How to nail a coffee chat

“Coffee chat” is a term that you’ll become familiar with during your time at university, but will also be something you hear a lot after graduating. The term essentially means a short one-on-one informational type interview with someone in your network you would like to know more about. The name comes from these chats usually being at coffee shops over coffee, but this term carries the same meaning for chats that may take place over a video meeting. Knowing how to have a successful coffee chat is an important skill to have as a university student as you will encounter many of them. You may want to set up coffee chats with people in your LinkedIn network to learn more about their career, or you may want to set up coffee chats with upper-year students in your program or your colleagues at a co-op placement. In the virtual work setting, employers are often setting up coffee chats for new employees to get to know their colleagues.

Now that you can see how prevalent these chats are, you might be feeling overwhelmed by the idea of lots of chats with people you don’t know that well. However, please know that you are not alone as coffee chats used to be very daunting to me. After some time I have figured out how to have successful coffee chats that have allowed me to receive job offers, become closer with my colleagues and much more. Try implementing these four tips and you’ll be winning coffee chats too:

 1. Research

A day or two before your coffee chat, make sure to research the person you are meeting with. This includes looking at their profile on LinkedIn and depending on their role and position, you may also want to look at the website of the company they work for or past companies they worked for. This allows you to come prepared with an idea of the person’s background and know where you may want to focus the chat on. This also may create a way for you to bond with the person if you notice that they were involved with a similar student organization, or even if they went to the same school or lived in the same city as you.

 

2. Create an elevator pitch

An elevator pitch is essentially a quick one to two-minute pitch about yourself, and it may need to be slightly altered depending on the type of coffee chat you are attending. If you are meeting with someone who is an upper-year in your program, you may want to focus on why the program interests you, and what you’re hoping to achieve during your time in the program. If you’re meeting with someone that works at a company you’re interested in, make sure to tailor your description of yourself to display why your background and interests may align with the company too. If it’s an informational interview with a colleague, try to summarize your background while also highlighting specific projects that are relevant to the job you’re in now. If the coffee chat is casual and it feels right, this is also a good time to mention hobbies or passions that may align with your future professional goals.

 

 3. Develop questions

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After you’ve introduced yourself, if you’re the one who asked someone to a coffee chat, it’s usually up to you to keep the conversation flowing with questions. The key thing here though is to not just ask questions to fill space, but to ask meaningful questions that will allow you to reach your goals. I usually like to develop some broad introduction questions that work for multiple styles of chats, and then specific questions that are tailored to what I saw on their LinkedIn profile.

 

Some of my favourite introduction questions include:

  • What is your day to day like?/How do you spend most of your time?
  • How did you get to where you are today?
  • What are your favourite projects to work on? Least favourite?
  • Is this where you thought you would end up?

 

Some examples of tailored questions include:

  • I see that you are highly endorsed for consulting on LinkedIn. What do you recommend for someone looking to get into consulting?
  • What inspired you to start your own company?
  • What do you wish you knew before being in your first co-op role?
  • Are there any books or resources on leadership that you recommend I check out?

 

4. Close with confidence

The part of coffee chats that often used to feel most awkward for me was the ending of it. Once our time was coming to an end, and I felt I had learned a lot I often struggled with how to end the chat. I learned that the best way to show that you valued the conversation and got something out of it was to reiterate a few key points from the conversation that resonated with you, and thank them for their time. After this, if you’re looking for more information on a topic and hope to meet again, ask for their card/email or LinkedIn if you don’t already have it. You can also ask at this point if there is anyone else in their network that they would recommend you connect with. After the coffee chat is over, don’t forget to follow up and thank them for their time again over email or LinkedIn.

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