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(The Improved) “Student Seeking Advice”

01/03/2015

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Mai Le

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The post below was originally written and published in April. I have since made editorial improvements and obtained the consent of those mentioned. I hope you enjoy this revised version.

Having shared my email address online and actively cultivated an online presence, I receive a significant number of “Student Seeking Advice” emails and LinkedIn messages. In most cases, I don’t respond to such unsolicited contacts. Due to the volume of messages I receive and the few I reply to, I feel compelled to share my observations and best practices for unsolicited communications. This article will explain why I often don’t respond, with the intention of helping you craft more effective cold messages. Most “Student Seeking Advice” messages I get are strikingly similar. The following excerpt is from an actual email I received, with personally identifiable information removed:

Dear Mai Le, I came across your website and profile on LinkedIn and wanted to get in touch. About myself: I am an undergraduate student at […] University, aspiring to work in the Investment Banking industry upon graduation. I completed a Spring Week at […] within IBD a few weeks ago, am starting a First-Year Summer Internship with […] this summer, and [insert more CV-related items]… These experiences have confirmed that IBD is the right career path for me, as I find myself better suited to the proactive nature of this division and its long-term projects… [insert more reasons for his investment banking interest]. I understand you must be extremely busy, but I would genuinely appreciate the opportunity to ask you a few questions about working at Goldman Sachs, hear your journey into one of the world’s most competitive industries, and any advice you might have regarding my upcoming Summer applications. I look forward to your response.

Why I don’t reply to such emails

I recall my student days. Each email intended for an industry professional would take me at least 30 minutes, if not hours, to draft: fine-tuning the language, and often having it triple-checked by peers. I know firsthand the effort behind these cold emails. Yet, I seldom respond to the likes of the email above. While my reasons might sound harsh, I aim to provide an honest perspective – one that many professionals you reach out to might share. The two primary issues with the above email are:

Problem 1: The ask is too vague

The request is ambiguous. There’s a myriad of advice I could offer on application nuances, countless insights into my job, and numerous details about my career trajectory. To document all my experiences would be a monumental task. By being so vague, the sender seems to assume I’ll cherry-pick the best insights for him. The analogy I’d use is walking into a butcher’s shop and simply stating a desire for meat, expecting the butcher to select and serve without further guidance. This approach means he’s not facilitating my assistance. As a result, I’d rather invest my time elsewhere.

Problem 2: He hasn’t earned my time

The vagueness means a response would consume significant time. Even a standard 80-word reply takes around 5 minutes. Crafting a meaningful, detailed response could take 30 minutes or more. Answering one such email daily would equate to 3.5 hours per week spent solely on unsolicited emails. The sender does nothing to indicate the value of this commitment for me. The email revolves around him and his needs, neglecting my perspective. To elicit a response, more than a CV rundown is needed. If I were forced to respond, my message would be succinct:

What’s your number? A call would be more productive. Mai.

How to get a reply

To get a response from me, simply avoid the aforementioned pitfalls. The best unsolicited emails are concise, pose specific questions, and indicate that the sender values my time. For a prime example, check out this fantastic cold email. Not only did it get a reply, but it also secured the sender a significant investment. Cold emailing requires finesse, a skill I’ve honed through mentoring. As a mentor, I understand the mentor’s perspective, which aids in refining my outreach approach. My recommendation? Mentor others and learn the nuances of outreach.

Reciprocity – “What’s in it for me?”

Securing mentors or advisors is an art. One tip: ponder how you can benefit the recipient. For instance, I always aim to provide valuable insights related to their interests. Ideas are free and abundant. The key is ensuring they’re valuable and relevant. Such efforts often result in a high response rate, regardless of the recipient’s seniority. Generic messages, easily readdressed to others, won’t suffice. Instead, proactive research and initiative, like sharing unique ideas, can be persuasive. My method hinges on offering fresh insights, though other strategies might be just as effective. Let me know if you have suggestions!

Short, sweet, and to the point

Generic, overly-long emails are less effective. Those who approach me are better off being clear about their intentions from the outset. Ideally, an email should be concise and limited to 50 words. For instance, here’s a brief yet effective example:

Hi Mai, Hope you had a good Easter. I got into GS spring. Fancy a quick coffee next week? Thanks, [Your Name]

In conclusion, the strategy is simple: if you’re seeking advice, make it easy for others to help you. Focus on crafting specific, personalized, and concise cold emails.

 

If you’re preparing applications for top-tier firms, consider browsing over 300 real-life cover letters at Cover Letter Library. It’s an invaluable resource for those targeting top investment banks, Big 4 firms, and other blue-chip companies.

Lastly, shoutout to my friend over at ANML Studio for the lovely illustrations. You can show her some love on Instagram @anmlstudio. Feel free to follow me too, @official.mai.le.

Written by Mai Le

My name is Mai. I am originally from Vietnam. After my university years at LSE, I worked in investment banking at Goldman Sachs. After a wonderful time there, I started several of my own business as well as helping others on theirs. I've always been building communities and businesses for as long as I can remember, and absolutely thrilled to see others enjoy what I've built.

Comments

1 Comment

  1. Duong

    Great advice! Many thanks Mai 🙂

    Reply

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