Coffee chats: Questions you should ask to network better
Networking is a way of life in Canada and is crucial to finding a role in your field of work. Previously, people networked solely at conferences, events or over in-person coffee chats or informational interviews. Today, thanks to technology, networking has gone virtual. So, as a newcomer looking to build connections, whether you’re in your home country or Canada, it’s easy and convenient to set up virtual coffee chats or informational interviews with industry professionals. Sites like LinkedIn, Ten Thousand Coffees, Eventbrite and Meetup are excellent starting points for networking.
Networking offers many benefits: gain exposure to industry best practices, find a mentor, develop a rapport with an industry professional, find job leads, seek knowledge, and more. You can choose to network in either a group setting (at conferences, events, etc.) or through one-on-one meetings (coffee chats). In this article, we’ll elaborate on what a coffee chat entails and how you can prepare for it. You’ll also find some key questions to ask during your meetings to ensure you develop a meaningful connection.
A coffee chat, also known as an informational interview or coffee interview, is an informal, in-person or virtual meeting with an experienced professional to learn more about a specific company, an industry, or that individual’s career path and role. Coffee chats can also help you gain insights into the local job market and get accustomed to Canadian culture.
Resources to help you learn more about coffee chats:
The key to a successful coffee chat is preparation. Research the person you’re meeting – look at their company website and go over their career path by visiting their LinkedIn profile, jot down some key questions you would like to ask, and bring a notepad and a pen to take notes. It is also recommended to have your elevator pitch ready – this will help you confidently answer the “tell me about yourself” question. If meeting in person, plan your travel and be sure to get your guest’s phone number as trying to communicate via email in case of an unexpected situation while travelling can be tricky.
Tip: If you’re meeting your guest at a coffee shop, offer to buy them a drink of their choice. It is awkward to have your guest pay for the drink if you’ve asked them to take time out of their schedule and meet you. To avoid confusion, you can email or message them prior to the meeting, specifying that you would like to treat them to coffee.
What to ask during a coffee chat
As you start your conversation, don’t be shy to make small talk – it’s part of Canadian culture. You can chat about the weather or your travel to the meeting location. If it’s a virtual meeting, talking about sports or how you spent your weekend can be good ice-breaker topics. Stay away from sensitive topics such as politics, religion, physical appearance, or age.
If you’re ever stuck or feel lost or nervous during a coffee chat, here are some questions that you can ask to keep the conversation alive:
1. How did you get started in your career? I’d love to learn more about what you do and the core components involved.
If you’ve done your research, you should have a few points to further personalize this question and make it specific. Listen carefully to the response and ask follow-up questions. Try to find mutual interests, connections, educational or work backgrounds, or locations – this will help you build deeper and more meaningful connections.
2. What does a typical day at [company] look like for you? What do you like most about your job? What’s the most challenging part of your job?
These questions let you learn more about your guest’s role. It’s a good opportunity to get insight into how they manage their time and the key responsibilities they cater to. As a follow-up, you can ask questions about their career graph at the company and discuss how they’ve grown. It will help you get an idea of where you’ll need to start if you’re new to the field, how you could progress, and what to expect in a certain role.
3. What do you like most about working at [company]? (Or conversely) What are some less ideal aspects of working at [company]?
These are good questions to get candid feedback about the company culture. Based on the responses, you can decide if the organization would be a good fit for you.
4. Are there any meetups or networking events that you would recommend?
A valuable way to find out about important meetups, events, and conferences in your industry that you should attend to build your network.
5. What’s the next chapter for you in your career?
This question can provide insight into typical career paths for professionals, such as yourself, in your domain.
6. Do you have any advice for someone like me – a newcomer who’s just getting started with their career in Canada? OR what skills do you think are most important for someone interested in a job like yours?
Asking this question will help you understand the aspects and skills you should work on, and it will also help with level-setting expectations.
7. Do you have recommendations for anyone else I should talk to or resources I should explore?
This is a simple, easy, and organic way to find your next guest for a coffee chat or an informational interview. And it also works well to get a list of websites you should be browsing or newsletters you should subscribe to.
8. Do you know anyone hiring that I should take a look at?
Remember that a coffee or informational interview is not an opportunity to ask for a job, so be very careful how you phrase this question. It is okay to let them know that you’re looking for career opportunities but do not directly ask for a job.
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A coffee chat is not meant to be longer than 30 minutes. So pick and choose the questions that are most important to you (estimate five to seven minutes per question), and keep an eye on the time. After your coffee chat, be sure to send a thank-you note – it goes on to show that you appreciate them taking the time to meet with you.
Great coffee chats are a result of thorough research, preparation, personal enthusiasm, and gratitude – these qualities, combined with the right questions, can help you network effectively and grow your connections!
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