your own cold emails.
First off, in full transparency, here are the two emails I sent:
And here are a few best practices for writing a cold email:
Get specific in your subject line.
Your subject line should stand out in the employer’s inbox. For example, write “Inquiry about summer internship” or “Editorial internship inquiry” so the employer knows exactly what you’re emailing about.
Use names, if possible.
I was able to find the names of the three editors who ran Amphorae, which made my cold email more personal and specific. Spend 10 minutes digging around for the names of the people you’re emailing, and try to find a specific person’s email address if you can.
If you can’t find any specific email addresses, just send your email to the company’s general email or HR email, which you can usually find on the “Contact Us” or “Careers” pages. If you aren’t sure who to address the email to, address it to “Dear Company”…or just say, “Hello,” like I did. (Hey, it worked.)
Briefly explain who you are and why you’re emailing.
The first thing you need to do is explain who you are. You can do this in one sentence. Say where you go to school, what you’re studying, how you found out about the company, and ask: Are you in need of an intern this summer (or semester)?
In my email to Amphorae, I was lucky to know that my friend, Hannah, had already secured an internship. This gave me a foot in the door—I mentioned that I knew Hannah and that she was going to intern for them. If someone referred you to the company, such as a professor or student who previously interned there, name-drop that person by writing: “So-and-so suggested I check with you about an internship.”
Discuss your relevant experiences.
After you’ve introduced yourself and explained why you’re inquiring about an internship, discuss your relevant work experiences. Don’t go crazy here—your resume and LinkedIn can provide more details. Highlight only experiences that are relevant to the company and the internship you hope to obtain.
Describe where you see yourself fitting in.
Tell the employer exactly what you’d like to do in your internship. Base this off similar internship descriptions. For example, volunteer to help with office tasks, like sorting mail, taking calls, filing documents. But don’t limit yourself to menial tasks; you can also refer to your experience and say that you’d love to learn more about the industry and help with higher-level tasks.
Say when you can start.
Wrap up your email by saying when you are able to start. This gives employers a concrete idea of how you could fit in and what projects you might be able to help with. You may also want to include how many hours a week you’re able to work.
To pay or not to pay?
If you’re cold emailing about an internship, the company likely won’t have a budget to pay an intern. If you absolutely can only accept a paid internship, include this information in your email, but know that it likely will hurt your chances of getting an internship. If you’re okay with an unpaid internship, it’s probably best to not mention payment at all until the employer contacts you back.
Link to your LinkedIn profile.
In the last line of your email, mention that the employer can refer to your attached resume or your LinkedIn profile for more details on your experience and work history. Include a hyperlink to your profile within the email. Before you send the email, though, completely fill out your LinkedIn profile so that you make a good impression should the employer click through.
How to contact you.
Don’t just email someone and leave them hanging. Let the employer know the best way to contact you, whether that’s a phone call or simply responding to the email. Mention that you’re open to a phone call, Skype interview, or face-to-face meetup to discuss the potential internship opportunity. Basically, make it easy for them to say yes to you.
Attach your resume.
As you would with any job application, include your resume in your cold email. And please, please, please, customize your resume to the internship you want. It’s important to customize your resume to any job you’re applying for, but it’s especially essential when you’re applying for a job that doesn’t exist (yet). Highlight the experiences that you feel are relevant to what you’d like to do in your internship, should the company decide to take you on.
Cold emailing potential employers about an internship can be a cruel waiting game, but if you don’t try, you won’t have the chance to succeed.