How to Get an Interview With Someone Who Has Zero Spare Time

Whether you’re seeking an interview with a business leader or a brilliant academic, one thing is certain: they’ll be busy. Even if you want just a few minutes of their time, you’ll still be competing for those minutes with dozens of other commitments, all equally important. So how can you maximize your chances of getting an interview with someone who really doesn’t have time to spare?

A good approach is one that makes agreeing to your request as simple as possible, but also doesn’t hide anything from your interviewee. Take a look at the following:

I am writing to see if you might be available for a brief chat about your career since graduation. It would consist of just a few short questions and shouldn’t take long to complete. I’m happy to arrange to talk at a time that's convenient for you. I can be reached by phone (01234567890) or email (email@email.com) at any time.

This approach is polite, to the point, and doesn’t come across as pleading or falsely flattering. However, a request like this will rarely get a response, because it requires the respondent to do too much of the work.

Instead, write an email to which your interviewee can respond in a single line. If they just have to say yes, they’re much more likely to agree than if they have to ping emails back and forth with you. Be clear about what the interview is for, that it is indeed an interview (and not just a chat), and that you know what you want to ask and how long it will take. Include some personal details so that it doesn’t read like a mass email, and end with a call to action to help encourage a response.

I am writing to request a brief interview with you for publication in the October edition of the university’s alumni magazine. If possible, I would love to take just 20 minutes of your time to talk about your career path, and particularly your work with young people in Manchester. Would Wednesday 11th August at around 18:00 be a good time to call? I know you must be busy, and so I’m also happy to schedule the interview by phone, email or in person at your offices at a time that suits you. Please do get in touch with me at any time on 01234567890 or email@email.com.

Note that in this example times and dates are written clearly and in a non-ambiguous way. Convenient times are suggested, but not insisted upon, and the writer is definite about how long the interview will take. Even with the best approach in the world, however, a response is not guaranteed. If you don’t hear back after a week or two, send a polite reminder. Your interviewee might simply have forgotten to respond, and may well be grateful for the nudge.

You can also gauge your approach to the person you are seeking an interview with. Consider whether the questions you’ll be asking are technically complex enough that your interviewee might appreciate some warning. It’s not unusual to send along a brief list of questions that you’ll be asking, or a “skeleton” interview, so that they can prepare if they wish. Consider also possible locations if you plan to conduct the interview in person, and think about any time difference between you and your interviewee if you intend on talking by phone or via Skype. Finally, familiarize yourself with any recording equipment before the interview.

This preparation will not only help get you an interview in the first place, but it also lays the groundwork for a great interview if you receive a positive response. 

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