Welcome to my LinkedIn cold messaging guide, based on my experience as a recruiter.
I’ve received hundreds of cold messages from job seekers and I’ve tested a variety of outbound messages myself to see what works and what gets ignored. These are the best messages to send.
In this article, we’ll cover:
Let’s get started…
A cold message is a message sent to someone who doesn’t know you and isn’t expecting to receive communication from you. This type of outreach can be sent through a variety of channels such as email, LinkedIn, Facebook and more. Because cold outreach involves contacting someone who has never spoken with you, it’s relatively difficult to get responses and requires a certain type of strategy to succeed.
The rest of this article will cover these strategies in depth. We’ll focus on LinkedIn, but these tactics and example outreach messages that you’re going to see can be applied to email and more, too.
First, don’t be afraid or apologetic about this. LinkedIn is a professional network, and as long as your message is professional, you have every right to send it.
So you never want to start your message with, “Sorry to bother you,” or, “I know you’re really busy, but…”
Instead, start off confidently, skip the apology and get right into what you wanted to discuss with them. By being clear from the start, you’ll get the other person’s attention and interest faster. (And their respect).
Next, make sure your message is clear about what you want. Avoid jargon and wordy phrases and say what you really mean.
The more clear and direct you are, the more responses you’ll get.
For example, sometimes job seekers send me a cold message like, “Will you look at my LinkedIn profile and tell me what you think?”
Or, people will ask, “Can we hop on a call for 15 minutes?” without being clear about what exactly the purpose would be.
That’s far too general. I wouldn’t know what to look for without investing a lot of time, so I usually don’t respond.
Or, I receive a message saying, “Hi, how are you?”
If I don’t know the person sending this, I’m not going to reply if there’s no indication of what they want. I just receive too many direct messages of this type to reply and find out what they’re aiming for, and it often leads to a lengthy conversation without any clear purpose.
However, if someone were to ask a specific, clear question like, “Do you think my LinkedIn ‘About’ section would be better if I removed the first paragraph?” then I usually answer.
More examples of exact questions and messages you can send are coming up soon!
Also, make sure you’re asking for one single thing in your first cold message, not multiple things.
If you ask for too many things or ask too many questions, it’s going to become too complicated and overwhelm the reader.
You can always ask for more help after they respond to the first question. But the key to getting that first response when cold messaging is to keep it brief and simple to start. Make it easy for them, and you’ll hear back more often!
The best cold messages on LinkedIn will be fewer than 100 words. 50-75 words is ideal.
When somebody opens your outreach message, they’re much more likely to read it (and reply to it) if it looks manageable and easy to read at first glance. You want it to be inviting to read!
For email, you can go a bit longer, but I’d still stick to four to six very brief paragraphs with two or three sentences per paragraph.
Always remember to include good spacing. Try to send two or three small paragraphs instead of one large paragraph, for example. This is true for email, LinkedIn, and any other online platform.
You should always add some customization to show the reader that you’re not just copying and pasting the same message to many people.
You’ll see this in all of the cold messaging examples/templates coming up. They all feature customization and personalization, because it helps you get more responses.
If you only spend a few seconds pasting a generic message to somebody, they’re not going to take their time to reply in most cases.
One thing to avoid in your cold LinkedIn messages is attachments/files/links. If you want to get more responses, you’re better off keeping your first piece of outreach text-only.
When you send a message on LinkedIn, the recipient will see the bottom of the message first when they open it up. You don’t want the first thing they see to be a big PDF or Word doc, or a huge paragraph with two or three links.
Imagine receiving that when you’ve never spoken to someone before. It’s too aggressive and will start the conversation off on the wrong foot. It’s likely they won’t reply at all if you do this.
Here’s an example: I’d likely reply to someone asking a specific question about their resume, like, “Where would you say that the typical hiring manager expects to see a Skills section on your resume? Should it be near the top? Or after work experience, near the bottom?”
Whereas I’m less likely to reply if someone just attaches their resume and asks me, “Can you take a look at my resume and tell me what to improve?”
Before sending any cold outreach, look for any existing connections that you may have. If you have mutual connections, you can ask for an introduction and boost your chances of successfully starting a conversation with this new person!
You can use LinkedIn to see if you’re connected to some of the same people as the other person (this is known as mutual connections).
Or if you’re not comfortable asking for an introduction, you can still reach out and say: “Hi Dan. I saw we both worked with James Anderson back at Verizon in 2018. How are you? I had a question about…”
Simply mentioning a name or a company that you both worked at will often improve your odds of hearing back from them.
You can also mention other common pieces in your background, such as attending the same university.
However, if you can’t find any connection at all, then you can use the message templates/samples that are coming up in this article and reach out completely cold. You can still succeed like that.
This next tip isn’t always possible… but if there’s some way to help the other person before asking for a favor, that’s a great way to get more responses.
Here’s a real-life example that happened to me recently: Another business in the career advice space shared one of my posts on Facebook and tagged me.
Then, the next week, they did it again! I had never spoken to them.
A couple of days after this, they emailed me to ask about a potential partnership.
While it wasn’t something I was open to doing in the end, I recognized their company name and carefully considered their email when it hit my inbox!
Essentially, they “warmed up” our relationship before sending the direct outreach, so that I’d be familiar with them when I see their message.
This takes advantage of the law of reciprocity, too. The basic idea: When somebody helps you or does something nice for you, you’ll have a strong psychological urge to return the favor.
We just looked at steps to follow for successful cold messaging above, so now let’s look at samples and messaging templates for various situations.
The first scenario we will cover is how to ask someone for a job at their company when they’re not the hiring manager. (Often, employees can refer you to the hiring manager even if they’re not doing the hiring).
Most people aren’t going to refer you to a hiring manager or recommend you for a position if they don’t know you at all, though. So you need to get to know them a bit first. Here’s how…
I saw you joined Apple two years ago. How have you enjoyed the work environment in the engineering department since moving over? I’m beginning a job search myself, and Apple is one of the top companies on my list. But I always like to ask first-hand about the work environment at a company.
Then, if the person responds, you can thank them for the information they shared, exchange one or two more messages, and then ask a question like this:
By the way, do you know if the Senior Data Engineer position that’s posted on Indeed is within your group? Or do you know who typically does the hiring for that type of role? I was thinking of applying for the position but I didn’t want my application to get lost in the shuffle online.
After this, they may offer to introduce you or pass along your resume/CV. If not, you can send one final message…
Asking directly for the introduction:
Great. Would you be willing to float my resume over to them? I’m very interested in learning more about the role.
Note: These are just samples and you should adjust the wording and formality for your industry and specific situation.
Another important note: Many companies offer employees a cash bonus for referring a new person who they hire. So while you shouldn’t immediately ask for a referral in your first message, it’s okay to do so after you’ve established some rapport. You might even be helping that person earn some money!
Here are some additional topics that you could ask about to start a conversation if you like this general type of approach:
Next, if you believe someone is the hiring manager for a role, you can be a bit more direct in your approach.
It’s still best to confirm that they’re responsible for the role by asking a question, though, rather than assuming.
And it’s still best to send the first message without a resume attached unless you’re 100% sure that they’re expecting to receive resumes in their inbox for this position.
(For example, if their email was listed on the actual job posting and the company said to send all applications to this email, then it’s different. But if you’re just emailing the hiring manager to start a cold conversation, then avoid attachments).
Here’s an example of how to approach someone who you believe is the hiring manager for a job:
I came across your LinkedIn while researching job openings at <Company Name>. Does the Senior Staff Accountant position that’s posted on LinkedIn report to you? I’ve spent the past six years in public accounting and can offer you a mix of expertise in <Area 1>, <Area 2>, and <Area 3>. If you’re the person in charge of hiring for this role, I would love to share more with you and learn a bit more about what you’re looking for.
Note that Area 1, Area 2, and Area 3 in the template above should be items that are listed on the job description ideally, or that you feel are highly relevant to the specific role in question.
That’s what will make an employer most likely to want to interview you. Don’t just talk about what you think is important in your background; think about what they’ll find most important for their specific role.
When employers are talking to candidates, they’re thinking, “How will this person’s skills fit into my job?”
You may also come across somebody who you would like to learn from, build a long-term relationship with, or ask to mentor you.
In this case, leading with a compliment and then following up with a specific question is a great approach.
Here’s an example of how this would sound:
I’m impressed by how quickly you advanced from Senior Staff Accountant to Director of Finance at Verizon over the past six years!
Are there one or two things you did that you feel contributed most to this success? I’m hoping to follow this type of career path myself, so anything you can share would be a big help.
Here’s one more example of this same type of approach:
I loved your article on LinkedIn last week about AI and which industries you expect to be impacted most. I just completed my degree in Computer Science and am considering following a career path similar to yours. Is focusing on AI and Machine Learning something you’d recommend for someone just beginning their career in technology this year?
Here’s how to message a recruiter who you’ve never talked to before. With this approach, you’re showing that you’ve done your research and have specific reasons for messaging them, which will help catch their attention.
I saw your profile while searching on LinkedIn for tech recruiters here in Austin. I’m thinking of testing the market as I wrap up my third full year here as a back-end developer at Adobe. My main skills are Java and Python development. Does that fit with the type of roles you recruit for? If you think it’d be a good fit to work together, I’d love to talk.
Additional reading: Should I use a recruiter in my job search?
This was a topic that multiple people requested on LinkedIn when I mentioned I was writing this article. However, it’s not my greatest area of expertise. So for requesting an informational interview, I’m going to put three articles from other sites below that cover the topic in detail:
Since all of these articles suggest a longer first message, which does seem like a good approach here, I recommend emailing instead of cold messaging on LinkedIn for this. LinkedIn’s inbox and message system doesn’t lend itself well to long, detailed messages.
Now, if you’ve read this far, you may be thinking, “Hold up, Biron… none of these sample cold messages actually ask for a job!”
But that’s the point. You’re not going to get responses on LinkedIn if your first message to someone is such a big request. People don’t refer strangers for a job.
How do they know if you’re a good worker? What if you go into the interviewer and are rude, unprepared, or incompetent? That’s going to reflect poorly on the person who referred you.
So you need to start a conversation in your first message, and then focus on getting the job interview in a follow-up message soon after!
You should not cold-send your resume to somebody on LinkedIn until you’ve exchanged a few messages and gotten to know them. You’re going to get more replies if you wait until the second or third message to send your resume. It’s best to use your first message to confirm that the person is open to talking and in a position to help you.
(For example, confirming a recruiter works in your industry, or confirming that someone is the hiring manager for a certain position).
The bottom line is: If someone isn’t expecting your resume, it’s not going to be well-received in a first cold message.
That’s why none of the cold outreach message samples above include any mention of a resume, CV, or other attachment. You should not be attaching anything in the first message to someone who doesn’t know you. No exceptions.
The same goes for email. If you’re going to reach out to someone about a job, and the other person isn’t expecting to hear from you or hasn’t openly asked for resumes to be sent to their email address, don’t attach a resume right away.
Start a genuine conversation first!
In terms of actually sending out your message, you’re going to have a few options.
You can send someone an invitation to connect first, send a brief customized message with the connection, and then follow-up in their inbox after they’ve accepted your request.
Or, you can send an InMail, which allows you to reach the inbox of people who aren’t your direct connections on LinkedIn.
Finally, some people have their email address available on their LinkedIn profile (usually after you’re connected to them).
So email is another option for your cold outreach after you’ve found someone through LinkedIn.
The steps and samples above should provide a good starting point for reaching out to people about jobs, but it’s important to test a few different approaches and see what works best for you.
The best approach for you will depend on your location, industry, and more. Also, since a lot of people are going to be reading this article, you don’t want to be sending out the same exact message as everyone else.
So use this article as a starting point, but always be thinking about what else you can test or how else you can fine-tune things for your industry and situation.
And then track your results (I recommend doing this in an Excel spreadsheet). Track how many people you’re reaching out to and how many responses you’re getting for each strategy or type of message.
This information will help you optimize your outreach and get better results from your effort as time goes on.
If you read everything above, you know know how to cold message on LinkedIn (or anywhere else) to get more replies, more interviews, and more help in your job search.
Like anything else, practice makes perfect… so don’t worry if you find it challenging to write the first few pieces of outreach that you send. It’s okay to spend 30 minutes writing and editing before you send it!
Take your time, think about each sentence you’re writing, and keep it brief and direct. If you do this, you’ll be on your way to writing great messages that grab attention and get replies.
Biron Clark is a former executive recruiter who has worked individually with hundreds of job seekers, reviewed thousands of resumes and LinkedIn profiles, and recruited for top venture-backed startups and Fortune 500 companies. He has been advising job seekers since 2012 to think differently in their job search and land high-paying, competitive positions.
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