What did I learn from over 100 coffee chats?
By Laura Sturmer Published 21/10/2020
As a newcomer, when I moved to Toronto around three years ago I didn’t initially get what people meant when they were saying:”coffee chats and networking are critical tools to help you land a job in your field”.
I did not get it’s meaning because in my home country you would typically go for a coffee only with friends, family, or at least someone you know.
And second, because reaching out to a “stranger” and asking them to meet to talk about something that would mainly benefit me (someone they don’t even know) seemed very inappropriate.
So after watching tons of videos about “informational interviews” and “how to do a coffee chat” I DECIDED TO GIVE IT A TRY.
From my first coffee to the 100th it took a little more than a year. Yes, it seems a LOT! But I really wanted to learn and meet people, not only for networking and job search purposes, but I understood those chats could allow me to meet new friends and to build relationships at work.
When you move into a new country you usually don’t know anyone. So the coffee chats helped me to build my network here and every time I met someone I always learned something that helped me to make my adaptation easier.
After lots of great learnings, amazing coffees, other not so great, here are SOME KEY LEARNINGS I want to share:
1. Coffee chat x Informational interview
I am not a big fan of “formal titles”, I didn’t like to call it an informational interview because, at the end of the day, it was a casual chat about a topic in which both participants were interested. I didn’t want the other person to feel pressured, that I would “interview them”.
And I prefer to use the term “coffee chat” because it is literally a chat, trust me. When you meet the person you just talk and chat about a specific subject that you reached out to the person for.
And off course, since it’s a chat, other things come up in the conversation, weather, what do you do for work, etc. It’s a normal conversation.
2. Why am I doing this chat? (Purpose)
Coffee chats or “phone calls” need to have a purpose, a reason. Some examples:
– You want to learn more about a specific role, area or industry
– You saw the person is working on an interesting project and you want to know more about it. Some examples of “projects” can be an event you attended and they were speakers, a podcast they talked at, a book or article they shared or wrote, volunteering that they are doing, etc
And no, the purpose should NEVER EVER be about a job you saw in their company that you want their help to get into if this is a person that you have never talked to.
3. How to approach
Try to find things in common with the person, it will not only make your invite more likely to be accepted but also the chat will be way more interesting.
When you have things in common with the person and a purpose for the coffee, the higher the chances of getting a positive reply to your invite.
Common bounds that you can mention:
– Same background (place of origin, same university/college, same industry/area, you both are newcomers, etc). For searching for professionals that studied in the same university/college than you, use the Alumni tool from Linkedin (shoot me a message or a comment if you don’t know how to use it)
– Volunteered in the same institution
– Attended a similar professional event (meetup, panels, conference, seminars)
– Are in the same LinkedIn or meetup groups
– Have a friend/connection in common
Send a message or connection with a personalized note. Remember to include the purpose of the coffee and mention the bound that you have in common.
And ALWAYS INCLUDE OPTIONS in the invite: 10-15min phone call or a coffee chat.
Sometimes professionals have a busy schedule and it’s a high commitment to go for a coffee but a quick phone call might work, especially if they have some time to kill over lunch or during the commute.
I have scheduled 10min phone calls that went so well that took 50min and led with the professional offering to do a referral for me in their company.
4. After you hear the “yes”
Make it easier for the other part, offer different options of days and time, offer to go and meet them closer to their work or home.
5. Follow Up and Thank You
Please, NEVER EVER forget to send a thank-you note after the chat. Keep nurturing the relationship, send them updates.
If the person suggested you to talk with someone and you did, let them know how it went. If after a couple. of months you ended up getting the job by following the tips you got, share this great news with them.
Offer help, share articles, events that are happening in the industry and field of your connection. Add value to the relationship.
6. Meet and greets at work
Have you started a new job? Don’t forget to reach out and schedule coffee chats to meet all the coworkers you will be working with. It’s an opportunity to know each other and understand how your work impacts the other areas and how you can help.
7. Final tip: “coffee chats are like riding a bike, in the beginning, it’s hard but the more you practice, the easier it gets”
If you are a newcomer, invite another newcomer that has experienced the same challenge that you are facing to hear their story and tips.
Are you a recent grad? How about inviting an alumnus that just got an internship to learn about their experience?
Still unsure and anxious about how to start? Send me a message or post a comment, I am happy to connect you with like-minded professionals.
I also would love to hear your feedback about your experience or any other tip that can help anyone looking for demystifying coffee chats. Tag and share with anyone who might benefit.
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