So you’ve set up a coffee meeting with a cold connection – now what?! Cue the panic! Have no fear, I have some tips on how to prepare. While networking during the job search, each meeting is about two main things: learning from the other person, and telling your story.
First, the outcome you are after is to learn as much as you can from the other person – about them, their career process, their industry. Second, you want to share what you are all about. Doing the prep work before each meeting will ensure you nail it each time.
- Do your research about the person.
This is probably the most important of all the steps. Google the person you’re about to meet and make sure you have an idea of what they look like. It doesn’t go over well to be asking everyone in a coffee shop if their name is Jenna. Next, review why you wanted to meet this person in the first place. What interests you about this person or the company they work for? Focus on what you’re hoping to learn from this person. Make a list of some of the projects this person has done in the past and jot down some questions you have about them. Be sure to have a minimum of 4-5 questions you’d like to ask this person, in case they throw this question at you: “So, how can I help?”.Understand this person’s career history and their stance on issues within their industry. A scan of this person’s social media platforms should help. What’s on their LinkedIn profile? Have they authored any articles elsewhere – perhaps in earned media (Maclean’s?) or on their own blog? Where did they go to school? When you ask to meet with someone, I think there is a general expectation on the receiving end that you know a bit about this person. If what they are telling you comes as a surprise to you, they will probably notice. Of course, you won’t be able to find out everything worth knowing about them, and you shouldn’t! If you ask the right questions, you should find out interesting facts about them.
- Do your research about the industry.
After you’re comfortable with the individual, review the latest news articles about the industry in question. If this person works in consulting, scan the company website and see what they have been up to. See if this industry has been involved in any recent conferences if there has been anything mentioned about them in the media. Who is in this space and what have they been saying?
- Know your skills and how to talk about them.
In my career process, I branded myself in having four ‘core’ skills. For each of these four skills, I had two example stories of each. I had memorized these skill stories in advance so that if asked, I could call them up in an authentic way. When the space in the meeting presents itself to showcase what you can do, you have to be ready. This is a common way for the question to come about: “What do you want to do?” or, “What kind of opportunities are you looking for” “What are you up to nowadays?”. This is an inquiry into you. When you hear something about this there must be an alarm in your head that says: Okay, go! It’s your time to shine.In the past, I’ve said, “I’m looking for a role where I can lend my skills to making Canada a better place to live. I have strong research, critical thinking, and project management skills. I’m hoping to use my skills to make a positive change in the policy community.” This is a bit vague, but just the beginning of this part of the conversation. From here you expand, using the stories that illustrate your skills to tell the person more about your strengths.
- Get comfortable with the STAR method.
Perhaps it’s cliché, but it works. When you’re talking about your stories (your lived experience), follow the situation-task-action-result methodology (STAR) closely. This keeps your talking focused and to the point. I recommend keeping your stories to under two minutes or less each. Give room for the other person to inquire about anything else further, but otherwise, don’t ramble.
- Be prepared to take notes.
Bring a pen and paper with you, without a doubt! If you’ve met with someone to learn from them, it only makes sense that you would jot down things they say. It’s highly likely this person is going to give you advice, tell you something interesting, mention someone you should know, or something you should read. I recommend doing this even if you’re convinced you have a good memory, it sends a message to the person on the other side that you value what they are saying.
I’d love to hear if these tips jive with your own experience – how have your ‘cold meetings’ gone in the past? Is there anything you wish you’d done differently or prepared for? Let me know in the comments section, below.