Making Initial Outreach
Talk to People
When you have decided whom you want to contact on your preliminary list, let them know you are looking for help, not a job. When you are talking to family, friends, faculty or anyone else you feel comfortable with, all you have to do is tell them what you are looking for:
I’m interested in working for a small firm in Connecticut and would like to learn more about what it’s really like. Do you know anyone working in Connecticut? In a small firm? Who might have some advice for me?
If the answer is “Yes,” ask if they can call and introduce you, or if you can use their name when you call. If the answer is “No,” ask them to please let you know if they do think of a referral. (Don’t hesitate to take the conversation further by asking more questions like those listed below.) Most people want to be helpful to others, and if they know you want advice, not a job, they are usually happy to talk to you.
Write a Letter
In general, people feel most comfortable writing to their contact to request an appointment for an informational interview. This gives the contact person a point of reference for your later phone call/meeting and will help you to be perceived as businesslike and professional.
You can send your letter via regular mail or via email. If you contact people by email, you must maintain the same high standards of grammar and punctuation as you would in any business correspondence. Just because the medium is more informal does not mean that the message should be as well.
Your letter should tell the person:
- Who you are
- Where you got their name
- What you want
- When you will call
- Thank you
Letters should be personal, reflect your style, and sound natural. All letters should be in standard business format, carefully checked for appearance, spelling, and grammar. To help you get started, review the sample letter (pdf) requesting an informational interview.
Should you send a resume along with the letter? Here we have a split of authority. On the one hand, since you are asking for information and not a job, including a resume may send a mixed signal as resumes are typically only used in job applications. On the other hand, if you don’t include a resume, you have less opportunity to get the contact interested in talking to you. So, if you decide to include a resume, be sure to include some language in your letter which says something like, To give you a bit more information about my background before our meeting, I’ve attached my resume. If you do not send a resume, you should write a slightly longer letter which includes a little more information about you.
If you would like to call without sending a letter, you will be making essentially the same request, but will try to find out:
- If they are free to talk now
- When you could call them again
- When you could meet with them
- Where they would like to meet
You would usually benefit from a meeting at their office where information for additional contacts is readily available.
Note that when you call to arrange an informational interview, you need to be prepared to deal with some additional issues like:
- The person who answers the phone
- The person who screens your contact’s calls
- Leaving a message
- Explaining your request
- What to say to someone who is busy or brusque
- Your response to being turned down
- What to say when someone says they’ll see you
While you may want to write out your telephone script, remember that this is simply a normal conversation. Always treat the person who answers the phone with respect and care. Be polite, considerate and clear about what you want.
When setting up the appointment, bear in mind that you are asking busy people to give up time to talk to you; their convenience, not yours, should be paramount. So, be as flexible as you reasonably can be as to time/date/location of the meeting. Also, be prepared for interruptions and last-minute rescheduling, as lawyers are often called to manage client emergencies without much notice. Remain calm and pleasant no matter what happens.