Why people ignore your coffee chat requests and how you can get to yes.
Coffee chats work in a few scenarios and aren't to be discredited. I have been hired twice off of coffee chats that turned into an interview. But in a cold call/email situation asking a busy professional for their time when you don’t even know them typically doesn't go over well.
Coffee chats have a time and a place — but you need to understand when and where
A professional can only hand so many hours of their day over to other people before there is none left. And a coffee request requires a disruption from their workflow, to travel away from their office, the actual coffee date always takes more than 15 minutes after ordering, getting the drinks, having the discussion... in summary: it is too much time to ask for!
So if not coffee, what should I have asked you instead?
Consider also that sometimes a simple email could be the better format. If you have a few questions, it would be a lot easier for a professional to answer them in a schedule gap asynchronously. But be sure to make sure to keep your questions short and to the point.
A short phone call is also acceptable. You can throw more personality and personal touches to a phone meeting. Be to the point with your questions and for personal flair, ask them about themselves more often than you share your own personal or professional anecdotes.
To ask anyone for their time is a big ask regardless of who they are. You can earn more money in life, but you can never get your time back. Asking for somebody’s time is asking for the most precious thing they have to give, be respectful.
So here are 5 tips that could make your ask more compelling
Get an intro through a mutual contact. Use a double opt-in intro.
Point to a specific area of experience that makes them particularly qualified to help. Unfortunately I can’t individually help every person just because they want to go to Berkeley, Harvard, or Y Combinator. But if they want to know what it was like to go from being a Bioengineering major to the Marine Corps, then I start to see how my background is relevant. Be specific.
Present a very specific ask for what you need. If you’re just asking for general business advice, there are millions of other people who can help you better than I can.
If there is value you can reciprocate to the other person, let them know. For many people the knowledge that they are creating a positive impact is enough, but if there is something more, make it known. Even if it’s just a promise to pay the favor forward to others in the future.
Keep your email request short. It should fit on one iPhone screen.
Bonus: Do your research on how the other person likes to meet. Maybe it’s in the evenings, maybe it’s on weekends. Maybe it’s doing a call while they’re driving in to work. For me, it’s going on walking meetings. Do your homework.
Doing the leg work on the above will require you to invest some of your own personal time. You have to do the grunt work. Most people won’t do it, which is why people like me are more likely to say yes to those who do. It’s a signal you really value the exchange.
Keep in mind that these tips will help your chances of getting someone’s time but they are far from a guarantee.
The ability to focus on what is most important and to say no is a valuable skill. It is something to admire. Be respectful of other people’s time and they will be respectful of yours.
Good luck… and I hope this post will help unlock some great opportunities.