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

LinkedIn personal 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:

Hello (first name),

I’m a student at (your school) and will graduate in (year). I’m currently studying (subject or degree program) and interested in learning more about working in (industry that interests you). As a current student, I’m curious about your background and work experience. Would you be available for a 20 minute phone call next week to talk about your experience working in (industry)?

Thank you in advance for your time.

(name)

(LinkedIn profile link)

 

Hello (first name),

I’m a student at (your school) and will graduate in (year). I’m currently studying (subject or degree program) and interested in learning more about working as a (job title that interests you) in (industry that interests you).  As a current student, I’m curious about your experience working as a (their job title). Are you available for a 20 minute phone call on (dates) to talk about your experience working in (industry)?

Thank you in advance for your time.

(name)

(LinkedIn profile link)

If you are really impressed by someone, try this template:

Dear Jane,

My name is (your name), and I’m a student at (university) studying (subject/degree). I saw your background on LinkedIn and was impressed by (name something you were impressed by). When I graduate I hope to become an (your contact’s job title) 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?

Thank you,

(your name)

(LinkedIn profile link)

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:

Dear Jane,

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.

Thank you,

Nicolle

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.

Your motivation

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.

Want to get better at LinkedIn? Need more templates? Check out the course: LinkedIn for International Students

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