Coffee Chatting 101
By: Komal Patel
Whether it’s over the phone, through zoom, meeting for a drink or actually grabbing coffee, one of the best ways to learn about others’ experiences and build your network is to sit down and have a coffee chat. Learning about an industry or job from people directly related to it gives you an inside look at new ideas and opportunities, and can be a powerful means of finding out whether (or not!) you’re interested and can fit in with a firm for your summer internship, co-op experience or even your long-term career.
Where to Start
The place to start is by talking with people you know or have a common connection with. Maybe they’re your next-door neighbour, whose job you find intriguing? Maybe they went to the same school that you’re at, or you both love basketball? Establishing common ground is always helpful when you’re meeting someone for the first time, and it’s typically easier to talk with people who are just a bit ahead of you in their coursework or career. If you know someone who you’d like to learn more about, invite them for a 20 or 30 minute conversation where they’ll be able to speak to the topic they know the most about - themselves!
Do Your Homework
Before your coffee chat, ask a mutual friend about the person you’ll be talking to, and don’t forget to rely on a good old-fashioned Linkedin or Facebook search. Reading up on the person’s accomplishments can help you figure out what to ask them, what experiences you’d like to learn more about, and will show the other person that you’ve genuinely made an effort to get to know them.
Have a few Questions Ready
Even if they’re basic, going in prepared can help you feel less nervous. Here are a few examples to get the ball rolling:
How did your experience at A lead you to your position at B?
What do you like about your role? What don’t you like?
What was your favourite project that you’ve worked on?
What’s your opinion on [current event relevant to their industry]
Don’t be a Robot
Let the conversation flow naturally! If you’re reading off a list of questions, waiting for an answer then moving right on to the next question, you run the risk of coming across as detached. Show that you’re engaged by asking follow-up questions or chiming in with your own experience when relevant. If this is your first time doing a coffee chat or you’re new to the industry, feel free to mention that! It’ll put the other person at ease and could help explain any slip-ups that you might make.
Dial in on time, be respectful, make sure you wrap it up when you said you would, and always send a thank-you email! These are simple things that you can do to make sure you don’t leave a bad impression during your coffee chat. If you know you’re going to be late, don’t keep the other person waiting - send them a quick message or reschedule your meeting as soon as you know you won’t be able to make your original time.
There are definitely topics that you should steer clear of, especially if it’s your first time meeting the person you’re having a chat with. These include:
Questions about salary
Political or religious questions
Highly controversial questions
Along these lines, never ask if the person can give or refer you for a job. Chances are, they can’t just hire you without going through a more formal process, and even if they can, they don’t owe you their referral just because you talked to them. Depending on your rapport and how your chat went, you could ask them whether their firm is hiring, advice for the recruitment process, and even if they think you should reach out to any of their colleagues. If someone does offer to refer you or help you with recruitment, don’t hide your gratitude.
As a final note, many companies keep track of who chats with their employees, especially if those students or young professionals are taking part in the company’s recruitment process. This makes it doubly important to treat the chat as an informal interview, as a candidate who leaves a bad impression during a coffee chat could easily be disqualified from a hiring process for that reason.
Here are a few more resources to help get yourself started. There is lots of advice available online, as well as sample questions that work for specific industries, post-graduate fields, or even specific firms.
As always, feel free to message me on Instagram (@kom.patel) or reach out on LinkedIn if you want more advice! I’m happy to help.
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