Overview for how to cold email for an internship
Why cold email for an internship?
Cold emails work: I’ve gotten jobs, sold products, and put together million-dollar partnerships from cold emails. I’ve also hired people (and interns) based on great cold emails I’ve received.
How to cold email for an internship
Time needed: 5 minutes.
This post walks you through the seven steps to get any internship (or job) by cold emailing:
At the end, I’ll walk through other tips and resources on getting an internship and cold emailing.
Templates to cold email for an internship
- Generic cold email for an internship
- Personalized cold email
- Cold email customized based on person’s comments or interest
- Custom LinkedIn invite
- Sample follow up to cold email
Principles behind how to cold email to get an internship
But, before you start a cold email campaign to get an internship, remember five principles about cold emails:
- You need to send a lot of emails. A 5-10% response rate is fantastic, and 1-2% is still pretty good. So to get an internship, you should expect to send hundreds.
- Execution matters. The difference between a great cold email campaign and an average one can be 10X better results.
- Don’t just email. Email is a starting point, but you can increase your results by engaging over LinkedIn and social media at the same time.
- Pique their interest first. Whenever you email someone, you need them to read it. This means, something about the subject and first line need to intrigue them.
- Gain trust. You need your target to trust you (A) not to waste their time and (B) to offer something useful to them.
In the guide below, we’ll walk through getting an internship step by step. But it all rests on these principles.
How to pick what internship roles to apply for
First thing, you need to pick what roles you’re going to apply for. To do this, ask yourself four questions:
1. What kind of internship do you want?
If you’re not sure, you can start by:
- Exploring this list of 20+ different roles in tech and
- Going through this exercise to identify your dream job.
Then pick one or more functions you want to get an internship in.
2. Do you need a paid internship?
If you don’t need to be paid, you’ll be able to choose from 100X more roles. You can cold email people who aren’t hiring, and most of them will hire you.
If you do need pay, see if your school has grant programs to support unpaid internships.
Otherwise, you’ll want to focus more on companies that either:
- Post paid internships
- Are hiring full-time where you could do the work (like a content marketer or junior SEO)
- Recently raised money or have a big big budget, so they’ll have both work to do and money to spend
3. What internships are available?
Now it’s time to create a spreadsheet of the companies and roles you’re interest in. You can:
- Look at your school’s job postings
- Search job sites like Glassdoor, Indeed, Ziprecruiter, LinkedIn, and Internships.com for postings
- For startup internships look on AngelList
In each channel, look for internship postings in the functions you’re targeting. You can also look for entry-level job postings on the same sites, as these companies will have a need and be more likely to accept a paid intern.
4. What companies are you interested in?
If you’re interested in specific companies that aren’t actively hiring for interns, add them to your list now.
If you’re interested in startups and technology, you can find ideas by:
- Looking at the portfolios of top venture capital investors like Andreessen Horowitz or Sequoia. (And here’s a Quora thread of other top VCs.)
- Looking on AngelList or Crunchbase for companies that recently raised money.
- Reading or searching TechCrunch for companies that recently raised money.
How to create a list of people to cold email for an internship
Create a spreadsheet to track your internships
Create a spreadsheet to track the people you plan to cold email, and the companies and internship postings you researched above.
I’d suggest tracking their full name, email, LinkedIn URL, company, their role, a detail for personalization, any notes about them, and a link to the internship job posting if there is one.
One note of caution: don’t add hundreds of people to your list until you’ve created a draft cold email and figured out how to mass personalize it (read more on this below). Otherwise, you’ll have to go back to all of the profiles a second time to add the personal detail – or send a generic email to everyone and get a much lower response.
Search LinkedIn for people to cold email
Use LinkedIn’s advanced search to look for people in roles you’re interested in learning about.
You can search by:
- School – Alums from your school are much more likely to respond
- Connection – Reaching out to 2nd degree connections on LinkedIn, can increase your response rate 2-5X by letting you personalize your email and increasing their likelihood of responding when you follow up on LinkedIn
- Job title – Use this to focus on the function (e.g. sales, brand marketing, content marketing)
- Keyword – Use this to focus on an industry (e.g. healthcare, blockchain, software)
For example, I can look for a sales internship near me, working for someone who graduated from the schools I attended, who has at least one connection in common:
Note: This approach is particularly useful if you don’t need a pay internship, because it’ll be easy to convince people to give you an internship, and you won’t have much competition.
Other ways to find people to cold email
LinkedIn is the best place to find people at scale: it’s simple, powerful, and includes everyone on Earth who might hire you for an internship.
There is one alternative approach: search for people who are experts in what you want to learn. So, instead of looking for people by company, you can search platforms where people share knowledge publicly. These are people who’ve written great resources in the areas you’re interested in (people like Hiten Shah, Julie Zhao or Andrew Chen – but a little less famous).
But this approach is way harder.
Your goal should be to find people working in the role you’re interested in who share insightful content, but who aren’t “influencers” with many thousands of followers (because influencers probably won’t respond).
To find these people, search topics related to the type of internship you want on these channels:
- Twitter. Here’s a guide for advanced search queries.
- Quora. Start by searching for spaces you’re interested in.
- Medium. Search medium using advanced Google search operators. Start by searching “site:medium.com” and then add your search topic.
- Substack. Search Google for Substack + your topic.
- Personal blogs. Search Google for Blog + your topic.
How to find emails
Now comes the boring part: finding the emails of people you want to reach.
You could try skipping straight to LinkedIn outreach to save time, or choose from the five approaches below.
1. Search for emails online
It’s worth doing this for the first dozen or so people on your list, to test your cold email approach.
|Search on Google||Example|
|Name + Company + Email||Taylor Thompson HiddenFrontDoor email|
|Name + Email + Company web domain||Taylor Thompson email hiddenfrontdoor.org|
Then, search the results page for the “@” symbol to see if you get any email addresses in the search results.
2. Sign up for a paid email service
You can sign up for a free trial for email scraping services like Skrapp, that let you download emails based on a LinkedIn profile.
The downsides to this approach is that between 20-50% of emails aren’t accurate, and sometimes you have to pay to get emails.
The upside is that there are dozens of services, and many offer free trials, so you can sign up for a free trial, download thousands of emails, and move on to the next one.
Most companies use the same convention for all employee emails.
|First name @ email@example.com|
|First initial + last name @ firstname.lastname@example.org|
|First name + last name @ email@example.com|
To figure out what convention a company uses, just try the following searches.
|Large companies||Company name + email conventions||Google email conventions|
|Companies you have someone’s email||Person’s name + email + company domain||taylor thompson email @hiddenfrontdoor.org|
If you can’t confirm an email convention, you can always cold email several common variants, and just BCC all but the most likely.
4. Use your school’s alumni database
If possible, just constrain your search to alums from your school. This makes personalization easy, people are more likely to respond to your cold email, and you can find their email (or contact them directly) through your alumni portal.
5. Pay a virtual assistant
How to write a cold email for an internship
Checklist for a great internship cold email
When writing a cold email to get an internship, make sure to do each thing on this checklist:
- Write a subject line that gets read (more below).
- Explain who you are and why you’re writing in your first sentence.
- Explain why they should care. Typically this is because (1) you know someone in common, (2) you went to the same school, (3) you have skills they could use, and (4) you’ll work for cheap or free.
- Use quantitative accomplishments to build trust. People will always assume you’re overselling your accomplishments. So if you’ve done something impressive, use numbers.
- Make it personal. Look for ideas to personalize (more bel0w).
- End with a question. This makes it easy for the recipient to respond.
- Make scheduling easy. Include a Calendly link.
- Keep it short. Write three paragraphs max. Each should be no more than a few lines. Cut any word or sentence you can.
- Put details below the fold. If you need to include context, like questions you ask, details about your accomplishments, or a draft introduction for the recipient to send, put it after your signature.
You can also review several templates here for how to cold email for informational interviews, which is a great way to get an internship.
How to write a subject line to get an internship
A good subject line makes the difference between 25% and 75% of people opening your email.
There are two broad approaches to writing cold email subject lines for an internship:
- Make your ask clear so they know (A) what the email’s about and (B) why they should trust you, and (C) what you’re offering them.
- Intrigue them without necessarily giving them information.
The subject lines below include both options (with a few bad ones mixed in like, “I’d like an internship”).
If you’re not going to use a mass-email tool that lets you A/B test subject lines (more info here), stick with option 1. Here are some strategies you can try out to make sure people know why you’re reaching out, why they should trust you, and what you’re offering them.
|Include a mutual connection||Taylor Thompson suggested I reach out|
|What you’ll do for them||I’ll write 20+ blogs as a free intern|
|Emphasize you’re willing to work for free||Open to hiring me as unpaid Dartmouth intern?|
|Emphasize common school||Career advice for Dartmouth student?|
|Ask for informational interview first||Informational interview with Dartmouth student?|
|Include past accomplishments||Looking for internship, I acquired 10K users in last role|
Generic cold email template for an internship
Once someone opens your email, write a cold email that meets the requirements on our checklist above. Here’s an sample cold email for a content marketing internship.
Subject: I’ll write 60+ blogs as a free intern (from Dartmouth ’23)
I’m Taylor, a Dartmouth ’23, and wanted to see if you’re open to an unpaid marketing intern.
I’ve written more than 100 articles for the D, and would be able to work full-time for 2 months this summer. During this time, I could write 60 new blog posts and manage SEO for Hiddenfrontdoor. Hopefully, this would result in 10K+ monthly visits for you.
Would this be useful for you?
How to customize your cold email template
You could use the template above for all your email outreach, but you’ll get more responses you customize your email for each person.
Personalization works even when people know it’s a tactic, because it:
- Attracts their attention. Personal details will draw them in, increasing their chance of reading your email.
- Implies you won’t waste their time. If you did research before sending an email, you’re likely to do it before speaking with them.
- Shows you’re diligent. This email interaction shows that they can trust you.
How to fake a personalized email for an internship
The simplest way to add a personal touch to your mail is to send the same mail to a group of people who share a common characteristic.
For example, the generic cold email template above includes two custom fields:
- School (Dartmouth)
- Function (Content Marketing)
You can do something similar by sending an email to people who:
- Work at the same company (or have in the past)
- Live in the same place
- Have a common LinkedIn connection
- Share some other characteristic that you can find online (like they’re active on Medium, Twitter, or Quora)
How to personalize a cold email for an internship
The most common ways to personalize a cold email for an internship are to substitute out one or more parts of your email template:
- Current company
- Past companies
- Role (if you’re applying to multiple roles)
- Accomplishments from their LinkedIn profile
- Reference to something they’ve written – like a specific blog, comment, or tweet
- Reference to a personal interest you’re able to find online
After sending a few test emails manually, pick your approach to personalizing, and add one or more fields to your spreadsheet.
As you add people to your list, write the personalized text for each person as it will appear in your email, so you can use mail merge software to mass-email a personal message to everyone on your list.
Internship cold email template for customization
Here’s what a personalized version of the sample email above looks like:
Hi [INSERT NAME],
I’m Taylor, a Dartmouth ’23, and wanted to see if you’re open to an unpaid [INSERT FUNCTION] intern in your team at [INSERT COMPANY].
I’ve written more than 100 articles for the D, and would be able to work full-time for 2 months this summer. During this time, I could write 60 new blog posts and manage SEO for [INSERT COMPANY]. Hopefully, this would result in 10K+ monthly visits for you.
I love what [INSERT COMPANY] does, and was really impressed by your experience [INSERT ACCOMPLISHMENT] and your past work at [INSERT PREVIOUS COMPANIES].
Would you be open to a call about an internship this summer?
Template cold email customized based on person’s comments
Another approach to customization is to refer directly to what someone wrote – a tweet, blog, or comment you can reference directly:
I came across you on Marketing twitter, when I saw your tweet on [INSERT TWEET TOPIC AND URL].
How to send your cold emails for an internship
When sending cold emails, you can either send them manually or use a mail merge tool to automate customization from email templates (like those above).
Here’s when to use each approach:
|If you are…||Approach to sending cold emails|
|Just starting your process of reaching out for internships||Customize and send your template by hand for the first 10-20 people as you’re reviewing someone on LinkedIn. This will make sure you get the messaging right before you email tons of people.|
|Contacting senior or influential people||Write and send emails individually from a template. You want to make these emails as custom as possible, before senior people are least likely to respond.|
|Emailing 20-40 people||Copy, paste and send minimally customized emails from your email client.|
|Deeply customizing emails||Use a mail merge tool to save time.|
|Sending lots of emails||Use a mail merge tool.|
Mail Meteor is one (of many) GMail plugins that can let you send a good number of custom emails for free.
How to increase your response rate with social media
Use LinkedIn alongside your cold email
Custom LinkedIn requests a great tactic to use alongside (or even instead of) cold emails. I use this approach when:
- I can’t find an email. No email needed!
- Someone hasn’t responded to my email. This is a great way to follow up – some people never open spam and are more likely to see and respond to a LinkedIn request.
- I have a common connection. Since the invite shows your common connections, this approach actually builds more trust than a cold email.
- When I’m too lazy to look for emails. Often, I’ll use LinkedIn first and only look for emails if I don’t get responses.
All you do is add a custom message to your connection request. I’ve written a step-by-step guide to cold LinkedIn outreach here, as part of my guide to informational interviews.
If you want to reach out to hundreds of people, consider using LinkedHelper. It’s a tool that automates LinkedIn outreach to reach hundreds of people each day.
Template LinkedIn invite
Here’s a sample connection request message:
I’m Taylor, a Dartmouth ’23, and wanted to see if you’re open to an unpaid marketing intern. I’ve written more than 100 articles for The D, and would be able to work full-time for 2 months this summer. Hopefully, this would result in 10K+ monthly visits for you. Does this sound useful for you?
Often, people will accept your connection request but not respond. In that case, you can follow up with the same text as your cold email above.
If they’re interested, send a quick follow up to schedule time (and get their email):
Great! You can book some time here on my calendly ([INSERT CALENDLY LINK]), or let me know a time that works. Also, let me know your email and I can follow up there!
Increase response rates by interacting on social media
One other approach is to engage on social media. If you like, reply, or share someone’s comments on Twitter and LinkedIn, they’ll be more likely to recognize and respond to your cold email.
You can even use a tool like Phantombuster to automate interaction with people on your internship list.
How to follow up on your internship cold email
If you don’t hear from someone, send a follow up email after three or four days.
Template follow up to cold email
I wanted to check to make sure you saw my email below 👇.
I’m a Dartmouth ’23 with lots of writing experience and wanted to see if you could use a free content marketing / SEO intern this summer.
Let me know if this sounds useful?
[ORIGINAL EMAIL HERE]
Other tips and resources for getting internships by email
- Use informational interviews as a way of building a network for jobs and internships.
- Reach out to alums of your school first when cold emailing. They’re 2-5X more likely to respond than others, and it’s easier to find their contact information.
- Try mass personalization based on people’s comments (complete guide here).
- LinkedHelper is a great tool to automate large-scale LinkedIn outreach.
- Phantombuster is a general purpose automation tool with a free trial level.
- You can get an internship even when someone isn’t hiring for one. This guide shares how to do it.
- Ask if the internships are paid. Often posts don’t say because they’re willing to pay but trying to save money by hiring people for free.
- Make sure to prepare for informal interviews.