Sending an email directly to the CEO of a company – to share your customer experience, either positive or negative – can be a powerful and remarkably effective communications tool, if used judiciously. But first, you need their email address. To avoid unsolicited emails, many individuals no longer publish their personal or professional emails online. There are, however, a set of simple techniques that can help you find (or predict) the email address of almost anyone. Organizational IT policies mean that many email addresses can be accurately predicted. The “prefix” of an email – the part that precedes the at sign ( @) typically follows a pattern based on the person’s name. The “domain” – the part that follows the @ is often (but not always) the same as the primary web domain of the CEO’s company, such as ibm.com, walmart.com, exxonmobil.com, etc. Since emails are part of a company’s communications interchange, email addresses and organizational email formats are hard to keep totally private and show up in a variety of places, including email chains.
Search Engine Strategies
Your first step should be to conduct an online search for the person’s name to see if an email address shows up. In some cases, however, the individual’s name, mailing address, and phone number appear, but not his/her email address. However, beyond this simple search, there are several other tools available to you.
Some social media accounts (especially Twitter), for example, may include email contacts in the section about the person, or clues to affiliations that may provide a potential email domain. You can also try searching for the individual’s name, such as Mary Smith, and the word “email” or “contact.” You can also try conducting a domain site-specific search for the person’s first name, last name, or site-specific search, for example, site: domain.com email.
Another tool to identify alternate email domains is a WHOIS search for the web domain, which may provide organizational contact email formats. You can use organization online directories in that industry, or conference attendance lists, to identify the email format for the person’s organization.
News database searches can help identify relevant data to predict the individual’s email address. Publications written by the person or even their colleagues may provide useful email data.
Most Organizational Email Assignments Are Formulaic and Predictable
Many emails can be predicted accurately because organizational IT staff are notoriously unimaginative in selecting/designating email address formats, and their operating procedures dictate a standard format for email addresses. Usually, the email address is assigned using a standard organization-wide pattern. There are exceptions, of course. For example, one prominent news organization has been creative in assigning email addresses, often adding serialized numbers over time to deter spam. Let’s use the name John Q. Public at 2600 as a sample. The most frequent organizational email patterns are these:
First dot Last : [email protected]
First Last: JohnPubl [email protected]
First Initial dot Last: [email protected]
First Initial Last: [email protected]
Last First Initial: [email protected]
Less commonly, other email address patterns may be used:
Sometimes, an underscore or a hyphen is used instead of a dot. For example:
John [email protected]
In other cases, a middle initial is included in the prefix, such as:
Email address assignments to individuals with a hyphenated name can vary, making it harder to predict the address.
Though less common today, for some years, many email frameworks limited the prefix to a fixed number of letters, usually eight, after which the rest of the name is truncated. Therefore, if their name had been Teddy Roosevelt, their email might be written as [email protected] The email pattern formats will surface across the organization, making it straightforward to predict the applicable email address.
In some cases, the email address follows the individual’s formal given name, but the person commonly uses a nickname. That can sometimes cause an additional complication in predicting an email address.
BCC Can Be a Great Email Finding Tool
If you have several potential email address candidates and you know the domain name, you can send the message with all the potential email addresses as BCC (blind carbon copy) to suss out the correct address. This may include some or all of the permutations described in Rule 1.
BCC messages with incorrect email addresses usually don’t get delivered and don’t bother anyone, yet they provide valuable information on the correct email address format. Most of the emails will bounce back, but the one that doesn’t bounce is likely to be the correct email address. The bounce message or an “out of office” message can often provide valuable extra formatting or other information. If the email format is the “[email protected]” type , requiring a middle initial, you can either conduct a web search to help locate the individual’s middle initial or check an online telephone directory (such as anywho.com). Alternatively, you can send the email in all 26 variants, using BCC, for all 26 middle initial combinations, one for each letter of the alphabet. The correct email will go through; the rest will bounce or be ignored, or may possibly be received by a person with the same name but different middle initial.
Often, individuals who do not have a middle name, or prefer not to use their middle name, may be included in the system with an X as a default middle initial. Some women may use a previous surname for their middle name.
Apart from incidental bounces, sending a deliberately defective email to the email domain may trigger an error message that contains useful email address formatting information.
Sometimes searching for the individual’s name with a series of commercial email domains (especially gmail.com) may pull useful search results to the top.
In an academic environment, a curriculum vitae or CV is likely to contain email contact information. Therefore, you can search for the individual ‘s name plus CV (or resume) to identify these types of documents.
While some people use shorter or more casual versions of the organizational email address , these are usually aliases, and the full pattern email also will successfully deliver the message. The exception is for top leadership, who sometimes may receive nonstandard email addresses.
While a full discussion of email pinging is beyond the scope of this article, it is worth mentioning.
Pinging an email address is the act of verifying that the address is a real email address , but Contacting an Assistant Sometimes it is better to reach out to the administrative assistant or executive assistant, whose email address may be easier to locate. The message can explicitly recognize the gate keeping process while enlisting the gatekeeper as an ally who can send the message directly to the intended recipient. Sometimes this works as well, or even better, than direct outreach to the boss. In some cases, you can mention that you ‘d like to send the boss an email and ask for his or her email address, but the assistant is more likely to be receptive if you simply ask that your email be forwarded to the CEO.
For years, RocketMail provided a cursory pattern analysis on an organization’s email by collecting examples of emails with the domain name. For a particular domain, RocketMail showed the most common email patterns by percentage. If you subscribed to the service, it would provide the actual email for a given individual.
Better tools are now available
Voila Norbert is an email-locator tool; some access is free, but frequent use requires a subscription.
Hunter.io is another subscription email locator tool that provides all email addresses from a given domain name. But you can use it for free to identify email patterns for a domain. BuzzStream is another email finder and social media page finder.
Email Permutators is a Google Docs sheet created by Rob Ousbey of Distilled.net. This tool takes a person’s name and creates all the typical email permutations for that name for a given domain. You can then either send a message using the permutations in BCC, or else verify the email address using email pinging.
With this variety of helpful techniques and a little effort, it is not difficult to find a person’s email address.
Editor’s Note – Republished from 2600 Magazine, Spring 2020 issue, pp 29-31, with permission of the author.