There are two main reasons as to why you’re engaging in a coffee chat. But, these two reasons must go hand-in-hand. You are doing this because you genuinely want to learn more about this person and their career AND you may be looking to express your interest in working at their company. The question becomes, how do you make a good impression? What do you ask?
It is of utmost importance to ensure the coffee chat is primarily about them. This way, they stay engaged. Who doesn’t love talking about themselves? ESPECIALLY if you are motivated by how they navigated their career. They aren’t going to inherently benefit from this chat and are helping you out, so personalize your questions to them to get the most out of their experience.
For example, instead of asking: “what’s the most challenging part of your role”
You can ask: “given your experience working in both the public and private sector, what have you found to be the most challenging aspect of your role, and does that differ between the two sectors or is it consistent across the board?” Most busy people have a standard introduction that they repeat amongst all coffee chats, therefore, asking questions like these will allow you to move past a surface-level coffee chat.
To bring the two reasons why YOU are coffee chatting with this person together, ensure that you have one clear, specific ask. There was a purpose you wanted to meet for a coffee chat with this busy person, so don't be shy about telling them straight up how they can assist you. Make it as simple as possible for them; they should have a general notion of why you'd like to meet from your email.
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