Isabelle is a recent MBA graduate, specializing in Global Business, Strategy and Product Management. Prior to Stern, Isabelle was a consultant at Accenture specializing in the life science industry. Post-MBA, she is about to start working for Samsung Electronics as a Global Consultant . At Stern, she was involved in the leadership of Asian Business Society, Student government, Stern Technology association, European Business association and as a member of the Latin American Business Association, Stern Women in business and the admissions office as a Graduate assistant.
I came into Stern knowing I wanted to work directly with a product in an innovative field, but like many people who join as first years, I was also looking to learn and explore. While I was secretly hoping someone would be able to tell me my dream job, real life is not that simple – it never really is! But Stern gave me every opportunity to explore.
Even before you start school, you begin hearing about the importance of recruiting. You receive the Ignite prep and begin chugging away. A lot of information is thrown your way but you keep hearing the same two words: Coffee chats.
As someone allergic to caffeine, I was less than enthused by the idea of chatting with someone over coffee. My nerves continued to grow as I pictured a potentially awkward conversation with an industry leader, while I sat there with a cup full of coffee, easing my nerves by pretending to sip every so often to have something to do with my hands. Beyond the awkwardness, coffee chats or informational interviews invoked an image of small talk and desperation. To say the least, these “chats” were not something I was looking forward to.
Now however, I now easily have a coffee chat a day, even after the end of formal recruiting. This change is completely thanks to Stern and the students I recruited with. Almost every alum, student, professor, or professional I reached out to has replied eagerly to share advice, experiences and sometimes (when I was really lucky), even an interview or job opportunity. In an effort to ease your nerves, I thought I would share my learnings about coffee chats!
Rarely any coffee
This may be silly to say or obvious to some, but coffee chats often don’t involve any coffee. Today, many coffee chats today are virtual, and if they aren’t, you are always welcome to get another beverage!
Networking is not a dirty word
Often people feel like networking is superfluous because it conveys that you want something (in this case, a job), but that’s not all networking is. Yes, when you set up a coffee chat, you should be the best version of yourself so that the person on the other side will help you, but the aim of the conversation should be to learn about the person you are talking to- whether that is about the company they work for, their interests, or what they did before. In the end, you should aim for the conversation to be as fruitful for them as it was for you. It is a give and take. My best coffee chats were those in which I was able to share my experience with the industry professionals to help them with their own questions or problems.
As an example, when I was networking with a large bank, I met someone who had the exact position I was interested in. We spoke about the job and the company, but even more so we spoke about what we liked to do, I talked about my community and non profit interests, and they asked me to help them find a way to give back. This person became more than just someone who helped me get an interview, they became someone who I still connect with for advice.
Coffee chats are not always just a one time thing
The goal of a coffee chat should not just be a one-time conversation to learn about the company, it should be about you growing your network. If you are able to form a more lasting relationship with that person, it makes a big difference – not only in recruiting, but in many areas of your life.
Remember, industry professionals are just people
We all often walk into coffee chats nervous and lost. “What do I tell this stranger about myself?” But often, the other person is feeling exactly the same way. They may have just come out of a long meeting or were just concentrating on a task at work. In the end, they have given up their time because they want to be of help, so make sure you come in with questions that will help you most.
I have been and still am on both sides of the coffee chat, and what always goes through my mind is the airport test. Throughout this conversation with this person, have they given me a sense that I would like to spend 5-10 hours with them in an airport if we were to get caught in delays? So remember that the person is human, have empathy, and build a human connection.
Coffee chats are not always conducted one on one
Sometimes, coffee chats during recruiting include multiple people with one industry professional. When this happens, make sure that you stand out in some way. Have a list of questions you want to ask and do your research on the person. Always ask for their contact information and follow up to see if you can get a solo chat.
Lastly, Stern is always there to support us
Every office at Stern comes together to make sure that you are prepared for recruiting. Stern Career services constantly provides you the opportunity for you to make connections, bringing in hundreds of companies to speak with students. The professional clubs like Stern Tech Association and Management Consulting Association lead knowledge transfer sessions and study groups to prepare you. Other students and professors give up their time to practice with you and give you advice. So take advantage of it!
Keeping these things in mind really helped me reform how I looked at coffee chats. Now, everyone is going to have different advice for coffee chats – a former Sternie wrote her advice in 2021 – but mastering the coffee chat is really about understanding yourself and how to present that to the person standing in front of you. These are some tips that helped me feel comfortable while growing my network.
1. Always ask for the coffee chat host’s contact information
Make sure to get their information before the end of the coffee chat and send a thank you note afterward. Often, it is good to ask near the beginning or middle of a group coffee chat, but if you are alone, leave it for the last question.
2. Be genuinely curious
People like to talk about what they are doing – so ask them about it! Make sure to do your research and prepare questions ahead of time. While the conversation can go in any direction, preparation will help you stand out and make the most of the conversation.
3. Look at each coffee chat as a first step
You will rarely only speak to one person at a company. So use each coffee chat as a chance to research for your next one. Ask questions like “what is the biggest challenge your team is facing” or “where do you see the company going in the next year” or “what is the most exciting thing your company is doing?” This way, you hear real-world problems companies face today and will be ready for your next chat and, eventually, interview!
4. Not all coffee chats are evaluative, but you should prepare as if they are
Always research before a coffee chat and show your commitment. You never know how the conversation will impact your future career.
5. Be direct
When you ask for time, be direct in what you hope to speak about so that the person knows exactly why they are meeting with you. You don’t want to use their time asking questions you could have learned on the website!
6. If you have the choice, choose a place in which you are comfortable
Many coffee chats are done virtually now, so make sure you pick a place that you feel most comfortable. If the person gives you the option of an in person chat, take that option because it often leads to better connections. Choose to meet in a place you like that is quiet and also not too expensive, often they will pay out of their own pocket for you.
7. Never leave a conversation without having at least one other person to reach out to
You can not build your network unless you ask for more contacts. I like to ask every person I talk to for 2 other people who I should contact based on the interests I have expressed during our conversation.
8. Be you
As someone who has been on both sides of the coffee chat, it is so easy to see when someone is not being genuine. Remember the airport test- I want to be able to tell if I would like to spend time with you. The more I want to spend time with you, the more helpful I can be.
Just be yourself. I promise you, the other person will appreciate it.