Cold E-mails & Informational Interviews


Learn how to set up an informational interview by sending cold e-mails, and what career questions you should ask when you meet.

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In our “Grab a Coffee” blog posting, we talked about how meeting face-to-face with a criminal justice professional (from a police captain to a paralegal) is a great way to find out if you’re the right fit for that career. It’s also a valuable way to find out how to prepare educationally and experientially and to network.

This face-to-face meeting is formally called an informational interview. We already talked about how to find people to chat with. Now let’s discuss how to set up the meeting and what types of questions you might ask.

Cold E-mails

Sending a cold e-mail is an effective way to set up potential meetings, especially in this extremely busy, tech-driven age.

In her Forbes article “How to Write A Cold-Email,” Frances Bridges writes: “Does it always work? No, there are people who aren’t going to take the time to meet with a stranger, and that can’t be held against them. It is surprising how often people respond, and who does.”

Bridges adds that if someone does not e-mail you back, don’t let it get you down. Try e-mailing someone else and eventually you will get a reply from someone willing to share advice and their experiences.

The Cold E-mail Message

It’s of utmost importance that your e-mail message is concise and to the point. “The e-mail shouldn’t be more than three or four sentences-short enough for someone to read and respond to in under a minute,” advises Bridges.

Your message should include:

  • Your name and your goal (i.e. to learn more about a particular career).
  • Comment on their successful career (i.e. “Since you have been in law enforcement for 30 years and risen up the ranks to captain, I would really value learning about your experiences”).
  • Acknowledge that they must be busy by saying that you would so appreciate if they could meet with you for 20 or 30 minutes of their time.
  • Ask if you can treat them to a coffee or at meet them at a place and time that is convenient for them.

At the Informational Interview

Once you have a meeting set up, it’s important to have some questions prepared so you can make the most of the informational interview. You probably will have some specific questions already in mind that are particular to your situation. Jot them down so they are fresh in your mind.

Some general questions you can ask:

  • What is most rewarding about your job?
  • What is most challenging?
  • What qualities does a person absolutely need to be successful in this career?
  • How do I know if I am cut out for this?
  • What education and experience do you recommend I complete?
  • What are some unexpected lessons you’ve learned throughout your career?
  • Any job hunting/application advice?

After the informational interview, it’s very important to send a follow-up note thanking that person for their time and advice.

Aside from learning about your potential career path, you may have learned about a specialized field you never knew about or been able to begin developing a game plan for accomplishing your professional goals. You may also have formed the beginning of a professional network—one that could invite open up job shadowing experience, referrals or even job offers!