What do we know as linguists that can help us to craft this reaching out e-mail?
Position yourself as a student
Now, we have been working on cultivating a professional voice, a future voice that is not mired in the deictic pov of a student, but in this instance alone, I do think it is useful to take up a student position when you are reaching out to someone who truly does not know you. Not that people should be put off by someone with professional polish, but I guess they are just more likely to help someone who sounds like a student who needs their help. I would try to find a way to take up the position of student, you can do this by stating simply that you are a “student” and also not explicitly mentioning professional experience, or at least not featuring that prominently at the very beginning. Students have the freedom to ask questions that colleagues are not able to, so positioning yourself as a student puts your interlocultor into a position of teacher, which puts you in a better position to learn!
Proofread – give the e-mail to someone else for feedback
I am famous for not doing this as well, so I know of what I speak that if you have typos, you are asking someone who doesn’t know you to make a decision about what kind of person you are and whether you are going to waste their time. If you don’t take the time to proofread, perhaps you are not going to take the time to prepare for the informational interview and show up asking “so what does this company do?” You don’t need to send that message. You are interesting and amazing and anyone who speaks to you will be so glad that they did, so don’t give anyone who might be worried that they are too busy to find the time any kind of excuse to say “no.” Believe that they want to get to know you. Communicate this belief in your e-mail.
There is so much that you could say or would say or feel that you should say, but if this e-mail starts to feel like it is going on too long (sort of like this blog post), find a way to end it. The point of the mail is really just to say enough about yourself to make the other person interested in hearing more. Also, you have the opportunity to send the message that you are aware of the multiple demands on this person’s time simply by not making the task of reading your e-mail another thing on this person’s to-do list.
Finally, this is not just about now!
Now is when you need the job, and so I do all too well understand that you feel constrained by time, but remember that networking is a life skill that we are trying to cultivate. This is a practice that I hope you will continue, worthwhile precisely because it is challenging. But as I hope you will come to agree, is tremendously valuable.
Reaching out to total strangers can be a very daunting prospect, and the first and very best piece of advice that I can offer you is simply to encourage you to just keep on trying!!! Sometimes people are impossible to reach, sometimes they say no, and sometimes even more frustratingly, they will say that they would meet you, but are not appropriate for an informational interview because their path and their choices were very unique and their experience was theirs alone. EVERYONE’S ARE!!
Of course we know that everyone has something to share, and from anyone who is willing to share their story, there is always something to learn, so when I hear this response, I just try to tell myself that this person just has not come to appreciate the power of narrative in the way that we have. Yet another reason why it is important for you to keep trying, maybe you can teach them why their story is illuminating!
However, when someone really does not want to sit down, give yourself the gift of accepting that and just let that go. Don’t take it as judgement on you, or as a statement that you are not interesting enough or worthy to talk to. You will be always be much happier talking to people who really want to talk to you – so tell yourself that it is worth this struggle now to get to the place where you are having a genuine conversation with someone who genuinely shares your interests and wants to speak with you.
If it helps you to know that many people have been exactly where you are now, know that many are and that many have been, and many will be in future. Remember what it feels like now so that when someone reaches out to you in future, you will do what you can to pay it forward. Over the years, I have worked with many students working through this exact struggle and I have also been through some years of it now myself. Also, as I know from improv, sometimes it is the choice that happens in this desperate moment that is the clincher for you!
…okay, but enough improv analogies.
Get out there, and let me know how it goes!