How to Email Someone You Don’t Know to Ask for an Informational Interview
For some students reaching out to strangers without an introduction feels wrong or uncomfortable. The tactic of sending an email to someone you don’t know is called “cold emailing.” Because you are reaching out to a stranger, the relationship is cold. When you send them an email, it is a cold email since you haven’t yet established any relationship. Most people don’t like cold emailing because they don’t know what to say or they think they shouldn’t bother people they don’t know. But cold emails are a necessary step to meeting new professionals and if done well they get results.
It is culturally acceptable in the US to reach out to people you don’t know and ask for an informational interview. The US is less hierarchical culture compared to other cultures. American value equality and the act of reaching out to a stranger to learn from them is viewed positively. When a student reaches out to learn more about a person and their company, the student is showing initiative and motivation, two qualities that are valuable in American culture. Professionals enjoy helping students as they were likely a student too!
To become more comfortable with cold emailing, start by identifying people who you share a common experience with. For students, you share an immediate common experience with your university alumni. When you connect with people who graduated from your school, you already have something in common – the same school! You can also connect with people from the same country as you who are working in the US or people who went to the same undergraduate school as you (if you are a graduate student).
Use LinkedIn’s alumni tool to help you find people with the same university or college as yours. You can also ask your Career Services department for a list of alumni or a link to their alumni database to also find alumni contacts.
When you search for alumni on LinkedIn, look at profiles of people who are 3-5 years out of college. They are the most likely to respond to you. Senior management or CEOs tend to be busier and less accessible. However, that will depend. CEOs and senior management at smaller companies or startups are probably more likely to respond than larger, corporate companies like Pepsi or Google.
Note: If you use LinkedIn mobile, you will not be able to send a customized message. Only send LinkedIn invitations from your desktop/laptop web browser.
Once you find people who you’d like to interview, use LinkedIn’s messaging feature or an email to introduce yourself and ask for an informational interview. The format of the message goes like this:
- Introduce yourself
- Tell them why you’re interested in learning from them
- Ask them if they have 20 minutes available in the next week
Keep it short and simple.
Here are some examples:
I graduated from (your school) in (year). I’m a (your major) and interested in (the industry you’d like to learn more about). As a current student, I’m curious about your background and work experience. Would you be available for a 20 minute phone chat to share your story and advice?
Thank you in advance for your time!
My name is (your name here), and I’m a student at (university) studying (subject). I saw your background on LinkedIn and was impressed by (name something you were impressed by). When I graduate I hope to become an software engineer like you.
I’d like to learn more about your career path and would like to ask a few questions about how you succeeded in your field. Would you be available for a 20 minute Skype call in the next week?
Make sure you tell them in the message how the interview might take place – either in person, on the phone, or over Skype. Phone interviews are the hardest for international students because you can’t read the other person’s body language. Skype video is also good for younger professionals who are comfortable using Skype. In person interviews have the most impact though they are not the most convenient for all involved.
Remember, people get a lot of emails and they are incredibly busy. However, you can follow up. If they don’t respond in a week, reach out to them again.
I hope you are doing well. I’m following up on my previous message to see if you have 20 minutes to share your experience as a software engineer with me. I’m a junior at (university name) who is passionate about software engineering and would like to learn more about your interesting background.
I’m sure you are very busy, so if you are unavailable, I understand.
Only follow-up once – do not pester them if they do not respond. It is frustrating when people don’t respond but it is very common. Simply move on and find additional people to talk with.
Once they respond to you and you find a common time to talk, being preparing for the informational interview.
Bonus reading: Check out this awesome post on The Art of the Cold Emails and the success one student had writing CEOs! She got responses to her emails that led to job interviews without even submitting a cover letter or resume!