How to get a startup job or internship with a cold email

With a clever subject line and a direct email body, you’ll rise to the top of the candidates

The most important part of getting the attention of a startup with an email is the subject line. Startups, especially founders, are usually buried in email clutter. Due to this, your subject line needs to be appealing for them to open your emails. Appealing isn’t about using all caps or a bunch of exclamation marks; it’s a subject line that that person in particular would care about.

The subject line

The subject line I used the first time I was looking for an internship was, “Hire a young hustler intern.” Time is the biggest scarcity for startups so making your “ask” clear is important. With this subject line, the person knows that I’m looking for an internship, I’m young, and I clearly have some hustle since I cold emailed them.

Another tactic you can use for subject lines is to make it funny or quirky. I’ve actually used “Reply to me maybe” once and got a reply back. It still has an “ask” but it makes the person curious to know what the email is about so forcing them to open it. You can try a funny subject line especially if you know that the person has a good sense of humor based on their tweets or writing.

You can also try a subject line that calls out something they are doing wrong. For example, if you see that the company is doing a bad job at managing their blog, you can have a subject line like: “Your blog sucks. I can fix it.”

The goal is to have a clear ask and a reason to make the person open your email.

The body

People are busy and have short attention spans. Your email should be no longer than five to seven sentences.

The first paragraph should be one or two lines introducing yourself.

The next paragraph is where you create the “context.” Say how you found out about the company and what you like about them. Now, you want to “give” them something. You can go a few ways about it. Give them a couple original ideas to help improve an aspect of their business, such as their product or marketing. You can also take the “show don’t tell” route. Go and get them customers and tell them about it.

The last paragraph is the “ask.” Tell them what you can do for them. Any employer wants to know how you can help them reach their goals. If you have a particular skills that the startup can use, mention them. Having a clear ask makes it easy for the person to know what you want and if they can give you a job.

An example email for an internship

Now let’s give it a test drive. Let’s say that I want a job at Buffer. I’ve done research on both the company and founder. During the research, I found a post on ratio thinking that I really liked and I’m going to use it to create context. Below is what an email could look like:

Subject line: Improve my ratio by opening this email 🙂
Explanation: The subject line has context from his blog post.

Hey Joel,

My name is Smit Patel and I’m a 20-year-old student from Boston. I’ve previously worked at startups like ScriptRock, HubSpot, and Flightfox.
Explanation: Quick two sentence intro.

I’ve been huge fan of your blog, especially your recent post on ratio thinking because that’s how I live my life, i.e persistence. I LOVE Buffer because you showed how to focus on one thing, i.e scheduling, and do it really well. In fact, I got 10 of my friends to sign up for it and they are heavy users now.
Explanation: Touching their ego by appreciating their blog. The important part is you actually got customers (friends) for him even before getting a job!

My experience in the past couple years with customer acquisition can be really helpful for Buffer. If you’re interested, I’d love to set up a call with you next week to see if we can work together.
Explanation: You have a clear ask that you want to work on customer acquisition. The clear call to action is to reply for setting up a call next week.

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