How an ESPN anchor, college graduate and social media influencer landed jobs, investments and brand deals by sliding into inboxes

A woman stands in a crowded lift smiling at her phone.
Ditch the elevator pitch and make the most of DMs—that's the advice from those who have landed jobs and investment thanks to the tactic.
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It seems the days of cold calls and 30-second pitches are over—the time of the direct message (DM) is upon us.

Hard sells have long been a favorite of the budding entrepreneur—spam calls are a tactic used by the likes of Tesla’s Elon Musk and Apple’s Steve Jobs.

Famously Jobs, aged 12, called Hewlett-Packard’s co-founder Bill Hewlett to request some leftover electronic parts. Years later Hewlett offered him an internship.

But the cold call has since morphed into sliding into someone’s inbox instead of their voicemail.

It’s a tool which is working not only for career help but also investments.

Billionaire investor and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has invested in two companies that sent him cold emails.

But it’s not just investments that have arisen out of the lowly DM.

Shoot your shot

If it weren’t for a DM, ESPN audiences wouldn’t be used to seeing anchor Max McGee on their screens.

The SportsCenter host told Fortune he reached out to an executive at the network in late 2021 and at the time was working at CBS Baltimore.

McGee sent the executive a number of YouTube links to his work and a brief message saying if the network was holding auditions, he’d love to be considered.

“I figured everybody asks for a job,” McGee said. “For me, I just wanted an opportunity to show them what I could do. If they didn’t like me, I was willing to live with that.”

His key piece of advice is simple: “Shoot your shot”.

“You miss every shot you don’t take,” the TV journalist continued. “Stop being afraid of rejection. You could either choose to change your life or sit there idle and die. While I didn’t expect a direct message to parlay into it changing my life, that’s the magic of opportunity. I’m a living example of having faith in yourself while keeping an open mind.”

McGee said he often gets DMs from both budding journalists and those already in the industry looking to level up. The trick, he says, is to be concise and authentic: “The ones that get my attention are the ones that aren’t a Harry Potter book in length long, and that have one or two questions that don’t require a quick Google search. Being genuine will never go out of style.”

Introduction, interest, accessible

This is the formula Oliver Pour followed when messaging 3,300 people on LinkedIn during his second year at Boston University in March 2020.

The undergraduate was seeking career advice and internship opportunities across the fields of tech, finance and consulting.

He’s not alone in the idea—according to LinkedIn data half the users on the platform have used the network to gain access to people who previously would have been unavailable to them.

“To be honest I used to think LinkedIn was just another social media platform,” Pour admitted. “I was young and naive and had zero idea about what I wanted to do for work.

“So I sorted my page out and just started approaching people at companies I was interested in like Amazon and Facebook.”

An approach he quickly nailed down was beginning with an introduction of who he was, why he was interested in the individual he was approaching, and asking an accessible question like “what does your day-to-day look like?”

The result was 600 responses from VPs to sales executives across a range of businesses, and 400 conversations that lead to internships and networking opportunities.

Research from LinkedIn supports Pour’s experiences—50% of workers surveyed in April 2023 said they have used the platform to connect with a professional in their field that they otherwise wouldn’t have had access to, with 44% saying networking now takes place online more often than it does physically.

Pour told Fortune he always knew his strengths were in relationships and communication, but in the post-pandemic world communicating online became all the more crucial.

“If you’re going for any job or internship I’d message everyone you can find on that team to find out about the role,” the New York-based account executive for legal processors Luminance said. “It basically gives you the inside track for the interview—then when you start you already know the team that works there so it’s a foot in the door.

“The best spokespeople on company culture are also the people who work there,” Pour added. “It’s in the interest of recruiters to sell you on that company—the same goes for the company’s website—the workers are the ones who know if there’s a bad culture.”

Don’t rush in

The art of the direct message has also transformed the portfolio and prospects of digital content creator Brooke Monk—who has not only formed relationships with brands like McDonald’s thanks to the tactic, but also seen her invest in smaller businesses.

Monk, who has more than 36 million followers across her platforms, said she’s had speaking opportunities and brand deals arise out of companies sliding into her DMs—as well as opening up equity investment offers.

Usually in the $10,000 to $25,000 range, 19-year-old Monk has invested in brands like skincare business Aloe Attiva and healthy treats supplier Sunday’s Creme Cookies.

When crafting a direct message Monk said she highlights a piece of research, work history or accomplishment the other person has achieved before segueing into business discussions.

“The best thing to do is look for people within the field that you’re targeting and build genuine relationships and connections with them—before leading straight into business,” she told Fortune. “DM them asking to hop on a call to learn more about what they do and if opportunities do arise out of it, that’s great, if not, at least you’ve made a new friend who can teach you about an industry that you may not know about.”

Following up

Not every DM is going to hit first time—even if you’ve sent the perfect note.

Following up on a cold DM isn’t only necessary but expected in some cases, said LinkedIn’s career expert Andrew McCaskill who said that in the case of job seekers, the onus is on them to keep the conversation going.

“It’s expected and required that you will follow up but hiring managers or people you want to network with might also be busy,” he said. “So, follow up once. Follow up a second time, and if you don’t hear back, you might try again in a few weeks or request a warm introduction from a second-degree connection.”

The odds are in your favor if you connect with someone in your field—LinkedIn added that its April data shows that 79% of workers who connected with someone in their field on the site saw it lead to a successful professional outcome.

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