University of Pittsburgh

The Initial Contact: By Phone or By Written Contact?

There are positive aspects to both methods of contacting people. Put simply, writing (via email or snail mail) is the safer route and calling is the quicker route. Emailing is acceptable, but structure the email in a professional manner and consider what to put in the Subject line, such as "Pitt Law Student Inquiry."  Below are some guidelines that will help you to decide whether you should phone or write.

Consider calling first if...
  • The person is a relative's good friend whom you have met
  • You worked with the individual and had a friendly rapport
  • You are calling someone you recently met at a professional meeting and the contact gave you his/her business card and suggested you phone him/her to speak further
  • You are comfortable, articulate and succinct on the phone

If you choose to call first, be prepared with your introduction. For example, "Ms. Smith, my name is Lucy Brown and we met last week at the ACBA Young Lawyer's Division Meeting.  I'm currently a 2L at Pitt Law and am interested in learning more about family law. I found our conversation very interesting and wonder if you might have 10 or 15 minutes for me to drop by your office. I'd like the opportunity to hear more of your advice and ideas about entering the field."

Consider writing first if...
  • The individual knows nothing or next to nothing about your background
  • You saw the name in a networking directory, alumni database, newspaper article, etc.
  • You listened to the person speak on a panel
  • Your dentist told you to contact his good friend
  • You found the contact through a computer search

If you decide to write a note or letter via email or snail mail, you should plan to follow-up with a phone call about one week later and remember to reference the note/letter in your phone conversation. Your note/letter must not sound like a cover letter seeking a job with your contact's firm or organization. Instead, make it clear that you are seeking information and advice.  (One quick tip is to avoid using the word "interview".)  Instead, introduce yourself and stress your desire to seek only guidance and information during a meeting with your contact. Also, do not include your resume, although you might consider bringing it to your meeting and asking your contact to review it for comments and suggestions for improvement.

Always include the name of any mutual acquaintance in the first paragraph (particularly if the person you are writing to is an indirect contact and a mutual acquaintance referred you to him/her). In the second paragraph, explain why you think a meeting would be beneficial to you. You should also include any relevant work experience you possess. In your final paragraph, indicate you will be calling within the next week to schedule a brief meeting. Do not request more than 20 minutes of your contact's time.

Prepare for your informational meetings:
  • Have a specific purpose and agenda to ensure that you obtain helpful information and that you make a positive impression on your contact.
  • Research your contact and his/her area of practice prior to the meeting, using information in the CSO and/or resources available online.
  • Learn about the practice area, which will allow you to devote more time to the interviewee's personal experiences and to develop rapport.
  • Do your homework; it will impress your contact and increase your chances of leaving his/her office with names of additional contacts.
  • Develop a well thought out "Miss America Speech" to use when requesting informational meetings.

You should provide the listener with the following information:

  • Your education/experience level
  • A brief summary of previous, relevant employment, including the type of work you performed and skills you have developed
  • A short explanation of your desired career path

Sample Speech

"Hello, my name is Lucy Powers and I am a 2L at Pitt Law. I am very interested in pursuing a career in Health Care Law and have been focusing my studies in this area. Since graduating from college, I obtained my Masters in Pharmacology from Ohio State University and then spent two years working as a pharmacist at a CVS located in Columbus. I am currently working as an intern with Children's Hospital, where I am responsible for ensuring that the hospital's drug distribution system complies with Federal and State regulations. I am enrolled in the Health Law Certificate Program and it is my goal to work as in-house counsel for a health care facility."

 

Revised 09/28/2011 | Copyright 2011 | Site by UMC