Coffee – The Perfect Excuse to Grow Your Network

— “Would you like to have a coffee and talk with me about…?”

I call it coffee.

Many call it an informational interview. The formal jargon sounded daunting to me when I first began exploring careers… imagine… “Would you like to have an informational interview with me?”

Really, an informational interview is just coffee with conversation (or a smoothie, or a walk for ice cream, whatever works). Yes, the conversation takes prep work on our part and a little luck in finding the right connections, but it’s one of our best tools in developing our professional identities and broadening our network.

I knew that I needed to start establishing some kind of network to help me along my career path, so I started saying yes to opportunities that would allow me to meet more people. The more I said yes, the more comfortable I got asking people if they would be willing to share more about what they do and/or their career path with me over a coffee.

If you’d like to do the same, here are some tips from my experience that may be helpful:

Coffee with who?

Your network is bigger than you think, use it!

  • Ask. From distant relatives you dread talking to, to that friend of a friend you heard of who’s had experiences you’d like to learn more about, ask. This person could lead to your next opportunity, and at the very least, you will get valuable practice communicating your skills and career goals.
  • Say yes if someone offers. Unless you come across someone who does nothing you are remotely interested in and you just don’t have the time, say yes. I’ve gained valuable insights to career paths in general talking to people who were not obvious connections.
  • Coffee can happen via video-chat — An option I always ofter in case my interviewee is tight on time or highly mobile.
  • Take advantage of organized networking events (I’ve seen a number of these through eventbrite) and communities (e.g., McGillConnects’ Ten Thousand Coffees).
  • Volunteer for a committee and join alumni groups, you’ll meet a whole room full of new people with a shared interest or common experience.

What will we talk about?

  • Generally, this is a great opportunity to hear about what a specific role or work in a particular industry is like, as well as to learn how people got there. People who’ve already made a transition we’re preparing for will likely have good tips to share, so prepare to spend most of this time listening. This is also a great chance to pick up on industry-specific vocabulary.
  • Use your resources — a quick Google search will turn up a number of examples of questions to ask during informational interviews to get you started. I suggest looking at a few different templates to get an idea of what is typical and to benchmark quality (deep vs.shallow questions; some examples will be better than others).
  • If you have questions about a person’s role or the company for which they work, those questions should go deeper than information you can find reading on the company website or doing a quick search of role descriptions. Show them you value their time.
  • Read up on what that person does and has done in the past when preparing questions, as this will help you understand where they can help you (and where they can’t). A LinkedIn profile review, any relevant/recent news media, and a company website skim will help you contextualize the answers to your questions.
  • Practice your elevator pitch, or at least think about it and say it out loud once beforehand. We may know what our skills and career goals are (or if not, at least general aspirations) but articulating them is another story. Whoever you meet with will definitely ask about what you do and where you want to go, and perhaps your past experiences. Be prepared to talk about yourself professionally and concisely.

Overall, finding ways to meet new people and asking them to share their experiences with me over a coffee has been one of the best things I’ve done for myself professionally over the past year. Coffee (a.k.a., an informational interview) is a great way to learn about your professional options and build your network, and it’s also a stress-free (productive) excuse to take a break from your work routine and connect with someone. I hope reading this will help you get started, or keep going! If you’d like to have a coffee with me and chat, you can find me on LinkedIn 🙂

– Rebecca Maymon


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