Can You Meet for Coffee? Survival Tips for New Networkers

As an upcoming college graduate you are likely out there searching for your first job. Or, you’re ready for a career change and networking is new and unfamiliar. Everyone says: Start your network! Ask people to coffee. Get out and meet new contacts!

This networking business can be daunting – especially if you’re new at it. Before you start your ‘let’s have coffee’ tour – Here’s advice from someone who’s often asked for coffee.

Never forget you’re asking a favor. Most people are ready to help when they can and have the time. Yet, always remember that you are asking a professional favor to connect or be referred. Be available when your contact can fit you in and where it’s most convenient for them. A quick way to get off track is asking a new contact to “come your direction” or give the impression it’s all about your schedule.

Separate the advisors from the connectors. Separate out those who can give advice on your approach or next move – and ideally talk to them first. The advisors are there to give guidance so it’s ok to still be in exploration mode with them. The connectors need to know what you are looking for to be helpful – so know your “ask”. Mixing these two up can make your networking meetings really unproductive.

Don’t be transactional. Not everyone you meet will bring an immediate opportunity. That is how it works. Ask for advice. Listen. Learn something new. Not every connection will be meaningful or last – but some will. You may meet one person out of 20 with an idea for a new position – but it may take 20. Still value the other 19. And, one person may connect you to someone else who can be helpful – you just don’t know. Lower your expectations for immediate results. Have a learning mindset and play it out.

Talking isn’t a commitment. A recent graduate once told me she didn’t want to meet with someone because she wasn’t sure she saw herself at his company. First off, by having coffee you aren’t signing up for anything. There is a big difference between having a chat and committing. Take it one step at a time.

Respond fast. If a contact refers you to someone new – connect and respond quickly. A fast response communicates the connection is important and that you are organized. The person you were referred to is more likely to respond when the introduction is fresh v. days later when they’ve long forgotten your name or you’ve unintentionally signaled that they are a low priority. Neither helps you.

Always do your homework. Never show up for a meeting with a new contact without completing a LinkedIn preview or a google search. Find out more about their work and what you have in common. This prep will help you start a more meaningful conversation and know how to best ask for assistance.

Know what you want and where you need help (even if you aren’t sure.) Or, said differently, don’t make your new contact work harder than you have. There is no way a new person can know your ideal role in 45 minutes when you couldn’t before you got there! Even if you aren’t completely sure of your ideal – share your best 75% guess with confidence or your two areas of interest. This is the only way someone can help you. As an example, after some conversation, you can ask, “I’m very interested in working at Toyota and I see you have worked with them before. Do you have any advice on how I might connect there?” Or if communicating by email, share a link to the role you are interested in so it’s simpler for your contact to take action. Make it easy for others to help or they probably won’t.

Don’t take anything personally. Not everyone will be helpful right now. They may be too busy to meet or have no ideas. They may not follow up when you hoped they would or cancel a meeting you had planned on. Don’t assume it’s because of you. Your timing and need just didn’t line up with their priorities. Move on and keep going.

Thank you. Thank you. Again, everyone involved is helping you by taking valuable time, responding to emails, or making a connection for you. Follow up. Send an email with a quick update. “Thank you. I met Andrew today and he was so helpful. I so appreciate the introduction.” A handwritten note is great, but a quick thoughtful email is enough and they can respond to it. This keeps your contacts involved and ready to continue the support.

Use these introductions to jumpstart your unique network. Introductions and meetings are one time events if you let them be. Stay in touch. Send an email and let them know where you landed or circle back on a topic you discussed. Schedule coffee sometime in the future for career advice or even build a mentoring relationship if it fits. Be helpful to them.

Lastly, remember to pay it forward when others need help or advice from you in the future. As soon as you start your career you are in a position to lend a hand to others. I can’t count the number of people who made important introductions or opened a door for me. You can be that person too.

Patti Johnson is the CEO of PeopleResults. She can be followed @pattibjohnson.