As an international student your job search requires a lot of informational interviews. Speaking with people inside of companies helps you understand American business culture. It also helps professionals learn about you. Informational interviewing is intimidating when you first do it. Emailing someone you don’t know to ask for their time without an introduction might feel uncomfortable. Fortunately with a bit of training you can get comfortable with it. You can learn to be successful at it. All you need is an email template and a bit of motivation.
Contacting strangers is ok in American business culture
It is culturally acceptable in the US to reach out to people you don’t know and ask for an informational interview. Contacting a stranger to learn from them is viewed positively in American culture. When a student reaches out to learn about a person and their company, the student is showing initiative and motivation. These two qualities are valued in American culture.
Cold emailing is always weird
Sending an email to someone you don’t know is referred to as cold emailing. When you send an email to a stranger, the relationship is “cold.” Most people don’t like cold emailing because they don’t know what to say. They also think they shouldn’t bother people they don’t know. But cold emails are a necessary step to engaging new professionals. If they are done well they get results.
Find commonality first
To get more comfortable with cold emailing, identify people who you have something in common with. The easiest people are graduates from your school: university alumni. People who have graduated from your school often favor people who come from their school. Use LinkedIn’s alumni tool to help you find people with the same university or college as yours. Ask your Career Services department for a list of alumni or a link to their alumni database to find alumni contacts.
When you search for alumni on LinkedIn find people who are 3-5 years out of college. They are the most likely to respond to you. Senior management or CEOs at large, Fortune 500 are less accessible. CEOs and senior management at smaller companies or startups are probably more likely to respond than larger, corporate companies like Facebook or Google.
Personalize your message
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 have succeeded in your field. Would you be available for a 20 minute Skype call in the next week?
Tell them 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.
Don’t be shy: Follow up
If you don’t get an answer in one week, follow up. Here’s how:
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, begin preparing for the informational interview.
Want to see how reaching out to strangers can get you a job? Read The Art of the Cold Emails. The student started writing CEOs. She got responses to her emails that led to job interviews without even submitting a cover letter or resume:
What I learned was that these people who I cared to know and who shared my interests, who had at some level reached the demi-God level of minor celebrity or at the very least, “too important for me” status, where actually, despite all evidence to the contrary, still normal people. Normal people who open emails, who can be compelled by a personal note, and who, at the end of the day, were kids in college once too. When I challenged the idea that these people were bigger, better, or more important than me, my audacity become increasingly powerful, and I realized that being young and free, and genuinely caring about what I want to do really could matter.