‘Coffee chats’ and Informational Interviews (Networking for introverts continued)

So, you’ve completed the phases we laid out last time and the person you want to speak to has agreed to meet for a coffee (or Zoom call). What now? What’s the purpose of this meeting? This can be a daunting scenario for introverts. You may have felt just reaching out to people online was tough enough – now you have to meet them.

Unfortunately, face-to-face interactions are the best way to create deeper, more meaningful, connections and to build out your network. Here, we’re discussing how these ‘coffee chats’ are a great way to help you make more informed decisions when it comes to your own career. And, ensuring you have all the tools necessary to make this a successful experience. 

This is the ‘make or break’ moment. You’ve spent a great deal of effort reaching out to people and you’ve found someone who’s agreed to give you 30 minutes of their time. Maximise this meeting and forge a connection that will pay dividends now and in the future.

Before the meeting

Preparation is key. You’re not meeting this person to ask them questions you could find out from Google or looking at their LinkedIn profile. So avoid questions like “How long have you worked at X company?” “What other companies have you worked for?” or “How many offices does your company have?” 

Instead, draw out information that you could only get from the person sitting in front of you. Your prior research will help determine the right questions to ask. Come with a list ready to go. This will also help you to keep the conversation going when you may feel like you’ve run out of things to say.

Use these as a starting point…

  • What do you like most/least about your career?
  • Why did you decide to get into this industry?
  • What does your day-to-day routine look like?
  • What’s one thing you wish you knew before taking this path?
  • What advice would you give to someone in my position?

You’re trying to get the unique perspective of the person you’re interviewing. So be creative and work out exactly what you want to get out of this meeting and have a list of questions ready to go. This is a great chance to really understand the industry from someone on the inside. Think outside the box as well. Will this career give you the work/life balance you’re looking for? Will you earn enough money? This is your chance to find all of this out.

Don’t make this conversation 100% work-related though. Try to take the conversation to other areas; maybe you have some common hobbies? Creating a connection outside of the work context will make it deeper and more meaningful.

During the meeting

OK, so there are a few guiding principles you want to follow during this meeting…

  1. Lead the conversation
  2. Ask open questions
  3. They should be doing most of the talking

Remember, you’ve asked them to meet. So you should be directing the conversation. Don’t expect them to just know what you’re looking for and blurt it out. This is where your research kicks in; start the conversation by introducing yourself, give a brief background of who you are, where you’re at in your career and what you’re hoping to get out of this meeting. This will also help them to understand how to answer your questions and how deep, or broad, to go.

Open questions make this a whole lot easier. If you’re asking a closed question, you’re essentially giving the other person the opportunity to answer ‘yes or no’. This is not what you want. You want to draw out as much information as possible and then ask secondary and tertiary questions to dig a little deeper. The last thing you want is to receive a ton of one-word answers and after 10 minutes you’ve run out of things to talk about, and you haven’t really learnt anything.

If you do this right, the 3rd principle will come naturally. They should be doing most of the talking because you’re there to learn from them. If you find you’re doing a lot of talking, this means you’re discussing things you already know. Use this as a trigger to revert back to your pre-prepared (open) questions and get back on track.

Wrapping up the meeting  

Firstly, thank them profusely for their time and always offer to pay for their coffee. If you’re a student though, I’m sure they’ll end up paying – but they’ll never forget you offered. 

Keep in mind the following too.

Respect their time. There’s nothing worse than agreeing to a 30 minute conversation and then after 35 minutes they’re still rambling on and sounding like they’re about to open up another topic of discussion. Don’t be this person. People are busy and if they’ve agreed to take time out of their diary for you then you should honour the agreement. Time is precious and you don’t want to be remembered as the person who doesn’t acknowledge this. Don’t worry if you haven’t asked all of your questions, the most important thing here is to leave a good impression. If you do this, it’ll make the next part easy.

Give yourself an excuse to follow up and connect again. This could be sending them the revised version of your CV after their advice or letting them know how you got on with the interview you had coming up. Always leave the door open to reconnect so when you do reach out again, it’s expected.

After the meeting

Always send a follow up email after these conversations. Let them know you really appreciated their time and thank them again. Try quoting back something they said during the meeting, and say how much it resonated with you or how you’re implementing it now. This is so powerful and will make them feel like they had a real impact on you.

These Coffee-Chats are a powerful way to foster long-term relationships and build your network. There’s no denying the immediate benefits you’ll receive, but you also never know when that person may be recruiting in the future.

Hope that helped.

Thoughts, feedback, questions welcome.

Ash

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