If you are a job seeker the single most important activity in your search is networking. You should have a target list of companies and work to build networking connections in those organizations to support your search. A critical aspect of your networking activity is the “coffee” or informational interview.
Once you identify a contact within a target company ask for twenty minutes of their time for an informational interview. Try to find an alumni connection, a referral, or some connection to give you a starting point. Prior to your meeting it is critical that you prepare.
- Research the company online to learn about their products and services, review recent press coverage, get a general sense of their financial position, identify key competitors, etc.
- Research the individual on Linked In or google them.
- Prepare questions in advance so you can maximize your time together. Think about what else you want to know about the company, the functional area that interests you, the core competencies for the role you aspire to, the typical career path to your dream job, advice the contact can share.
- Be prepared to take notes during the meeting.
- Be prepared. Have your resume updated and ready in case you are asked for it. Do not lead with it.
- Ask the contact who else they think you should speak with for additional networking.
An informational interview is about gaining valuable insider insights on the company and your career choices. It is not asking for a job.
After an informational interview, you should send a handwritten thank you note within 24 hours and you should reference something specific you discussed. This helps the contact remember you. If the contact provided referrals, reach out to update the contact when you have met with the referrals and thank them again.
If you are on the other side of the “coffee” interview and people want to come “pick your brain” here’s some advice. You want to provide valuable insight to those who are truly looking to learn but don’t let others waste your time.
- Set a specific time limit on the meeting.
- If the individual is not well prepared, let them know that your time is too valuable and suggest that they prepare before their next meeting. Time for them to learn a valuable lesson.
- Do not waste time telling them what they could have found by looking at your website.
- If the individual starts the meeting by asking for a job, tell you have no openings and end the meeting.
- It is ok to say no. If you are too busy, you can tell the person that. Is there someone else you can refer them to instead?
When done correctly, coffee interviews are a valuable networking tool to support your job search and career advancement.