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How to ask for (and get) an informational interview

Wondering how to score some informational interviews? Asking can be hard—after all, you’re proposing that busy and important strangers take time out of their schedules to meet with you. 

But if you're feeling nervous or guilty about asking, try watching this video to reframe how you think about networking.  

Then, start asking with these simple tricks that make it easier to ask - and get a response.

Here is a basic template: 

The Template

Dear [first name],

My name is [your name], and I’m a [college major, job title, or area of interest] who [goes to college/works] in [your location]. I’m reaching out because [reason why you admire or want to speak with this particular person]. I’d love to learn more about [two or three things you’d like to learn from the person].

I’m sure you’re busy, so even 20 minutes would be appreciated.

Thanks so much,

[Your name]

An Example

Here’s what that looks like once you’ve filled it in: 

Dear Monica,

My name is Aja Frost, and I’m a college student who’s interning in the city until mid-August. Your career path is very inspirational to me: I don’t know very many people who have worked in marketing at Google, Facebook, and Apple. As an aspiring marketer, I’d love to learn more about which skills you’ve used the most and what you’d expect from an entry-level employee in your department.

I’m sure you’re busy, so even 20 minutes would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you,

Aja


The Breakdown

Let’s do a line-by-line analysis so you can see what each accomplishes. 

In the salutation, I like to use the person’s first name. “Dear Jane Doe” or “Dear Ms. Doe” sounds too stilted and formal to me. 

The opening line should contextualize your message. Since I’m a student, I have a built-in advantage—professionals are usually pretty open to helping out the young and inexperienced. But, hearing from someone a little higher up can be really flattering, too—so no matter where you are on the corporate ladder, include your job title, employer, and location. 

The next line should explain why you’re writing to him or her. Go ahead and make it flattering. While I’m not suggesting you lay it on really thick, there’s got to be a reason you chose this specific person, so include it. 

I’ve previously said: 

“You have my dream job at my dream company...” and “I was impressed to see the transition you made from finance to content strategy...” 

After that, you’ll want to include some very specific questions. Too many people show up to informational interviews with no idea what to ask, resulting in wasted time for all parties involved. If people see you’ve got a concrete goal for the meeting, they’ll be much more likely to say yes. 

I always, always end with the same line: “I’m sure you’re busy, so...” This statement shows you know you’re requesting a big favor. And just acknowledging that fact improves your chances for success.

The Extra Mile

You should definitely research people before you ask them to interviews. Not only will knowing their backgrounds help during the actual conversation, but you’ll usually find tidbits you can drop into your ask to make it more compelling. After scrolling through a CEO’s recent Twitter history, I found a post raving about a Brooklyn taco spot. When I asked her to meet me, I proposed going to that very taco spot. She agreed with far more enthusiasm than she likely would’ve if I’d asked her to meet at Starbucks.

On a different occasion, I saw a content strategist I was interested in contacting had spoken on a panel about inbound marketing. So in that email, I wrote, “I’d love to learn more about inbound marketing best practices and how to use location-specific strategies.” 

By making a little extra effort, your request will be much more impressive.

The Follow-Up

Best case scenario: Your target answers, you make plans to get coffee, and you have an awesome and productive conversation. But what if he or she doesn’t answer? I usually wait a week, then send a follow-up email. 

Dear [his or her name],

I hope you’re having a great week! I wanted to follow up on my request for an informational interview. As I explained in my previous email, [reason why this person has impressed you] and I’d love to hear about [questions you’d like to ask]. I’m happy to meet whenever and wherever is convenient for you. However, if your schedule is too full, I completely understand.

Best,

[Your name]

You’d be shocked at the number of people who don’t respond to your first query but do get back to you after the second. What I’ve learned from that is that most people aren’t ignoring you - it's just that the first email arrived at an inopportune time to answer and was then forgotten.

However, if you’ve sent the second email and you still hear nothing, move on to your next prospect. There are plenty of people who will talk to you, so don’t spend too much energy chasing down one person.

After you’ve taken this template and made it your own, you can be confident that you'll have plenty of informational interviews.

Adapted from themuse.com