Proper etiquette to get advice and/or a meeting
I received an email from a good friend yesterday. She was asking for a favor—to connect me with her brother for career advice.
Two things immediately struck me:
- This is a really good friend we’re talking about, she could have just texted or called and I would have helped.
- Always the professional, she wrote a (nearly) flawless email.
Maybe it’s because I’ve received a few truly terribly written introductions (and cold emails) in the past week, but I thought it would be helpful to sketch out why her email was so good.
Keep in mind: every situation is different. This isn’t a blueprint, it’s a view at one specific email that illustrates a few good practices.
So, onto the details of her email…
1) The double opt-in: Her brother wanted an introduction. Rather than just give him my contact info, she reached out first to make sure I was fine taking the meeting.
2) Use the subject to your benefit: Set context and/or catch the reader’s attention.
My friend went with: Asking a friendly favor. ‘Connecting you to XYZ’ or ‘Meeting with founder of ABC’ are also informative, cookie cutter choices.
3) Communicate the context and purpose upfront: My friend did two great things here: she reminded me of a past encounter with her brother and told me why this introduction was relevant to me.
‘We had talked earlier in the spring when my brother was looking for internships. Like you, he was a U of M student in the org studies program.’
4) Provide background information: When introducing an individual or company, make it easy for the reader to learn more (if they’re interested.)
‘My brother worked at XYZ consulting firm over the summer. Maybe you’ve heard of it given your background?’
Bonus points here for providing a link to the firm’s site and knowing that my background in strategy consulting makes the connection that much more relevant.
5) A clear explanation of the ask: Be simple and direct. Also, don’t completely bury this, many people might miss it at the end.
‘Can I have him follow up on this email with additional questions about the job search? Additionally, he’ll be in Chicago in a few weeks and I know 25 mins of your time (in person or on the phone) would go a long way.’
A huge plus was her next sentence: My friend went on to suggest that he is flexible to my schedule and could come to my office, etc. I’d love to meet with anyone, but the truth is that it’s easiest to fit meetings in over the phone or close to where I’m working.
6) Sincere gratitude: Acknowledge that you’re asking a favor. If you can be helpful to the reader, now is the time to provide that help as a thank you. Kindness goes a long way.
Additional random tips and tricks…
- Be mindful of the timing of your email: For example, some people will lose sight of messages they receive over the weekend or on Monday morning when they’re busy clearing out inboxes.
- Be professional: Don’t call the reader ‘buddy’ unless you know them very, very well.
- Keep it simple: Don’t make the mistake of trying to prove your intelligence in long-winded, SAT-word loaded, sentences. Your experience and resume will do this. Make the email easy to read, understand, and act on for the reader.
- Length: Keep it short. Write a draft of your email, then cut it down further. Keep things to the bare minimum. Use the return key liberally, paragraph breaks make the message easier to read.
- Do your research: Know who you’re writing to and how your ask connects to them or their company.
- Provide information: Don’t make the reader do work. Attach a resume or executive summary up front.
- Provide options: Everyone is different. Give the reader options (an email response, phone call, bring them coffee, etc.) for a first introductory meeting.
- Get introduced: If you can find someone to introduce you, warm intros are always better than reaching out with cold email.
- Be prompt: If you are being introduced to someone, it’s your job to follow up. Don’t let the intro sit idle for too long.