Cassidy Williams

Software Engineer in Chicago

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Picking your brain: Cold call email etiquette


I love meeting with people. Coffee chats with different people is so fun!

But, unfortunately, I don’t scale well. After talking with my friend Rebecca Garcia, I realized I wasn’t alone in this. As you get more involved with work and the community, a coffee chat isn’t just a one-off, it’s a constant stream of requests.

I’ve slowly gotten better at handling them, I use Assistant.to to schedule things and try to only meet with people a max of twice a week, but that’s created quite the backlog.

So, this is a post for you, the meeting requester, and for the benefit of you and myself/anyone busy to whom you might be reaching out. This is how to ask a busy person for a coffee chat.

1. Be specific.

Don’t just email someone saying, “Hey, I saw you once, and I’d like to pick your brain! I’m free tomorrow.”

I don’t know what you mean.

You could want to literally pick pieces of their brain out for all I know. Not to be dramatic. But you didn’t specify.

Make sure you say how you met the person you’re contacting, and why you’re contacting them. Simple stuff. Big impact.

2. Be flexible.

You’re asking the person to meet you and take time out of their day. So, you should work with their schedule! Give them several options, let them pick a location (or pick one that’s convenient for them), give them an out, and don’t be sad if they aren’t able to meet with you for a while (if at all).

At that point, just email them your questions or whatever, and have hope that they’ll email you back!

3. Don’t be afraid to ping them if they haven’t gotten back to you in a week.

If someone emails me for a nonspecific coffee chat and I have a bunch of other emails that day, I might not get back to them for a while. I personally really appreciate pings. It’s a friendly reminder, and it puts you back on someone’s radar. Now, if the busy person doesn’t get back to you after a couple pings, don’t fret, and again, don’t be sad. They’re busy for a reason! There’s plenty of other fish in the sea. And people in the world, if fish isn’t your thing.

4. Be prepared.

If you’re nonspecific in your email, that can be frustrating for a busy person among their mass amounts of meet up requests. Outside of being specific, be prepared. If they reply back with questions about what you mean, or with details, be ready to give that information up right away. This is both for your benefit and theirs, because you want to get the most out of it, and they want to give relevant, efficient information and advice!

That’s it.

A much better email is something like, “hey, I’m interested in how you got to where you are today. I’m a ____ at ____, I met you at/read about you in ____ and I just have a few questions about what classes I should take/which role I should follow/how I should format my resume. Could we meet for coffee? My treat! I’m pretty free over the next few weeks, Tuesdays and Thursdays are best! I know you’re a busy bee, so I can work around your schedule. Let me know, and see you soon.”

This is clear, it gives options for dates, it gives an out, and it lets the person know what you want from them. If I got this email, I would meet with you.

Good luck!

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