Can I Buy You A Coffee?

By Gerald Walsh ©

When you are looking for a job (or to change jobs), it makes sense to reach out to potential employers to build your network, learn about possible opportunities, and obtain valuable career advice.

The problem is that many job seekers are approaching this step the wrong way and are unsuccessful in getting meetings that could help their career.

Let me give you a couple of examples of what not to do.

Here are two emails I’ve gotten recently, from people I do not know:

I was recently laid off by my former employer and am now in the job market. Can I buy you a coffee and pick your brain for 30 minutes?

Since executive searches and career coaching is how my staff and I earn our livings, my mind automatically goes to: Is 30 minutes of my time only worth $2? Surely this person didn’t mean to send the message that they value my time that way.

Or this email …

A friend of mine suggested that we get together for coffee. I just finished my MBA and am looking to make a job change. Is there a time we could meet at [ABC] Coffee Shop? My treatJ

This person asked me to drive to a coffee shop that is about 15 minutes away. Then, spend time to meet so I could help her with her job search. Sorry, but this meeting is not going to happen. I don’t care if it’s her treat or not.

So what approach should you take to get meetings with people who can help in your job search?

First, forget the coffee. The phrase, “Let’s get together for coffee” is a friendly gesture that we use a lot. Coffee chats can be nice but can be a turn off for people you do not know well. Also, some people don’t drink coffee.

Get an introduction from someone you both know. Try to identify a mutual contact and ask that person to make the introduction. Your chances of getting a meeting if you use this approach will improve greatly. .

Ask for a limited time commitment. Since time is finite, you are asking them to take time away from their main job, their family, or something else they could be doing instead of meeting you. Keep your request reasonable. 20 minutes is a respectable amount of time.

Be accommodating. Seek a face-to-face meeting but, if that fails, ask for ten minutes of their time on the phone. Offer to speak early morning, late in the day, or while they are driving home—whatever works for them.

Never tell the employer how they will benefit from the meeting. There is no disguising the fact that you are asking for their help, and you should not suggest that they will benefit from the meeting. Acknowledge that their time is valuable and how grateful you are that they would consider meeting you.

Be specific in your request. For example, if you are new to an area and looking to make connections, find people who have made successful transitions themselves and can give specific advice on how they did it.

Similarly, if you are thinking about furthering your education to boost your career, find people who have returned to school mid-career and gotten a new job or promotion from that advanced education.

Do something thoughtful first. Attend a talk the person is giving and tell them how much you learned from it. Send along an article about their industry from an academic or business journal. One person I know—a social media specialist—wrote 20 tweets for the company’s Twitter feed and sent them along with his request to meet. You might also commit to ‘pay it forward’ when you are in a position to help others.

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One last thing. Your approach needs to be convincing when reaching out to somebody who has no vested interest in meeting. Demonstrating that you are grateful for their time is the most important thing you can do to increase your chances of getting someone’s time.

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Gerald Walsh is an executive recruiter, career coach, public speaker and author. He is the author of “PINNACLE: How to Land the Right Job and Find Fulfillment in Your Career. You can follow Gerry on Twitter @@Gerald_Walsh