Rylan Schaeffer

Kernel Papers

24 December 2023

Advice on Sending Cold Emails

by Rylan Schaeffer

Emails to new people are oftentimes incredibly impactful, but hard to write, and I frequently receive emails that I feel could be improved. I’ve found a strategy that works well for me personally, and those that I shared it with say it works for them as well.

The email should be three sentences long, excluding hello and your signature:

  1. The first sentence introduces who you are, ideally with details that are relevant to the recipient

  2. The second specifies why you are emailing the recipient, ideally with as much specificity and relevance to the recipient as possible

  3. The third makes a concrete request that the recipient can satisfy in 15 minutes or less.

What’s the reasoning behind the structure? Most people you want to email, especially ones with resources or decision-making capabilities, are insanely busy. They will be more inclined to give you time if you can make a compelling case that you are relevant and that they are critical to whatever you need. If I email someone for help understanding eigenvalues, they’ll tell me to go read Wikipedia, but if I instead ask for help understanding a tiny but important detail in a niche topic that only they understand, then they are literally the only person in the world who can help me and will feel a much greater sense of obligation to help. I’ve found that by making a concrete and easily satisfiable request, the recipient is more willing to say yes. Once the recipient says yes they feel committed and are more likely to follow through.


tags: advice - networking