A Guide to Coffee Chats
Updated: Jan 30
A few weeks ago I posted on LinkedIn about what I've been working on. It wasn't another data analytics project or a blog post. It was scheduling and having coffee chats with some of my connections. Why did I try coffee chats? I wanted to get to know some of my connections better. And I wanted to practice meeting new people and being able to converse with them. In the post I told people if they want a coffee chat with me to comment on the post. I got quite a few comments and DM's. Since then I've had 10+ coffee chats . I've enjoyed the process. I've had great conversations talking about things like data, pets, and weightlifting. It's been fun meeting new people and getting to know my connections better.
This post is a guide to all things coffee chats. I'll be answering common questions about coffee chats:
What is a coffee chat?
Why do coffee chats?
How to ask someone for a coffee chat?
What to cover during a coffee chat?
Along with a few other tips for conducting coffee chats.
First we have to answer the question.
What is a coffee chat?
An informal conversation (outside the office) between two people who know each other professionally. It's a way for people to network with each other. It can either be in person getting actual coffee (or lunch) or virtually using an app like Zoom.
Why do coffee chats?
These are my personal reasons and what I've heard from other people as well.
It's a way to get to you know your network better, build actual (professional) relationships
Meet new people
Learn about new opportunities
But if you're looking for specific benefits here are a few:
Practice talking to people,
I see it as a low risk "interview"
Get used to connecting with people and forming rapport with someone you've never met
Able to converse with someone completely new and try to find something you have in common
You never know what could come of a coffee chat. Maybe a job opportunity or a new client. Even if none of these happen, it's still good to practice meeting and talking with new people. You may also gain a friend.
How do I ask someone for a coffee chat?
Okay, now you want to try a coffee chat. But the biggest barrier I see for many people is how to ask others. Do you ask, "Hey [name], do you want to have a coffee chat?". Or should you send a lengthy email? For me I do most of my coffee chats via LinkedIn. I use the direct messaging in LinkedIn to ask my connections. But feel free to email the person, call them, or ask them in person.
With any one of these I like to include three things:
Why I want to have a coffee chat with them. Is it because of their content they create? Their career or the company they work at.
Our connection to each other. Mention what we may have in common, how we know each other, or how we've interacted with each other.
Directly ask them for a coffee chat. At the end of the message, call, etc. ask them if they want to have a coffee chat. Give them a time frame for how long it will take, for me it's 15-30 minutes.
Below is a general template you can use for coffee chats. A few things to note. Make sure to keep the tone friendly and professional. Also, keep the message short. Write a few lines of why you want to chat with them, then ask to chat. People are busy and it's better to be concise.
Below is a template for a person who is relatively new in your network.
I enjoy your [content, posts, comments]. I especially liked your [comment, post, article] about [topic]. [Write something about what you like about their content/comments: writing style, voice/tone, topics, knowledge]. I would love to have a coffee chat with you, about 15-30 minutes. No worries if you don't have time though.
Here is a template for a person who I've known for a while. I've interacted with their content several times.
We've been connected for a while. I've enjoyed your [content, posts, comments]. Thanks for your [comment/message/engagement] on my [post, article]. Always appreciate your support. I especially liked your latest [post, comment] about [topic]. I'd love to have a coffee chat, about 15-30 minutes and talk some more.
This is a general template to help you get started. Change it up, make it personable. Add your own flair to it. And don't feel too dejected if someone refuses, it happens.
What tools do I use for coffee chats?
Below are the tools of what I use to host my coffee chats and how I schedule them. Note all of my coffee chats have been virtual so far.
Calendly to schedule my coffee chats. It avoids the back and forth between me and the person trying to schedule. But if Calendly doesn't work I will send dates/times that work.
Google Meets to have my video chats. It's free and unlimited time for one-on-one chats. With Calendly it automatically sets up a meeting. Getting rid of the need for me to go back and manually set up every meeting. Quick note, the reason why I don't use Zoom is because I use it exclusively for when I tutor students.
Evernote for taking notes during the coffee chat. I generally always like talking notes, even if it's basic. This is useful not only to remember what we talked about but also great for follow up coffee chats. I can refer to my notes about what we talked about.
As for the actual day of the coffee chat. I send the person a message on LinkedIn to confirm our meeting. I send the message about 1 hour to 30 minutes beforehand.
Alright we've scheduled our coffee chat and have the right tools. But what do we cover in the coffee chat?
What to talk about?
Generally I let the coffee chat flow naturally like any conversation. But there are a few things I like to cover every time I chat with someone:
How did you get started in your career?
What did you study in school (if they went to college)?
How they got into their field
How did you get started in their career?
How did you find out about [their job position]?
What do you like to do outside of work?
What are your hobbies?
Now on a few things not to ask. Generally how you do these coffee chats are up to you. But here's a few things you should avoid:
Don't include a sales pitch, especially if you weren't upfront about it
Don't ask someone for a job
Keep it professional, this is not a dating site.
Other questions/topics to discuss (these came from comments in my post about having coffee chats and asked others for their conversation topics)
What you've learned recently
Side hustle ideas
Their routines to keep their domain/technical knowledge up to date
What keeps you motivated for your goals?
Asking if there's a way you can help the person
The Actual Coffee Chat
As for the actual coffee chat. There's not to much to say except enjoy yourself. Listen to the other person and genuinely try get to know the person. It should be a conversation, not a monologue by one person. Make sure to show up on time or early. If it's virtual test your equipment beforehand and make sure you have a quiet (if possible) environment. Dress reasonably professional. The clothes can be casual. But don't dress like you just got home from a workout or are going to the beach.
Here are some other things to keep in mind
Figure out where to host it you're going to host it: online using zoom, Google meets, Microsoft teams, etc.; the phone; or in person.
Make sure to specify which time zone you are in. You don't want to schedule a call for 5:00pm PST when the other person thought it was 5:00pm EST.
Be personable and human but remember this is a somewhat professional meeting. Treat it as such. You aren't talking about the latest gossip with your best friend.
As a note for common courtesy don't go more than 1.5 times the meeting time (Megan lieu said that in her coffee chat). For example if the meeting was supposed to only go for 30 minutes don't go past 45 minutes. Respect other people's time. Have a follow up coffee chat if you feel like you had much more to dive into.
Remember to have professional courtesy
Note: I know not everyone wants to do coffee chat. Nor is this the only way to network with others. Mason Cosby in his LinkedIn post about how he networks with others. He's focused on scale (quantity) rather than having a narrow range of connections. It's not how I like to network but everyone has their own style. This is my guide to those who do like coffee chats and getting to know their connections better.
Advice for Introverts
If you're more introverted like I am. I know that's hard to believe since I'm writing about coffee chats. But here's a bit of advice for you.
Try to meet with people you already know relatively well. Whether it's online like on LinkedIn. People who you talk with frequently. They're more likely to say yes to a coffee chat. Even though you only know them through a professional setting, you will probably feel more comfortable talking to them.
Here's a list of people you can try asking:
Close friend/family member who has an interesting career path
A co-worker who you get along with
On LinkedIn someone whose content you regularly interact with
Or if you're really brave. Try seeing if anyone in your network is actively asking for coffee chats. Like on LinkedIn. Like I did in my post where I was seeking out coffee chats with people. This works better for people with a larger network (500+ connections) Since they asked they will likely say yes and can help drive the conversation.
You don't need to have coffee chats forever. But try to commit to doing a few maybe 3 or 4 with some of your connections that you know better. Or commit to having at least one or two coffee chats every month with a connection. Another tip is to make sure you set your boundaries. Don't feel like you have to schedule a bunch of coffee chance because it's the most "productive thing to do". This isn't supposed to be torturous, you should have fun and enjoy the conversations.
After all this is another networking tool but it's not the only way to network.