Informational interview e-mail templates

Informational interviews really work (as Steve notes below). But, not all interview requests are created equal – I’m regularly asked to have coffee with someone wanting to pick my brain.” I struggle to reply politely because I have a strong allergic reaction to this offensive phrase (reasons why at the bottom).

While not everyone will respond so poorly, I promise you can do much better searching below for a template that fits with your personality and situation. First though, a little motivation from Steve:

The informational interview works! 5 years ago I called my now current supervisor and started asking him questions about the company, the department I am now in, its roles, responsibilities, challenges, and other pertinent information. We talked for at least an hour. We exchanged contact information, and I spoke with him one other time afterwards when I inquired about specific software that is used. 5 months later I received a call inviting me to apply and interview for the job. I was hired in 2007. -Steve

 Email templates

  • When you try these e-mail templates out, please come back and share your results in the comments!
  • Note that the ‘ask’ shows up in bright blue in each template – that’s the alternative to ‘pick your brain’.

When you have a mutual friend:

Subject: Eric – request to chat from a friend of [warm contact]

Hi [Name]!

I’m a [your profession] who has worked with [name of warm contact] and I’m currently making time to develop my skills and focus on what’s really important in [profession] when it comes to hiring a [professional] for a project. I’ve had a look through your website and especially enjoyed the [whatever].

I’d love the opportunity to spend 20 mins with you to discuss your decision making process with regards to [professionals] and what your expectations are when working with them. Would it be possible to drop by your office or chat by phone sometime next week?

If you are free, I’m available during the following times:

    Fri 2/12 from 3 to 6 pm
    Sat 2/13 from  noon to 4 pm
    Mon 2/15 from 6 to 8 pm
    Tue from  2 to 4 pm
    Wed from  1 to 4 pm
    Thur from  4 pm – 6pm

Best regards,
[your name]
[your phone]

With a mutual circumstance:

Subject: Eric – request from a [use connection here]

Greetings [Name],

My name is [your name]. We [shared some connection] and [probably ate the same lousy cafeteria food] day in and day out. Now after [whatever happened since] I continue to study [fill in your topic] on my own to reach next level. When I look at your career journey I’m inspired to ask for your guidance on a few questions – would you have about 15 minutes to meet on the phone or over coffee?

Best regards,
[your name]
[your phone]

Cowboy approach to meeting someone potentially at colleague level:

Subject: Eric – request to chat from a fan

Hey [Name],

I was hoping I might be able to stop in and grab 15 minutes of your time sometime over the next week or so.

Quick intro: my name is [your name] and by day I work for [your company]. I also manage [this], do [that], as well as some previous work with [the other]. [Another name] is also an old friend and it’s awesome to see how [something or other].

I’m a big fan of the job you guys are doing [with whatever], and it would be great to meet up for 15 or 20 minutes to chat about the strategy behind the success you’ve had in [something].

Let me know if you have a few minutes to meet up over the next week or two – it would be great to connect!

Best regards,
[Your name]
[your phone]

From a friendly blog reader approach:

Subject: Eric – request to chat from a reader

Hi [name],

My name is [your name]. I first started reading your blog [why and/or when] and noticed you recently [something].

I’d love to hear your take on the future of [something not in the blog] for 20 minutes, if at all possible. I currently work on [whatever] at [your company], but have felt the itch to work on [something better] that [whatever].

I know you’d be a well of information about [here industry] and hope you can shed some light on your work at [your company]. I’d especially love to know what your transition has been like with [some change you know about].

I can meet you for a coffee whenever or wherever is most convenient for you–I hear [name of coffee shop] down the street from your office is great. Either way, I’ll work around your schedule.

Think you’d be interested?

Thanks,
[name]
[your phone]

From a follower:

Subject: [name] — request to chat from a fan

Hi [name],

Your recent work on [subject] was very inspiring, and I’m quite passionate about your particular [something]. My name is [your name] and I currently work for [your company] doing [whatever]. Could I ask for 20 minutes of your time over coffee or lunch to ask for your insight on [something more specific]?

I understand you are very busy, and would appreciate even a quick response to point me in the right direction should your schedule be inconvenient.

If you are free, I’m available during the following times:

    Fri 2/12 from 3 to 6 pm
    Sat 2/13 from  noon to 4 pm
    Mon 2/15 from 6 to 8 pm
    Tue from  2 to 4 pm
    Wed from  1 to 4 pm
    Thur from  4 pm – 6pm

Sincerely,
[name]
[your phone]

From a recent graduate:

Subject: [name] — request to chat from a recent grad

Hi [name],

I saw the article about you [somewhere] and as someone who just graduated and has been interested in [whatever] over the past couple of years, I was really impressed and inspired by your work. I know that it’s tough to make it in the [something] world and I’d love to hear your story if I could have 20 minutes of your time.

If you are free to talk, I’m available during the following times:

    Fri 2/12 from 3 to 6 pm
    Sat 2/13 from  noon to 4 pm
    Mon 2/15 from 6 to 8 pm
    Tue from  2 to 4 pm
    Wed from  1 to 4 pm
    Thur from  4 pm – 6pm

Let me know and congratulations on the awesome work you do!

Best regards,
[name]
[your phone]

Someone who might remember you:

Subject: [name] — hope you remember me

Hi [Name],

I’m hoping you remember me from [somewhere you met or worked together] in [month and year]. I enjoyed my time [wherever] and felt I learned a great deal about [something] from your [teaching,etc].

Would love to hear your perspective on [whatever] and hope you might be willing to meet me for a cup of coffee in the coming weeks. Your advice and insight would be valuable to me as I prepare to [graduate or whatever].

Thank you for your time!

Best Regards,
[Your name]
[Your telephone]

From someone who helped you:

Subject: [name] — thanks and request for to chat

Hi [Name],

I’m a [profession] and have benefited from your [writings] – particularly the [specific detail], which helped me land a job at [company] doing [something].

Would you consider sharing 15 minutes of your time on the phone or Skype to discuss a couple questions I have on how to approach my first 90 days on the job?

Thanks so much for the help you’ve given me.

Sincerely,
[Your name]

[Your telephone]

Here are some more interesting approaches to consider using:

  1. I have three specific questions on XYZ that I would love to get some insight on over a cup of coffee. Can I ask for 20 minutes of your time?
  2. I’m new to this field, and have great respect for the work you have done, particularly in [something] and [something else]. I…
  3. I would love to hear your story and ask a few questions about your career path.
  4. I’d really value your input and professional advice.
  5. I’d really love the chance to talk to someone who can offer personal insight on [this position, this company]. Would it be possible for me to sit down with you to ask why you went in this direction with your career and what steps you took to reach this level of success? As a [something you have in common], I’d really value your advice.
  6. Do you have 10 minutes to talk with a young person?
  7. I’m trying to find out more about the challenges facing [profession/industry] teams in today’s business world, and I’m hoping you’d be willing to answer a few questions about your group over coffee or on the phone.

A deeper understanding

When you say ‘can I pick your brain?’ you sound like a parasite. That’s the last impression you want to give when you want somebody to be your mentor – instead, you want to do your homework on this person. A lot of it! You spend an hour or three reading everything you can find in Google, any social media stuff like Twitter and Facebook feeds, and blog posts. Read their book if they’ve published one.

Let the person know how it impacted you and ask a question about what you learned – how it might apply to something you are doing. This is a great reward for the person you are contacting. You are showing them their impact on the world and helping them reap the good karma of their actions. But, you must do your homework to give this gift.

Can you see how different this approach is to the ‘can I pick your brain?’ strategy? One is about giving and the other taking (with an air of entitlement).

Here’s an example of a masterful email pitch sent to F.W. de Klerk (Nobel Laureate and former President of South Africa) in 2010 and his reply here. This e-mail nicely illustrates the sort of success you can have when you approach someone sincerely after doing your homework:

Dear Mr. De Klerk,

I’m a student who attended a speech you made at DePauw University in May, and was inspired by one of your comments to contact you.

In the few months before hearing you speak, I’d heard many speakers list the world’s challenges (terrorism, famine, climate change); but, when you made your point about “diversity as the main challenge” facing society today, I felt as though you’d identified the deeper cause that linked together all of the superficial challenges listed by the other speakers (Steven Levitt, Karl Rove, Howard Dean).

For the past few months, there have been two questions on my mind that I’ve desperately wanted to ask you. First, was there a specific book, person, conversation – life experience – that led you to this conclusion? Was there an epiphany? Second, if you could insert one experience into the education of every American student, in the hopes of leading them to the same conclusion as your own, what would it be?

I’d be delighted to hear from you.

Sincerely,
Kevin McLoughlin

Now you know how to do it, so go out and knock ‘em dead and let me know how it goes!

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  • Judy

    Interesting I’m willing to try that. Thank you.

  • Shawn hoyce

    I have been searching for a new job for the last year and this is the most refreshing approach to job search I have seen. Thank you for taking the time to write this. I will let you know how goes. Shawn

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About the author

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In 1997, Eric Shannon launched the first job board for bilinguals who speak English/Spanish at LatPro.com. Eric still serves as CEO of LatPro Inc., developer of JustJobs.com. He lives in Boulder, CO with his wife and two girls.

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