Networking is an art, in the same way that sales is an art.
The whole point of networking is to form professional relationships with people who will eventually have a vested interest in your success. It is a mutually beneficial, low cost yet long-term investment in yourself, your career, and your success.
After I graduated, I was working part-time at the bank, hoping to eventually move up within the bank. The problem was that I had no clue where I wanted to go. I knew I liked finance, but would I like Commercial Banking, Asset Management, or Capital Markets? Therefore, to find out, I reached out to a mentor I had at TD and asked him if he could connect me with some people in the industry that could teach me a bit about what they did. I then found out about an industry phenomenon I had never heard of before: The Coffee Chat.
It is pretty self-explanatory – a coffee chat is when you meet an industry professional for coffee to chat about something they know well. Every person my mentor connected me to was very willing to meet with me and ‘give back’; in other words help me figure myself out. I went on about 5 coffee chats in the span of a month, and ended up learning more about each department, and having a better idea of what I would like to do in the future and what I most likely would not.
Reach Out to Someone You Trust
Reach out to someone in your industry that you trust and are comfortable with. It can be a professor, a friend, a family friend, or a manager/boss. Set up a coffee chat with them and briefly explain your situation, and tell them what you need. They’ll be more than happy to connect you with people from their network that could help you.
Do Your Research & Respect Their Time
Now, you have a coffee chat set up with someone who can get you to where you want to be. Make sure you come prepared. You can even bring in a notepad with notes if you want – I’ve actually been encouraged to do this. Most of the time you’ll be meeting people with a busy workday, so suggest a 30-minute coffee chat, and allow them to extend it if they’d like. Show up on time, and organize your questions so that you have time to ask them all – I usually had about three. Spend the first 5 minutes building rapport – perhaps ask about their relationship with the mutual connection, or ask them where they commute from. Remember, this isn’t an interview; be yourself and engage in conversation, be curious and attentive and take notes if you need to.
My questions were mostly about what their journey was like, their current role, their typical work day, and a current industry-specific question to keep the conversation from getting dry.
Pay For the Coffee
Even though you have wonderful skills that companies need, in this moment, they are doing you a favour. Their time costs money, so even if they decline, it shows professionalism and class that you offered.
Don’t Flat Out Ask for A Job
For the most part, they knew I was looking for a job. However, it is poor taste to say so outwardly. Instead, show enthusiasm and ask them how someone with your skill set could get to where they’re at. What positions, designations, etc. would help make you to be the perfect candidate for that role? This is a better question to ask.
Try and Get Another Coffee Chat
The million dollar final question: “Do you know anyone that I should meet next for coffee?” Now that their brains are consumed with your journey and what you’re looking for, a few names will likely come to mind for you to chat with. Sometimes it’ll be a colleague, it can even be a hiring manager or someone from a different company, same industry. Either way, getting another coffee chat is the perfect way to continue your networking chain and keep the ball rolling.
Thank Them, and Follow Up
When the 30 minutes are up, let them know that you appreciate them taking the time out of their busy day to meet with you. Send a follow up email later on thanking them again, and if you feel comfortable, add them on LinkedIn to stay in touch as you continue your coffee chat journey.
I know new graduates who have been restructured in large, industry-leading companies, and have had to reach out to their network to get a new job. I know people who have gone on 35 coffee chats in the span of two months in order to get a promotion. I’ve even referred someone I didn’t know well to my company simply because I knew they were hard-working and personable.
Coffee chats can be very great things. The more you do them, the better you get at them. They’re useful especially later on in your career, when you have years of experience under your belt and are looking for a career change, or want to start your own company. Besides, who can pass up a great cup of coffee?