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Can I buy you a cup of coffee?

By UCL Careers, on 8 October 2013

City Business Women Coffee

As a careers consultant it is common to suggest that investigation about the career of interest would be a good idea. One of the absolute best sources of research is people who are already working in your area of interest. In some careers (e.g. academic research, freelance work of any kind), building contacts is absolutely essential.

This suggestion can often met with a look of fear at the thought of approaching a complete stranger for help. So, I wanted to share a few simple tips to make this prospect much easier than you realised. Don’t forget, people like to talk about what they do and offer advice. Networking in various forms is a normal part of the working world.

1)     Offer to buy them a cup of coffee. Just ask for 10 -15 minutes of someone’s time and offer to buy them a coffee. This will really soften the request, it is friendly and will make it seem less like a chore to the recipient. It really does work, and will continue to be useful after you secure employment, where you want to open dialogue with someone that you don’t normally interact with.

2)     Be prepared. Whether you offer to buy a coffee or not, if you have a meeting with someone make sure you have questions ready to ask them. This is critical to getting a good result from the meeting. I have met all too many people who managed to get a meeting and were so excited, that they forgot to prepare any questions and have gotten off to shaky starts!

3)     Make sure you ask open questions. Avoid questions which lead to yes/no questions. Start with What, When, Where, Why, How and you will be in good shape. You’ll learn more and they’ll feel valued. Some ideas:

  1. How did you get into this line of work?
  2. Who is the most successful person at the moment? What do you think they are doing that has led to this?
  3. What is the managing director like? (The values of the person at the top often reflects all the way through the organisation).
  4. How does this organisation promote people?
  5. What do you wish you had known before starting here?

4)     Avoid selling yourself unless you are specifically asked a little about your background. Keep it relatively brief, you don’t want to use up too much of their time. You will make a good impression if you are genuinely there to gather information. If they like you, you can approach them at a later date.

5)     Ask an alumnus. Many alumni are open to being approached about their career experience. Simply log in to https://www.ucl.ac.uk/alumni-community/ with your UCL ID to investigate further.

6)     Exploit your LinkedIn network. I often ask people what they’d say if a friend said “I know someone who’d love to learn about what you do for a living, can you spare them a few minutes?” The answer is almost always yes. Just 100 contacts, who each had a 100 contacts, gives you access to 10,000 possible conversations!! This has to be one of the most powerful uses of LinkedIn.

7)     Share your connection. Don’t forget to let the person you are approaching know if you have something in common. Are you both from UCL, the same LinkedIn group or perhaps you are working on a project in the same field. It will increase the likelihood that they will be interested in meeting you.

And a final top tip from a fellow Careers Consultant: At the end of the conversation, ask if there is anyone that they would suggest would be worth contacting.

Have you ever bought someone a coffee in return for advice of any kind? Or do you have some killer questions to ask? Let us know in the comments below.

– Trevor Bibic, UCL Careers, Careers Consultant

This blog post was originally posted on 8th October 2013.

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