How to Master the Coffee Meeting

Keep the first rule of networking in your mind at all times: building trust.

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Looking to get insight into how a company hires? Invite someone who works there to have coffee with you. By meeting in an informal setting you can pick her brain and learn valuable tips that may better position you for a job offer.

Your goal in having a coffee meeting isn’t to ask for a job. Instead, you want to build a relationship with this person. Ask for insight into what her company looks for in an employee. You’ll likely uncover some useful bits of information that you can use to craft your cover letter and resume when applying for a job with the company.

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How to Have a Coffee Meeting

After you meet someone who works at a company you’re interested in, follow up with an email. Just say how nice it was to meet her, and that you’d like to stay in touch.

Work to build the relationship. It’s your job to provide value in the ongoing communication. Here are some ways to do that:

•    Send her a link to an article you think she might like.

•    Reference a conversation you had in-person. Maybe she asked if you knew a great hairdresser, and you want to refer her to yours.

•    Retweet her interesting Twitter updates and engage in communication on social media and other channels.

Your goal here is to build trust. Show that maintaining a professional relationship is mutually beneficial by providing value to your contact. When you think the relationship is progressing, offer to take her to coffee. Let her know that you’d love some tips on what her company looks for in employees.

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At the Meeting

Your meeting doesn’t have to be over coffee. You can also do lunch, but many people find it awkward to talk and eat at the same time, so keep this in mind. Since you did the inviting, it’s your role to pay for the coffee! Try to find a quiet corner so that you can easily talk.

As for the conversation, keep it light. While it’s fine to let her know you’re looking for a job, do not push for a referral or help. Think about what you want to know about the company. Ask what some of the qualities are of people she’s worked with.

You can also ask for advice on how you can beef up your resume to be a better fit and what characteristics make successful employees at her company. Getting the inside scoop on what makes someone successful can help you highlight areas in your resume specifically for a position with the company.

After the Meeting

Follow up with a thank-you card in the mail. Thank your contact for her time. Consider sending it in the mail. People get handwritten letters so rarely, you’ll be sure to make a great impression with yours.

Stay in touch via email. Put it on your calendar to check in with her every few months or every quarter just to see how things are going.

And while, sure, you’d love for your contact to help you get your next job, don’t make that your sales push. She very well may offer to give you a referral, but don’t rely on it. Use the information she’s given you to help you find the best approach to take in applying for a job at her company.

[See 6 Networking Tips for Your Job Search.]

The more you grow your network, the wider net you cast. Keep the first rule of networking in your mind at all times: building trust. Be smart about networking and start it long before you’re desperate to find a new job. The longer you nurture your relationships, the more fruitful they will be when you really need them.

Lindsay Olson is a founding partner and public relations recruiter with Paradigm Staffing and Hoojobs, a niche job board for public relations, communications and social media jobs. She blogs at LindsayOlson.com, where she discusses recruiting and job search issues.

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