The answers to your most common questions about how to prepare for a coffee chat.
What Should I Do Before The Meeting?
1. Clarify what you want out of the conversation. It’s a good idea to go on informal coffee chats to meet new colleagues for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s fun to make new connections, or perhaps you’re the kind of person who likes to meet new people. Other times it’s useful to network to get things you might care about (examples: to explore new roles, to get advice, to increase inclusion, or to learn more about your organization from another person’s perspective). What do you want out of the coffee chat?
Time: 10 min
2. Do a bit of research on the other person. Look up the person you’re meeting with (LinkedIn profile, social media pages, and published articles are great places to start). It’s important to learn about who you’re meeting with so you can have a better conversation with them.
Time: 10 min
3. Write your questions for this person and write them down. This will be useful to help guide and open up the conversation —especially in the beginning when you first sit down.
For example, if you’re meeting with someone for an informational interview about her job, questions could include:
- “I know you’re a [job title], but what does a typical day look like for you?”
- “What’s one skill you need for this field that most people wouldn’t guess?”
- “Is there anything you wish you’d know about this particular field before you got into it?”
- “What's your favourite part about working for [Company A]?”
An important pro tip: Write these questions out on a piece of paper. It’s rude to look at your phone, and people are always impressed when it looks like you’ve done your homework and aren’t wasting their time.
Time: 10 min
What Should I Bring?
- Notebook and pen: it's easier to write things down on paper at the moment (compared to your laptop or phone).
- Money: Sounds obvious, but it's a good idea to double-check so you don't have to ask your guest to pay for you.
- Business cards: To make it easy for them to stay in touch.
Should I Pay For The Coffee?
It’s up to you. if it’s a single beverage and you asked this person to take time out of his or her day to meet, you should probably be the one paying for it. If you don’t want to pay for their coffee, show up early so you can order yourself one before they show up.
What Should I Do if It Won't Go Well?
First off, most meetings aren’t as much of a disaster as we think they are. Second, if the meeting is going downhill because the other person isn’t responsive or seems preoccupied, just know that it’s not you.
If it feels like it’s going poorly, the most important thing is to keep your cool and to continue being enthusiastic without not trying too hard to impress. Keep your spirits up, be polite, and ask what you need to. If he or she seems pressed for time, cut your question list down and keep it to the important stuff. Show gratitude at the end, send your thank-you email quickly and promise to keep in touch. But also know that it really is OK for your meeting to end earlier than you thought.
Inspired by Lily Herman.