How to contact a senior professional in your desired field and ask for advice
Let´s say you have decided to make a career change and you are currently trying to find out more about the related job market and how you could succeed in it. A lot of information can be found on the internet, but the most precious advice you can usually get is from people who are already working in the desired field.
If they gave you 15-20 min of their precious time, you might get some useful advice for your next steps and increase your chance in the desired market. But how can you ask someone experienced and busy for something like that?
How to approach the person
- Target someone who has already been working in the field for some time. Ideally, it will be somebody more experienced than you, and in a more senior position than you generally aim at. This eliminates the risk that the person would consider you as competition and for that reason struggle with sharing advice.
- Use social networks to check whether you might have friends or acquaintances in common. If so, consider asking your mutual acquaintance to introduce you. Or, ask that person whether you can refer to them when explaining why you chose this person to consult.
- Take it in stages. Send an e-mail in which you suggest either a meeting in person or a phone call of a particular duration (e.g. 15 minutes). Inform them that you will try to call them on a particular day and time to arrange the meeting or the call if they agree. If the person doesn’t reply to the e-mail, phone to make the appointment and refer to your e-mail.
- Never ask for a job. Ask for advice on how to progress towards your particular professional goal and for further referrals.
How to structure your e-mail
- “Dear Name”,
- Start with brief information on why you have chosen the person, how you got the contact, and what the intention of your e-mail is.
- Introduce yourself briefly. Explain your current situation.
- Explain your goal and your motivation for it.
- Explain what exactly you hope for from the person. Keep in mind that you are asking for a favour, not for something they are obliged to provide.
- Suggest the next step(s), yet show flexibility.
- Thank the person.
- Include your contact details.
Edit to a maximum length of 250 words. Spellcheck and give it a professional layout (e.g. unify the fonts and avoid an all-capital style).
Send it, and follow up in accordance with the steps you suggested.
A follow-up phone call significantly increases your chances of a positive reply. Allow for the possibility that they might not have read your e-mail and you might need to introduce yourself from scratch. The most likely reason is that they are busy and considered your e-mail not to be urgent, which is not the same as being unwilling to help you. Even if they do not read your e-mail properly before your call, it is still good that they have your e-mail and can have a look at it after the call.
Contact several professionals. It might not work out with each one, but from my (and my clients´) experience, there is a good chance that some professionals will reply and help you with useful advice.