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Why a Cup of Coffee May be Your Best Career Search Investment


Networking can bring up a lot of emotions for those that may not have a lot of experience. I see this often with young job seekers and those that have worked in one company for their careers. As an introvert, it took me a long time to figure out that networking is not a one-way, job-seeking effort, but an opportunity to build connections and mutually benefit from the relationships and knowledge of others.


Why network? Networking can take many forms, whether you are a job seeker, you are in business development, you are an entrepreneur, or you are looking to learn. When seeking a job, think of these meetings as informational interviews, an opportunity to learn about a specific company, industry, or career path. Start with the question, “what do I want to learn?” That will help guide where to begin your networking. Interested in a specific career path? Reach out to a small group of contacts asking if they know anyone with that kind of experience or utilize a LinkedIn search to find connections with a specific job title in your network. Ask for time to learn more about their career path and get to preparing!


Go with the intention of learning, not getting a job. Too often, early networkers confuse networking with job interviewing. Unlike an interview, you need to be prepared to lead the conversation. What questions will you ask? What information are you seeking about an industry, a field of work, or career advice for your next step? Remember, people love to talk about themselves and their experiences, so dial up the curiosity, ask open questions, and never directly ask for a job.


Consider what you can offer this person in return. Whether you have a networking connection you can make or have knowledge about a certain area or skill you can share, there is likely something you can assist your network partner with. If it’s not clear to you, ask how you can assist them, or leave the offer open to return the favor at some future time.


Virtual coffee, as silly as it may sound, is a thing. Now that most professionals have familiarity with video meetings, set up a virtual meeting with your connection. The great news is your connection can be around the world, or at least in a different metro area, so your network instantly reaches further. In-person coffee may be possible for some meetings and may be more intimate, but it takes more time for each of you so consider asking what works best for your connection. And of course, offer to buy the coffee (or lunch) and offer to meet near their location.


Consider how companies look for candidates. Most companies begin their candidate search looking internally first for qualified candidates, known as promoting within, and then begin to tap networks of those that work at the company. Posting a job onto a job board is not the first place recruiters are looking for talent, so don’t make it your first resource for finding jobs. In the employee-favored job market now there is certainly an abundance of jobs unfilled and posted on sites like LinkedIn, but oftentimes the most interesting and desirable jobs never make it past the networks of those that are close to the job.


Ask who else you should meet with. The definition of a network is a system of interconnected people or things. People know other people, and as you’re wrapping up a chat with someone, don’t forget to ask who else you should meet with. This optimizing of the network broadens your reach and connection rate. Always follow up on the suggestion, even if you don’t know now how this connection makes sense, and you may be pleasantly surprised by who you meet. Don’t forget to close the loop. Remember, your primary contact is opening up their relationship and reputation for you so be respectful and gracious.


“Grabbing coffee” has taken on a different feel this decade. Between pandemic protocols and the ever-increasing pace of work and life, there often doesn’t feel like we have the time or place to meet up across town with a friend of a friend. Why spend an hour of time and money on coffee and gas meeting one person at one company when you can get six job applications at different companies during that same hour? It’s easy, networking connections help educate your career search and are often the key to landing your next career move.

 




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