The story is simple: In summer 2015, I sent Arianna Huffington, the co-founder and former editor-in-chief of Huffington Post, an email out of the blue. After a few hours, she replied and I got a one-week internship at the UK office.
Here comes the interesting bit: HOW on EARTH did I make this happen?
For any of you who are interested in getting work experience, or just curious about how cold-emailing actually works, I hope this story will be helpful and inspiring to you, regardless of whatever employment situation you’re in now. I will walk you through the background (how I made the decision to cold-email), the email exchanges (what I actually wrote to get a response), the process of securing the work experience, and what happened by the end of it.
1. My Background
To begin with, I’m a 22-year-old woman who was born and raised in northern Vietnam. At 17, I moved to the UK to pursue my education.
As my second year at university rolled around, I knew I had to get a summer internship if I wanted to have a job in the UK. I started to look for programs in the financial industry; I had interest in the field, and it was the most straightforward and secure route to employment for an international student like me.
By this time, I’d been writing my blog The Tingly Mind for a few months. I’d always loved writing, but with no editorial connections, no solid portfolio, and no English or journalism degree, it’d never crossed my mind to seek work experience in this field (not to mention that the average starting salary for a journalist wouldn’t be enough for me to get a Visa to stay in the UK, anyway).
However, it was end of April and I was desperate for work. I’d submitted countless applications to various places but hadn’t heard back from any of them. There came a moment I was like…f*ck it. If I couldn’t get a proper, paid internship, I might as well try my luck at writing and enjoy the sh*t out of it. And I did.
2. The Email Exchanges
I googled Arianna Huffington’s email address and found it after a few clicks. I poured my heart into a 600-word letter titled “I’m A 20-Year-Old Woman From Vietnam Asking For A Chance To Change My Life.” For privacy reasons, I will not disclose the full content of our email exchanges, but I can share with you the structure of my initial email. I introduced myself; I talked about my origins as a young woman from Vietnam, why writing meant so much to me, my current studies and the professional aspirations that made me write this email to her. I made a specific ask for a job that she could give me.
And it worked. To my surprise, she replied within a few hours saying she was thrilled that I wanted to work for The Huffington Post and she cc’ed the HuffPost UK editor-in-chief to follow up. This was how it all started.
3. Securing The Work Experience
I emailed Arianna back to thank her then proceeded to email the HuffPost UK editor-in-chief to introduce myself and mentioned my work experience. He responded very nicely saying he would love to show me his team in London and asked me about my available dates.
I wasn’t sure what kind of arrangement this would be, whether my invitation was an informational interview day or the beginning of a proper internship. I was quite worried it might just be a day visiting the office. I told him I was available most of the summer and he said he would check with his staff. After that, I didn’t hear back from him, so it made me pretty anxious. After about two weeks of radio silence, I decided to drop him another email to follow up. He replied almost immediately and gave me the contact information for one of his editors. From there, I talked to the editor and was informed that the work experience would be one week long.
It was mid-May at this point; as it turned out, I’d actually heard back from one of the banks and gladly accepted their offer for a 10-week internship ending in September. I asked the editor if it was possible for me to complete the one-week internship after my banking internship, and she agreed. So, right after my banking experience ended, I went to HuffPost UK.
4. The Work Experience
The week at HuffPost UK went by fairly smoothly; compared to the whole cold-emailing of the celebrity boss that I was so proud of, the internship itself was fairly quiet. It was actually more casual than I’d expected. I wish I could give you some sort of advice on how to make an outstanding impression and network effectively in a single week, but honestly, I don’t have much insight because it was all so new to me. I definitely still have a lot to learn from a networking perspective.
Anyway, during my time there the people I did talk to and work with were friendly and helpful. As regards to the job itself, I wrote news articles and pitched my own stuff every day while looking after one of their Twitter accounts. It was fun, and I worked as hard as I could. However, by the end, I realized with great surprise that actually journalism wasn’t for me. What I really enjoyed was creative writing (authoring pieces like this, not covering news in particular).
5. The Takeaway
Even though one working week wasn’t long, there were many valuable things I’ve learned and become more mindful of, thanks to this experience.
Journalism vs. Creative Writing: While I enjoyed the work experience, by the end of it, I realized with great surprise that journalism actually wasn’t for me. It became clear to me that there were huge differences between journalism and creative writing that I hadn’t thought of. And my heart was and has always been with the latter.
Cold-Emailing: The best strategy I have for cold-emailing is that you should always make your request specific and clear. The people you cold-email are all busy people. They need to know exactly what you want and how they can give it to you. Don’t worry too much about the length of the email. Be genuine, be you, tell your story from your heart. No email can guarantee you’ll get a response, but this might well be your best chance.
Networking: I wish I could give you some sort of advice on how to make an outstanding impression and network effectively in one week, but honestly, I don’t have much insight because it was all new to me. All that I managed to do was arrange one-to-one meetings with the editors and send follow-up emails after I left. I definitely still have a lot to learn about networking.
6. Where I Am Now
Overall, my time at Huffington Post was a great experience. I’m really glad I did it and found out which aspects of writing are right for me and which are not. Plus, now that I’ve seized that opportunity and tried it out, I’ll never have to look back and wonder if I’ve made the right choice to do what I’m doing now. I’m proud that I was bold enough to send a cold email and proud that my efforts actually earned a reply. It’s been a year since the experience, and I’m about to start a graduate job at the bank where I had my internship last summer. I’m happy with how things have progressed, and I’m looking forward to more opportunities in the future.
Ellen Nguyen is Vietnamese millennial girl currently residing in the UK. She writes honestly and openly about a variety of topics including love, sex, relationships and self-improvement at thetinglymind.com — you can also connect with her on Twitter.
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