Networking Emails that Get a Response

One of the more common questions I get is “Why am I not getting answers to my networking emails?”

I have answered this question before here. In that post, I focused on common mistakes and how to avoid them.

Today, I want to focus a bit more on how to write an email to someone you want to meet. I’ll show you exactly what works and how to phrase your emails so you get responses.

I’ll start out by saying this: people want to help you. The vast majority of people out there, and especially those working in international development, are people who want to help others. So the first key piece of advice is make sure your email makes it easy for people to help you.

Your email should tell the reader just enough information for them to know who you are and what you need from them. It should make them realize that in a quick meeting they can give you useful advice, and that when you do get a job, you’ll be professional and competent.

What does this mean, exactly?

This means:

  1. Start the email by telling them who you are and how you know about them. If you have been introduced to this person by someone else, write this first. If you know them from an event you attended, a blog post you read, or a report you came across, mention that. If you were looking to find people that could give you a sense of a specific sector of international development and ran across their name, mention that here.

            So for example:

    Ex. 1: I am graduating from my M.A. in International Development from Sussex University in May and my professor, Dr. ____, mentioned that you specialize in transport economics.

    Ex. 2: I am currently an intern at Save the Children, focusing on child nutrition. I ran across the project you are running on child nutrition in Indonesia and wanted to learn more about your work.

    Ex. 3: I’m an avid reader of X blog and saw your guest post on gender inequality. I’m currently finishing an assignment working on poverty reduction with the Asian Development Bank …

    As you can see from these examples, you don’t need to say very much about yourself, and you don’t need to say very much about the person you are contacting. You need to say just enough so that the person understands that you want to talk to them specifically and have a good reason for that.

  2. Very quickly and early on, let them know you are looking for advice. If there is anything international development professionals have in common is that we love to give advice. Believe me. As you can see, I like to give advice so much that I’ve started a blog to give advice! It is something that for most of us is quite enjoyable.

    However, something that’s less enjoyable is knowing that someone thinks that you are the one that can give them their ideal job. This is too much pressure, especially since it is quite hard for people to create a job on the spot. In most cases, we work for bureaucracies that have budgets and regulations, and people are less likely to set up a meeting with someone who clearly has this expectation.

    So how do you ask for advice? You can follow the quick introductory sentences above with:

    Ex. 1: I am writing to seek your advice as I explore career options in transport. I would like to understand the types of work in the field and the specializations that are most relevant in the job market right now. I’d also very much like to know about projects and organizations that are at the cutting edge.

    Ex. 2: I’m going to be exploring full-time work in nutrition when my internship comes to an end, and I’d really like to get your advice to understand jobs in nutrition, and how you have been able to build such important projects.

    Ex 3: … and I am looking to focus on gender in my next job post. I was wondering if I could get your advice on transitioning from a focus on poverty reduction to working on gender inequality, which is an area that I focused on in my graduate studies.

  3. Ask them for the meeting. At this point, the person will know whether or not they can help you, so there is just one more thing to do, and that is to ask them for the meeting. The meeting should always be in a time and place (virtual or real) that is as convenient for them as possible. However, people do try to make time for you if you’re in their town only a few days, or if you are in very different time zones and only have a few hours of overlapping day time.

    You can ask for the meeting in the same way for all of the different examples above:

    • I was wondering if you would have time to talk for 30 minutes sometime next week?
    • I would really like to talk to someone like you to get a sense on how to proceed with my career. Would you have 30 minutes for a call? I’m available at your convenience.

    In fact, any direct, polite request for a meeting will work. I recommend only asking for 30 minutes – most people can create space for a 30 minute call or coffee in their day. I also recommend asking for time ‘next week,’ since people usually have an idea of their agenda for that week yet agendas are often not completely filled then.

Now, I’m sure that if you write to 20 carefully selected people – people who are your level or one level above in their organization, people who work in sectors you are interested in, or people you have something in common with, such as having attended the same university – you will get at least a few meetings set up. You won’t get 20 meetings, for sure (and if you do, please write to me and let me know!), but you should get 3-4 meetings. After those 3-4 meetings, you are likely to have 200% more information about your field than you had earlier!

In my next email, I’ll help you prepare for your meetings so that you can learn as much as possible from them.

Until then, do let me know what questions you have on networking emails, and please share your successes with me at michelle@internationaldevelopmentguide.com.

Warm regards,

Michelle

P.S. In the next few weeks, I will be offering a course/group coaching service for people actively looking for a job in international development. If you know that you’d be interested in this, do send me an email and I’ll make sure you’re among the first to know the details!

>