Want to Get a Job? Mail a Letter

03/29/2011 11:49 am ET | Updated May 29, 2011

I was recently a guest on the Toronto-based webshow "Extraordinary Women TV," where I got to meet fellow guest Devyani Saltzman, author and daughter of Oscar-nominated filmmaker, Deepa Mehta. In the interview, Devyani described how she once read the now well-known book by The New Yorker writer Philip Gourevitch titled We Wish to Inform You and was so determined to meet with him, that she cold-called him at his New York offices. She left a message on his voicemail, and amazingly, he called her back and they ended up having a three-hour coffee chat.

This anecdote brilliantly illustrates the power of cold-calling: calling up someone that you would love to meet for coffee out of the blue to gain advice, develop a contact, and possibly lay the groundwork for a job or future opportunities.

It's common knowledge these days the power networking can have for your career, especially for those just graduating and looking for advice on how to get established. However, what's not so common are strategies to go about doing it. Cold-calling, as terrifying as it can be (especially for a shy person like me!), can be your ticket to opening doors and meeting some really interesting, successful people.

Why is cold-calling effective? It's simple: not enough people to do it. If you're like the great majority of people, you've probably sent emails to many people you were hoping to get in contact with, and disappointed when days, weeks have gone by with no reply. Heck, you're not even sure you had the right email to begin with.

The growing problem with email is simply overload: hundreds of emails can reach a person a day, and individually, they just do not carry enough weight and impetus for the recipient to respond, especially if they are from a stranger.

This is where you can differentiate yourself from the hundreds of emails and try cold-calling. The trick with cold-calling (if the person you are trying to reach works at an established company), is to locate the correct company phone number, and be able to access their company directory. Other times, a helpful receptionist might be able to redirect you to the person's extension.

Whether you do get the person you're after or you get their voicemail, the crucial part here is to be extremely brief. Your pitch (whether for coffee, advice etc.) should be a couple of sentences max: your name, where you are from, who referred you (if any), something to connect you with the person (you read their last book, article etc.), and a request to meet for coffee in a specific time frame (next week, mornings). That's it. If it's a voicemail, clearly and slowly spell out your phone number, and be on your way.

Another method that has worked quite effectively for me is sending out a physical letter. This method involves typing out a letter to the person, printing it out, signing it, and mailing it out. This is slightly more time consuming and costs money (all those stamps can add up!) but the pay off can be tremendous.

Think about what happens when you receive a letter, especially a handwritten one addressed to you by name. Your curiosity is piqued, and you spend the time to open the letter and read the contents. A letter can garner more attention than an email can, simply because personal letters are few and far between. As well, if your intended recipient doesn't choose to answer the letter right away, but doesn't trash it, the letter sitting on their desk is a constant reminder that it should at least be replied to, more so than an email sitting in an inbox.

By writing and sending letters, I was able to have coffee with a prominent author that I admired, settle a wrong charge on my cell phone bill (you can use this method for other purposes!), and got in contact with the executive producer of a television show that I was interested in interning at.

In terms of finding out where to mail your letter, a great resource are the 'Who's Who' reference books available in most libraries -- they surprisingly contain a lot of information (including sometimes email addresses and phone numbers) of many prominent people in society.

A lot of times we forget that Internet can't do everything for us and find every piece of information. Especially in a tough job market where building connections is the key to getting ahead, doing it the old-fashioned way via telephone or letter can be just the difference you need to stand out from the pack.