Dear Mr./Ms./Dr. _____:
First paragraph: Identify yourself and briefly explain why you chose to contact this individual (because of their specific occupation, graduate program, employer, field/industry, etc.) and what your purpose is for contacting them (exploring jobs/internships, researching their employer, considering moving to their geographic region, etc.)
I am a University of Puget Sound sophomore majoring in philosophy. I found your name in the University of Puget Sound Parents Network and see that you work for Arm & Schiff Law Offices. As a student who is considering law as a potential career option, I wanted to reach out to see if you had any advice on making the most of my undergraduate experience.
Second paragraph: What do you want/need? Briefly summarize your specific reason for connecting.
I recently took a business law class which sparked my interest in law. I hope to arrange a 15 minute phone conversation with you to ask you about your experience in law school, law specialty, and strategies for seeking a summer internship to test out this field. If you prefer to communicate via email, may I send you a list of 3-5 questions?
Third paragraph: Express your appreciation.
I look forward to the possibility of connecting with you to learn more about your career path and current role. Thank you for your time.
This author wrote a clear, succinct message outlining a reasonable request. She states the amount of time the interaction would take and provides a suitable alternative should a phone call not be convenient. If the parent and student reside in the same city, an alternate request could involve a face-to-face meeting or invitation to coffee.
In these messages, it's important to remind the individual of where you met and anything about you or your conversation that might help jog their memory. Below is a weak and strong example of an email message a student is sending to an alum they met at an Alumni Sharing Knowledge (ASK) night.
Dear Mr./Ms. _________:
I got your card at the reception last month. I have some interviews in 2 days with firms in your industry and was hoping for some time to ask you questions as I prepare for my interviews. Do you have any availability tomorrow afternoon or Thursday morning? If not, here are the questions I have. Perhaps you can give me your thoughts via email.
1. What are the most important trends in the industry?
2. What do you think are the key differences in the top companies?
3. What interview questions should I be prepared to answer?
The Weak email is too vague on the connection. The tone is brusque and doesn't offer any incentive to the reader to be helpful. The request is too burdensome—these are questions the author needs to get answered, but she is asking the reader to do all of the work for her.
Dear Mr./Ms. _________:
I enjoyed meeting you last week at ASK Night. I tried out that "hidden" study nook in Collins that you suggested. I've already had some quality study time there this past week. Thanks again for the recommendation.
I have several upcoming interviews in the industry, including with your department at Boeing. I wanted to follow-up on your kind offer to talk further. I'm specifically interested in the impact increased Department of Defense spending is having on the industry and on Boeing in particular. Do you have any availability for a 15-20 minute conversation in the next 7 days?
The Strong email is succinct, establishes a connection, and reminds the reader of the offer to help. It provides the reader a reason to want to help—the author has been invited to interview at his company and competitor companies. The request for a 15-20 minute conversation on a specific topic is reasonable and relatively easy to fulfill.
Below are some questions you might consider asking during your conversation. Visit the CES page about Informational Interviews for additional details.
Questions about the individual's career:
How did you first get interested in this line of work?
What has been your career path?
Does your work relate to your experience at Puget Sound?
What skills and/or experience are necessary?
How did Puget Sound prepare you for this career?
What do you enjoy most (and least) about your industry?
What is your typical day like?
What kind of hours do you work? Are they flexible?
What lifestyle choices have you made to work in your industry?
Questions about the organization:
What is a typical career path in this organization?
Does your employer offer any type of training program?
How would you describe your corporate culture?
Questions about the career field:
What type of education or training is recommended or necessary to excel in the field?
What are the typical jobs, particularly at the entry level?
What is the salary range for these positions?
Can you recommend specific trade journals, publications, or web resources which would be helpful in researching this field?
Among my strongest assets are (skills, areas of knowledge, personality traits, and values). Where might they fit into this field?
Who else might you recommend I approach for advice about entering this particular field?
Is this field comprised of a diverse workforce?
Do professional networks exist that provide support to individuals like me who are seeking to enter this field?