[Authors note: This article on writing cold emails is Part 1 of my “Writing Great Outreach Emails” series. If you’d like to download all 3 parts and begin mastering the art of email outreach (including a BONUS checklist to help you craft your next message), Click here to download ‘The Insider’s Guide to Writing Great Outreach Emails’.]
Imagine where your career could be just one year from now if you consistently sent just one thoughtful, personal, and authentic message per week to people in your area of the industry who could provide you with priceless career advice, mentor you, introduce you to the right people, open the right doors, or even hire you for your dream job.
Given the tremendous upside and potential ROI from a minimal investment of your time and effort each week (with zero cost), why isn’t cold outreach a habit we all practice regularly as natural as brushing our teeth?
Because writing a cold email to strangers is TERRIFYING…especially if they’re people you admire or look up to. When this is your “one shot,” the last thing you want to do is sell yourself too hard, or ask the wrong questions, or sound stupid.
You don’t want to bother them.
They’re probably too busy anyways.
It feels weird asking strangers for help.
You definitely sound desperate (and clueless).
And they probably won’t respond anyways…so why even try?
There’s no question that if done wrong, sending cold emails that no one responds to can be a surefire path to rejection, isolation, complete lack of confidence, and feeling like you have no way to connect to the right people that can potentially become your mentors, colleagues, or collaborators. But when done correctly:
One well-written cold email can change your entire career.
Want to see how improving his outreach skills earned Scott not one but two jobs on union features?
Click here for my interview with Scott Davis
“It’s All About Who You Know”
Too often this phrase is used as an excuse for why people don’t achieve their professional goals.
“Nobody in this business cares about skills or qualifications or education, all that matters is who you know. And I don’t know anyone. It’s just not fair.”
If you don’t know anyone yet, that’s no excuse. It simply means that it’s time to start reaching out to people. And if you’re introverted and hate networking as much as I do, guess what…that’s not an excuse either.
Yeah that’s right…you’re about to learn how to use cold outreach to build your network from a hopeless introvert who hates going to events, panels, meetups, and parties. (Don’t even get me started on ‘small talk.’)
You too may have been born an introvert like me, but you were not born bad at networking. Saying “I’m bad at networking” is simply a limiting belief, a script you continue to replay in your head over and over that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy which leads to you hiding inside your comfort zone. Jimmi Hendrix was not born as the best guitar player of all time, he became that way because he practiced fanatically. If you are bad at networking right now, it’s only because you don’t practice it consistently enough. Which is good news because it means you can get better.
If you’re intrigued about the possibility of actually getting better at networking and cold outreach but you’re still not sure if it’s worth your investment of time and effort?
Here are three reasons why it’s imperative you master the ‘soft skill’ of cold outreach if you want to advance your career in Hollywood.
1. The people you most likely want to connect with are probably introverts just like you
I chose editing as a profession for a reason. It takes a very distinct type of personality to voluntarily choose a career that includes working in the dark for weeks, months, or decades with little to no human contact where your primary human interaction is between you and the two dimensional characters on your screens. While the solitary nature of this industry may suit your personality as well as it does mine…there’s nothing more frustrating than trying to build your network from a dark windowless room.
Well actually there is one thing even more frustrating…trying to connect with other successful people in Hollywood who are also extreme introverts that spend all of their time in their own dark windowless rooms.
If you already live in Los Angeles you do have the option to attend industry panels, networking events, workshops, and meetups, but in all of those scenarios you have little to no control over whom you can network with. Best case scenario you do a little research beforehand to see who will be attending, but for the most part your network expands based solely upon whomever actually shows up. And the chances are most of those people are already doing work similar to yours, so you simply end up expanding the same network you already have horizontally…but to make real progress you need to build your network vertically.
If you want complete control over who is in your network of potential mentors, colleagues, and collaborators, you must build your own network, put yourself out there, and connect directly with those who can help open the right doors for you. Furthermore if you want to build that network from anywhere in the world (in your pajamas no less) rather than relying on being local to the industry, the best way to connect with the right people…is cold outreach.
2. Effectively writing cold emails affords you the ability to craft the perfect message for the right person (at the right time)
If you’re lucky enough to meet someone at an industry event who could potentially become your ideal mentor or someone who can help you land your dream job, what are the odds you’re prepared with the right information and you say the exact right things at the right time? And without sounding desperate or feeling awkward…or sounding like a fanboy?
Slim to none.
On the other hand if you perfect the craft of cold outreach & writing cold emails, you’re no longer beholden to small talk with whomever happens to be around you.
YOU control the conversation.
You also have an unlimited amount of time to devote to stalking researching the right person in advance, finding common interests, and providing value that will personally resonate with them (more on how to provide value in my Insider’s Guide to Writing Great Outreach Emails).
If you’re reconnecting with past colleagues that haven’t heard from you in a long time and you’re hoping to “catch up” (i.e. look for your next gig) getting good at cold outreach allows you to time your message just right so opportunities begin to magically appear right around the time you’re looking for work (thus avoiding the reek of desperation if you only reach out after you become unemployed).
If you’re simply looking for a way to efficiently blast your résumé to as many colleagues as possible in a group email to “check in and see if anyone has heard about anything,” then you and I are talking about very different kinds of outreach.
But if you’re tired of sending “transactional” messages and you instead want to make new connections and build valuable relationships over time, the best way to connect with the right people…is cold outreach.
3. Once you progress past entry level, the vast majority of job opportunities are filled via referrals, not job postings
When you’re first breaking into the business, you have no choice but to submit cold applications to random postings on job sites (I actually landed my two biggest career opportunities via Craigslist and Facebook). But as you climb the ladder, and as opportunities get bigger, the chances become slimmer the ideal jobs for you are mentioned or posted anywhere publicly.
When is the last time you saw a job listing that said:
“Marvel Studios seeking qualified candidate to edit the next Avengers film
(Avid experience preferred)”
Curious how to land a job on a Marvel movie?
Listen to my podcast interview with Avengers editor Jeffrey Ford
Show runners, directors, producers, and studio executives don’t have the time or interest in sifting through 500 (or even 1000+) résumés to find a needle in a haystack. They instead reach out to their trusted network of friends & colleagues to find the best talent. Which means that the opportunities you most covet will NEVER be posted publicly.
Without having the right network of your own friends & colleagues, you’ll never know your dream opportunities exist…until it’s too late.
Over the past 20 years I can count the number of cold job interviews I’ve had on two hands (with fingers to spare). This is because I constantly stay in communication with past colleagues to see what they’re up to and remind them that I exist and am interested in working together again when the right time comes.
The easiest way to avoid the endless cycle of looking for work every time a job ends is to have a referral network that helps you find work. It’s like having all of your friends and colleagues as agents…except you get to keep the 10% commission!
I can trace over 50 episodes of television that I’ve edited over the last nine years to one single job interview:
My job on Burn Notice came from an interview landed via cold Facebook outreach.
My next job on Black Box came from a referral from a colleague on Burn Notice.
My next job on Empire came from a relationship on Black Box.
My next job on Shooter came from a relationship on Black Box.
My jobs on both Underground and Unsolved came from a relationship with a director on Empire.
And while the initial contact that led to my job on Glee came via my agent, I landed the gig because of an existing relationship I had built via…you got it…outreach.
It wasn’t until I decided to reach out to the creators of Cobra Kai nine years later that I had to start my outreach from scratch and do a cold job interview. All it took was two outreach emails to get me that interview with the show runners…and I got the job in the room.
Want to learn more about how I got my dream job on Cobra Kai?
Click here for my podcast interview with the creators of Cobra Kai
Now that I’ve become more established in my career, people often come to me looking to hire people in my network. When someone reaches out to me asking “Do you know anybody available?” I don’t have a meticulously organized spreadsheet of everyone I’ve met or worked with in the last 20 years prioritized by their level of experience and expertise so I can identify and pass along the ideal candidate. I simply recommend the person at the top of my mind that I’ve conversed with most recently whom I think could be the right fit.
The cold hard reality is that most jobs aren’t filled with the most qualified candidate, they are filled with the most familiar candidate.
If you want to stay on the top of people’s minds and be the first person they think of when opportunities arise, the most important skill you must practice consistently…is cold outreach.
Step Outside Your Networking Comfort Zone
I say this with zero hyperbole: Your career depends on your ability to write compelling and engaging cold emails.
I get that as an introvert putting yourself out there to people you admire and want to work with is terrifying. But if you’re tired of showing up to networking events and walking away empty-handed because you didn’t meet anyone new, or the people you did meet frankly can’t help you, then cold outreach is the most important soft skill you must master if you’re seeking advice about the next steps in your career, you’re looking for mentorship, or you’ve identified a potential dream project you’d love to be a part of.
Plus you can do it from home in your pajamas.