Begin by stating who you are and why you are writing to them. Make a connection by mentioning shared interests and goals. If you’ve been referred by someone, you can mention that as well. State what it is you’re seeking, such as a conversation to discuss their research on ________, or to inquire about opportunities to get involved or assist with their work on ________.
End your email with next steps, such as letting them know what days and times you are typically available and asking if they may be able to meet during those times, or asking if it would be alright if you dropped by their office hours to talk with them further. In the case of professionals outside of the University, you can ask if they would be available for a brief, 20-30 minute phone conversation to discuss their work, which is oftentimes referred to as an informational interview.
- Keep it concise – Limit your email to essential information only, ideally no more than four to six sentences. Busy faculty members and professionals read emails quickly; a long, detailed email, no matter how well written, will often get ignored. Save the details for follow-up emails and/or conversations.
- Make your “ask” reasonable – When reaching out to a prospective mentor you do not yet know, asking for a meeting to discuss their research is a reasonable request. Asking whether you can join his/her lab or become his/her research assistant is a big request that should wait until after you’ve had a conversation, which gives both of you the opportunity to assess whether this is a good fit.
- Maintain formality – Even if you have spoken with this person before, it’s important to always maintain a formal tone and use formal language in an initial email to faculty or professionals. You never know whether your email might be shared or forwarded, so err on the side of formality.
- Be sincere and genuine – False flattery will not get you far. Only reach out to faculty or other contacts that you have a genuine interest in working with, and never exaggerate or misrepresent your interests.
- Begin emails with appropriate salutation – This goes back to maintaining formality. Though you may begin your everyday emails with “Hey” or “Hi,” using these informal salutations with faculty or professionals may be off-putting or prevent them from taking you seriously. Always begin with “Dear Dr. [Last Name],” “Dear Professor [Last Name],” or “Dear Mr./Ms. [Last Name].”
- Professional contact information – At the end of an email, always provide your email address and phone number. The email address you provide should be professional (email@example.com instead of firstname.lastname@example.org). Your voicemail message should also be professional, clearly stating your name and asking callers to please leave a message. Avoid music playing in the background, slang, and informal language in your voicemail message, as these can ruin the professional impression you are trying to make.
- Referrals – Only give the name of a referral if the person who referred you has instructed you to do so. Providing the name of a referral without their permission is frowned upon. Avoid exaggerating or overstating your connections. For example, stating in your email that “Professor Z recommended I contact you” when in reality Professor Z, in passing, recommended you reach out to faculty members in a particular department to inquire about opportunities, will not get you far in the networking process.
- Be patient – Don’t expect an instant response. Not everyone maintains a constant connection to their email. If you don’t receive a response within 10 business days (weekends don’t count!) you can send a second email. For the second email, simply resend the same email content, and avoid stating that you’re emailing a second time because you did not receive a response to your first email, as some people may find this offensive. If you don’t receive a response to your second email, either stop in during the faculty member’s office hours to ask your question(s) and begin establishing a relationship, or move on.