A "cold" contact is when a reptile food seller calls to sell you
Iguana food, but doesn't even know if you own an Iguana. A "warm"
contact is when a reptile food seller who owns an Iguana calls on the phone to
sell you Iguana food because he read an article that you wrote in a recent
When the caller opens with the fact that they also own an Iguana, and were
contacting you because they'd just read your article in "Reptile
Weekly," you probably wouldn't be inclined to hang up on this person. You
may have Iguana food stacked to the rafters, but knowing a shared interest
exists, you'll probably talk to this stranger.
People respond to other people with shared interests. Few respond to e-mail
or phone calls from people they don't know.
Starting a dialog
To successfully start a dialog with a professional peer you need a message
that interests the other person enough that they will respond to you.
You, presumably, have a success record of good communications skills with
people you already know. At some point in time, your friends or coworkers were
new to you. You discovered ideas, interests, experiences -- friends in common,
or goals you shared, and then built a friendship from these common threads. The
same thing applies in building bridges with people who will be able to help you
realize your career goals.
This article is intended to help you to understand the "table
structure" necessary to build dialogs with new professional peers through
"warm contacts" and "cold contacts."
In career terms, warm contacts are starting points that can include referrals
from family and friends; internship and volunteer work references; current or
former classmates; university alumni associations; current or former teachers;
fellow SIG members; Industry-specific Associations and local chapters; user
groups; current and former coworkers and managers. A cold contact is a person
who doesn't already know you, with whom you have not (yet) found a common
thread, and there is no direct referring source.
Codeproject authors and members fall into the warm contact category because
we share a community and an interest in software development. A fellow alumnus
of the university you graduated from is a warm contact, even if the only common
bond with this person was from reading a conference speaker biography. You share
a group affiliation and educational experience; and chances are, if you read
their biography in a conference program, you also share an interest in the
conference or speaker topic.
Researching your contact
Front-end research can make a huge difference between cold contacts and warm
contacts. People are listed on the internet because they have a public interest
or achievement, group or university membership; hobby; and other personal or
Once you have a contact name, using several search engines, identify
additional common threads you share. Read papers, posts, work examples,
biographies, or whatever you find for insights to their ideas, interests,
experiences, or goals. There is a wealth of information available to you. Use
However, only use information that is publicly available, or that came
through a direct referral from someone they know (and, ideally, whom they
respect.) Privacy and business ethics are big concerns today.
Here are some other sources:
- Shared acquaintance, personal or work experience, interest, group
membership, or university affiliation
- Industry visibility, or conference presenter
- Contact wrote a white paper, article, posting, or knowledge-based article
- She/he was quoted in industry article or on a portal
- Participates in a newsgroup or other post
Before making initial contact, ask yourself "Why this person?" and
then tell them why up front, in a compelling and brief manner. Also consider
what you want from this contact. You should have a reason, or a result that you
want for contacting any industry peers. Here are a few suggestions:
- Technical help or advice
- Recognize their professional achievement or work
- Feedback on a professional article, presentation, newsgroup post which
- To learn about an industry or company from an insider's perspective
- To identify current or future job opportunities
- To seek a Mentor
With initial contact we have begun to build a bridge. What other tools will
The main communication methods between technology professionals today are
phone, e-mail, or a combination of both. E-mail is a good choice for complex
subjects. It is also a good choice if you want to fine-tune your message ahead
of time, if you're not a native speaker of the recipient's language, or if
you're shy. E-mail is also easier for a recipient to respond to on the fly. Just
be careful to word your subject line clearly, so that your e-mail is not
mistaken for spam.
Whatever method you choose, no one maintains a 100% success rate. If you are
too aggressive in your initial attempt, you may not have started a bridge, but
you can definitely prevent one from being built any time in the future. Approach
with caution and respect that the contact is going out of his or her way to
provide you anything at all.
Limit yourself to 2 or 3 very polite contacts per person. Each attempt at
contact should be no more frequent than once a week. If they don't reply to you
within that 2-3 week time frame, you're probably not going to hear from them.
Move on to the next person and don't take it personally. We all have lives,
families, and work that we need to tend to.
As with programming languages, contacts have a structure:
- Subject line or conversation opening line must catch their interest
- Thank the person in advance for their time and their help
- Sincerely compliment them on their work or item that caught your attention
- In one or two short sentences, explain why you are specifically contacting
them, including where and how you found this information
- Ask for help, suggestions, or advice to help you get the results that you
have previously identified
- Thank them again for their time and their help
No one likes fake praise. Be genuine in your thanks, but not so overly
thankful the person won't believe you. Instead, think of your email content as a
written discussion with a new peer or manager. Be professional and friendly, but not
overly familiar. They may fear you're a stalker.
Track all of your contact efforts electronically or on paper. Long-term
professional relationships are based on details. During an active job search you
may communicate with more people than you can track in your head. Lost
information can mean a lost opportunity. Be sure to include the source,
follow-up, and a brief summary of any email or phone exchanges and any reminders
you need for future contact. Piece by piece you will build a bridge that will
As promised, our next column will feature a case study, as we document step
by step how we build a contact list for Marc's suggested companies.
In the mean time, why not email one or more Codeproject community members who
either authored articles or posts which you found helpful, but whom you haven't
had previous contact with, and start a new professional bridge?