Coffee Chat pinterestPicture this. You reach out to a contact because you might be interested in working at his/her company. You set up a “coffee chat”.  What exactly is a coffee chat and how can you prepare for it?

A coffee chat isn’t just a cup of coffee. It’s a “pre-interview interview” and it’s evaluative. That’s good news! It means you can distinguish yourself early on.

Here are five ways to make the coffee chat count:

Plan the Logistics

If you are suggesting the place to meet, choose a place where you can have a private conversation.  Get there early to grab a quiet table. Respect your contact’s time and plan on a 20-30 minute meeting.  Offer to buy the coffee.

Do Your Homework in Advance

Read the Company’s website, Google the company, check out the contact’s background on LinkedIn, and look up job postings at the company.  This will make you look well informed and avoid wasting time asking questions that you could easily answer before the meeting.

Think About What Your Goals Are for the Coffee Chat

Do you want an intro to a hiring manager within the company?  Do you want suggestions of job openings in the industry more broadly? Maybe both? Planning ahead can help you direct the conversation and avoid a 30 minute “shoot the breeze” meeting.

Prepare questions to start the conversation that ask about the company AND connect your background into the discussion. Instead of “Tell me about XYZ Co”, try “I am currently working in consumer products and am applying to a posted position at XYZ Co.  I would love to hear your experience at XYZ Company…”  In addition, prepare 3-5 talking points about your background as a potential fit for the company that you may try to reference during the conversation.

Ask for Advice, Not Help

When people give advice, they tend to get invested and wind up helping. Be specific about the advice you are seeking. Instead of “What advice do you have for someone pursuing a career in marketing?” try “Based on your experience working at XYZ Co, how do you recommend I prepare for my upcoming interview?”

Send a Same Day Thank You Email

It’s amazing how many people forget to do this and don’t realize how important it is!  Follow up within a few hours after the meeting with a thank you email that can potentially be forwarded on your behalf.  After your coffee chat, the person may send a quick email to a hiring manager or to HR with impressions of you as a potential fit for the company. What will the email say about you? Thinking about this before the coffee chat will help script the introduction into the company.  Make it easy for the person to help you.

Every meeting with a company or contact, no matter how casual, is an interview. A cup of coffee can turn into a job opportunity.