You Need A Montage: Informational Meetings Scene II (Making Contact)

Sam Halpert, PSJD Fellow 2014 – 2015
Christina Jackson, Director of Public Interest Initiatives and Fellowships
(with thanks to the professional development teams at UC Berkeley, Washington and Lee, and Seattle University Law Schools)

Okay, grasshoppers. Last month, I confessed my job search skills are weak and committed to questing with you to learn from PSJD’s resident career development guru Christina Jackson. Since then, we’ve re-made our resumes and cover letters. This week, we’ve begun the real work, for to master the art of informational meetings we must remake ourselves.

Creating a Strategy for Informational Meetings (Tip 5)

On Monday, I wrote about the first step in our strategy—identifying contacts. If you haven’t worked through that blog post already, go back and make sure you’re up to speed before starting on this one.

Ready? Okay. Today, we’re focusing on crafting our initial meeting requests. After reading this post, you should be able to draft a few emails making initial contact with the people on your list (see part one) that you decided you should reach out to first.

NB: Don’t forget to check out the Google Drive spreadsheet tool I’m using to organize my own informational meeting efforts. For contacts I’ve already spoken with, I started by recording our most recent exchange (email, etc.) in the “Log Interactions” sheet. I also used this sheet to log the new emails I sent today during this exercise.

Part II: Making Contact

Send an email or (if time permits) write a cover letter. (You can call, but if you do be prepared to have your meeting on the spot if a person answers the phone and expresses willingness to speak with you right there and then.)

This week, I worked up several emails for a few of my first-run candidates, including both people I know and people I don’t. (To avoid calling possibly-unwanted attention to my contacts, I’m not sharing these messages in their entireties.) As with job applications, you’ll want your emails to be well-written and to demonstrate your background research. Still, keep in mind that the stakes here are lower than with communications related to job applications: People are usually much happier to receive requests for information and advice than requests for a job, and answering questions is less intense than evaluating candidates for a position. You shouldn’t have to work quite as hard to land an informational meeting as you will for a job interview. (My informational meeting requests all took between 100 and 200 words.)

    1. WHAT TO SAY: When you contact a person to ask for an informational interview, your messages should establish three things:
      1. Who you are. Once the person can picture who you are, they can start to imagine what sort of advice you might need. You’ll always want to briefly explain your background. (E.g., “I’m a recent graduate from Georgetown University Law Center with a background in economic justice and human rights.”) (Editor’s Note: We’re going to discuss the art of boiling your life down to a sentence or two later this month, when we cover how to rehearse your “pitch.”) One thing I’m trying right now (I don’t know if it will help) is including a link to my LinkedIn profile in the postscript; I’ve learned that some people check me out there any way before our meetings. (E.g. “I didn’t want to throw a resume at you, but if you’re curious you can find me at [link].”)
      2. Who they are (to you). Busy people are more likely to arrange an informational meeting with you if they can tell you’ve chosen whom to contact carefully. An easy way to establish your familiarity is to mention any professional connections you might already have. If you got the person’s name from someone else, be sure to mention the name of the person who referred you.  (E.g., “Christina Jackson at NALP mentioned you might be a good person for me to speak with.”) If you took a professor’s class, remind her of that fact. (E.g., “I was in your comparative rights seminar in 2012.”) Even if you don’t have an existing link, you can always try to connect with a person’s work. (E.g., “I’ve been particularly inspired reading about your organization’s Community Development Project and its Safety Net Project.”)
      3. How their work relates to your goals. You may also want to tell recipients why you believe they would be good for you to speak with. You don’t have to write out a list of questions you plan on asking, but it helps to give people an idea of where the conversation might go. It’ll help them figure out if they have meaningful advice or insights to share with you. (E.g., “I’m interested in the path you took to Pro Bono Net and how your previous experiences with New York legal aid organizations inform your current work.”)
    2. WHAT NOT TO SAY: Make it clear you’re not asking about a job or for a job. You don’t have to say this explicitly. (I generally don’t.) Just make sure there’s no doubt.
    3. WHAT TO ASK FOR:Be specific about how much time you’d like each person to give you, and try not to ask for more than fifteen (or twenty) minutes. Ideally, you want to meet in person. However, make it clear that you’re available to speak over the phone if an in-person meeting isn’t possible. Keeping with our holiday job search theme, you’ll probably find yourself letting people know when you’re in town for the break, proposing that they tell you whether they have time for you on any of those days.
    4. WHAT TO DO NEXT:Be ready to go the distance. Don’t write to someone if you can’t commit to doing everything you can to get an interview. This means you have to make a follow-up call if you don’t hear back. Many of the attorneys you contact are very busy; in many cases, if you email but then never call to follow up, you may as well not have bothered writing in the first place. Follow up with a call about a week or ten days after you send the email or cover letter. If you reach your contact, you’ll want to be prepared with a spoken version of your email: introduce yourself, confirm your email got through, ask for a meeting (no more than 20 minutes), and stress that you’re willing to meet at a time and place convenient for that person.As before, don’t call until you’re prepared for the meeting itself—your contact may ask you to do the informational meeting on the spot after picking up the phone.
    5. DEALING WITH REJECTION: If you get turned down, always politely thank each person for his or her time. If you still have the confidence, think about asking whether the contact might recommend someone else they think would be useful for you to meet with. If you don’t hear anything after emailing and calling to follow up, use your judgment. Typically, the third email or call is the limit; if you still don’t hear back you need to move on. It’s useful to keep track of each email and call and to note their results (this is where the spreadsheet tool comes in).

 

I hope this advice helps you get your first few meeting requests out to your contacts. I’m aware this week’s posts are less soul-baring than previous ones in this series, though. If anyone of you feel we’re missing out by not posting a clear example, please write and let us know. I’ll look harder for a solution.

Wax on, wax off,

-Sam

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