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GUEST COMMENT : How to write a speculative cover email which gets you a 90% positive response rate

Only a few things are certain in life: death, taxes, and the fact that sending your CV to someone on a speculative basis will almost always get the same instinctive response – hitting delete.

The fact is, that by punting your CV around, you’ve just done the cyber-equivalent to knocking on someone’s front door with a clipboard and a brightly coloured Lycra jersey. And no one I know likes chuggers.

If you’re not careful, this can come across as invasive and irritating. We’re all busy; our inboxes are crowded enough already and it’s easy to think that recruitment is “an HR issue” and not something that we, as finance professionals, want to get our hands dirty with.
Whether or not the email gets deleted depends largely on a) what kind of a day the recipient is having and b) how effectively eye-catching (or conversely, how obnoxious) your cover note is.

Since you can’t control the first factor, I will share with you things which you can do to make sure your cover note gets the reader’s attention.

I’m not a career consultant, a recruiter or an HR executive. I’ve only ever worked in front office roles and I firmly believe that, alongside networking, “cold-emailing” is the best way to find a new job. In fact, it’s the only way I’ve ever really got a job, from the milkround to my current status as an experienced investment professional.

There are two simple reasons why this is: it puts the power in your own hands (not a head-hunter or anyone else) and gives you an edge: by approaching a firm directly this puts you at an advantage over other candidates who go via recruiters since, by hiring you, your potential employer will avoid paying any middle-man fees.

And show me a banker or investor who likes paying broking costs of any kind, and I’ll eat my Ferragamo’s.


1) Be brief & polite- don’t forget that ultimately, the person reading the email is doing you a favour. And no one wants to work with a person who can’t even be deferential in an email.

2) Choose the right target: your peers are not your allies.
In the current difficult job environment, if you choose someone who isn’t at least one pay grade more senior than you, you’ll probably draw a blank. The exception is if you’re contacting an employee in a very different area of a very big organisation. The risk of you posing a threat to their job will outweigh the possible benefits of them helping you out. “What if he/she is smarter than me or can lose to my boss at golf better than I can?” they will worry.

The Meat:

1) Make the reader take you seriously.Show that you have a contact in the firm or some other kind of shared connection. A mutual friend is ideal, but not always necessary. It could just be an acquaintance or a former colleague. If you do so, they are much less likely to ignore your message.

2) Be specific and well-informed.
We’re in the age of Linkedin, the FSA Register and various industry news sources. You should be able to find a key contact at the firm. Not too senior but not so junior they have no control over hiring.

3) Show that you understand what the firm does.
Demonstrate that you understand the business model or investment strategy, beyond just the website’s sales pitch. Do not suck up either; outlining a firm’s key strengths or successes is not the same as blind flattery.

4) Outline your skills.
Write them in a short, bullet pointed way which allows the recipient to skim read them at the same time as you talk to them on a follow up call.

5) Don’t ask them to ring you- instead tell them when you’re going to ring them. This might sound obvious but many people think it’s best to wait for someone to call them – after all that means they’ll have reviewed and liked your CV. That hardly ever happens: even if your note catches their eye they’ll be too busy to do anything about it straight away unless they’re desperate to hire.

6) Follow up a few working days later.
If you wait longer the recipient will forget about you. Think in advance about how you’re going to summarise the email you’ve sent. Stand up whilst you talk if that helps you to sound dynamic and energetic.

7) Avoid Monday mornings.
Even job-seekers with banker-sized egos will probably recognise that they are unlikely to come top of someone senior’s priority list during the busiest part of their week.

Good luck. You’re unlikely to get it flawlessly correct the first time, so one last piece of advice is to start with a firm you will won’t be too heart-broken about losing if you screw up.

The author works in investment management

Comments (14)

  1. A very useful article, each and every sentence is true. I secured almost all my jobs by cold-emailing the banks I was interested in. It works and the results are much better than going through a recruiter. I am doing it again and am getting responses (50-60% of the time).

  2. Good advice. Although in this market we all need all the luck we can get. So VP, which area are you in? I’m seeing very very few jobs on buy-side.

  3. I am looking to change sectors and every meeting I’ve secured has been through this approach. Recruiters only use the tick box approach and are not willing to listen to what you have to offer unless you want to continue doing the same job.

  4. very well written article. Excellent advice.

  5. Great advice. Currently looking for job with no success yet. Bassie and VP, how do you find out who to cold-email?

  6. Carl – I am trying to make a switch to PE. I approach firms directly, Bassie is right, recruiters, with their tiny little brains, cannot do anything for you if you’re changing careers.

  7. At last, an excellent article. I will put this into practice methinks, a very helpful article. Can we have more of these if possible, and well done to the author.

  8. Great article and very true, I am also a very senior and well paid banker, I started and the great movements in my career occurred in response to cold-emailing. Never thanks to any headhunter, be focused, precise and polite and you will get where you want.

  9. Nice article. Unfortunately, employers in Africa hardly read your cover letters and they hire based on so many external factors to the job not your skills or professionalism.

    Princewill Okey Reply
  10. Liked it as well. I have just graduated and been applying for the past few months with no success. Hope this will do a trick.

  11. “Demonstrate that you understand the business model or investment strategy” -> the problem is: 90% do not have any!
    “your potential employer will avoid paying any middle-man fees” -> who says they care? Unless they own the franchise.
    Otherwise, most points are true, though, especially no. 5).

  12. This is a useful article for those who need such guidance, but I wish that people who seek to give advice on how/what to write would check their own grammar.

    Or am I the only one who noticed the glaring greengrocer’s apostrophe (clue: Italian shoes) ?

    The Posh Headhunter Reply
  13. It is really a wonderful article, but I don’t really understand what is “cold-emailing” means? Can anyone explain that for me please? Thanks!

  14. What should be the subject of the email?

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