There’s a popular networking practice that’s in desperate need of a makeover: Asking someone to get coffee. How many times have you been told to invite someone on LinkedIn, or at your company, to “grab coffee” so you can learn more about their role, career path, or industry? Probably weekly, if not more. On one hand, coffee meetings can be proactive, productive ways to network internally or externally. But more often than not, they’re a waste of time.
Hear me out.
Most people treat “the coffee meeting” like a handshake. They use it as an opportunity to put a face to a name...for 30 minutes. That’s a good chunk of time that you could be using to dig deeper than “So, how did you get to the company you’re at now?”, “Where were you before this job?” Check their LinkedIn profile, you’ll probably find the answers. Not only does spending those 30 minutes on surface level questions not really help you in your career, but it can actually start the relationship you’re trying to build off on the wrong foot.
For example, a former colleague once put 45 minutes on my calendar to grab coffee and “learn more about what [I] work on.” I was excited that they’d shown an interest in my role, and thought they might have some ideas, questions, or feedback to share with me. Instead, I spent 45 minutes talking about information that’s all on LinkedIn, the internet, or the internal company Wiki. They meant well but I couldn’t help but feel frustrated afterward. I could have finished that blog post I needed to write. I could have designed all the social graphics we needed for an upcoming campaign. In other words, it wasn’t them, it was how they chose to spend those 45 minutes with me.
Disclaimer: My time isn’t that valuable (I spend a lot more of it than I’d like to admit on Netflix). The coffee meeting isn’t dying because people are busy. It’s dying because we assume they aren't.
Think about it: When we’re looking for a new job or a career change, we’re focused on getting our foot in the door. There’s nothing wrong with that. But reaching out to someone on LinkedIn who works at your dream company takes guts. Don’t waste that bold move on a bad introduction or templated coffee invitation. Make it clear why you want to get to know them. Show you’ve done your research on their role or company. Be direct in what it is that uniquely positions you to chat about their work or career path. Doing research is how you leave someone feeling jittery, not from caffeine, but from their excitement to work with you.
Here are some common invitations and messages not to fall back on for your next coffee meeting, and some easy ways to give them a makeover:
- Don’t: “Hi X, I’ve heard your company is a really great place to work. I’d love to learn more about the culture there and how you like it. Would you have time next week to grab coffee or chat on the phone?”
- Do: “Hi X, I’ve heard your company is a leader in work/life balance, and a recent review on your Glassdoor page was a strong testament to how employees are using that flexibility. I’d love to hear about your plans for workplace flexibility in 2018 to see what’s ahead and share some things my organization has tried. Would you be interested in grabbing coffee sometime this month?”
- Don’t: “Hi X, I recently graduated from university and would like to learn more about the software engineering position on your website before applying. Would you like to get coffee?”
- Do: “Hi X, I recently graduated from university with a computer science degree and have a few questions about the front-end languages your company is using, and if there are any open source projects you’d suggest I look into before applying. Would you (or someone else on the development team) have time to get coffee?”
- Don’t: “Hey X, I heard you’ve worked on a variety of projects here and would love to hear more about them. Can I buy you coffee next week?”
- Do: “Hey X, Jenny from the Marketing Team mentioned that you ran an interesting experiment last year to improve our email open rates. I’m starting on an internal email campaign and would love to take you for coffee to hear any advice you may have or things to avoid. When would be a good time for you?”
- Don’t: “Hi, I heard your team might be growing over the next few months. Can I put time on your calendar to talk about that?”
- Do: “Hi, I’m reaching out because I heard your team might be growing over the next few months. Reading your internal resources and posts from over the past year, I have a few ideas briefly outlined below that might help grow that applicant volume you’ve been experimenting with. If you have time next week, I’d love to grab coffee and hear your impressions.”
Next time you ask someone to get coffee, don’t let the soy latte be the best part of your meeting. Your time, and theirs, is valuable so spend it asking questions that you can’t answer with a Google search or by skimming their LinkedIn profile. Prepare to share ideas that are relevant and timely. Make your invite clear and thoughtful. You’ll not only leave a better, lasting impression, but you’ll learn something you didn’t know. And in the best coffee meetings, they will, too.