Who would have thought that coffee would come to be recognized as the Swiss Army knife of professional (and not so professional) networking?
Centuries ago, when the first of Kaldi’s goats nibbled on the nameless red berries, I’m sure the poor goatherd had no clue that the serendipity would eventually give birth to a whole new way for people to build real-life relationships with each other.
Fast forward many centuries; today we are all familiar with what “let’s meet over coffee” means. Well, for one it doesn’t mean you have to drink coffee. It is just an invitation to have a casual conversation about things that might be of interest to both parties. In not too distant past, many conversations that started with that phrase ended up becoming admirable success stories for businesses and individuals.
200 coffee meetings later
This realization came to me a bit late in life. I do not recall considering my first coffee
meeting as a chance to offer or receive something big in terms of career success. If it was a chance at anything, it was a chance to try out a new coffee place. In fact, when I moved to Canada over two years ago, I was like Kaldi; may be worse since I was more akin to a wandering goat than to a herder.
When the VP of Capital Markets at a major bank here suggested we meet over coffee in the next hour and a half, my gut reaction would have been to say “no thanks, I just had my coffee.” But since I had nothing better to do, I decided to give the coffee a try.
In hindsight, everything about my first coffee meeting was great – everything except the coffee. By the time we were finished, I had some actionable advice on how to improve my resume and an offer from the VP to connect me with two executives at his bank in my area of interest.
I have come a long way since that first coffee meeting. Now 200 coffee meetings later, I am the go-to person for advice on where to find the best coffee in Toronto. But more important than that, I have learned the knack of connecting with people at a personal level. Notwithstanding the apocryphal nature of the narrative, I owe a lot to Kaldi (and his goat).
How all the coffee has benefited me
I attended very few coffee meetings as a job seeker. Right after landing a job, I continued the tradition of meeting people over coffee albeit in a bid to offer something of value rather than with an intention to get something. Unexpectedly, it has benefited me in many ways.
- I have been able to hone my leadership and mentoring skills.
- I am in a position to better appreciate human diversity.
- It has been a humbling experience to learn about people’s struggles and I am more thankful for my success.
- I am able to recharge myself and get inspired by the personal stories of perseverance and grit I hear.
- It has helped me make lasting connections with people which I could never have hoped to do through the social media.
- It has helped me connect with people I would not have access to otherwise. This opened doors for me and provided me opportunities that I did not know existed.
- I have become more conscious of my reputation and personal brand.
- My sense of judgement has improved enormously.
Not to mention, I have benefited the coffee businesses by boosting their sales across Toronto.
Why coffee meetings?
If you ask me, here are the seven best perks of grabbing coffee with someone you’d like to know more.
Coffee can connect you with strangers and give you a head start in the networking game. Asking someone for a meeting over coffee at the end of your first conversation is generally acceptable in the business and professional world.
Invites to coffee meetings are less likely to be turned down. Unless the person you are inviting is too gruff to say yes, he or she would most likely ask for a longer time to schedule something but find it hard to say, “No we can’t meet.” Same goes for you as an invitee.
Coffee meetings are midway between formal and informal. This means you have a great deal of flexibility on how to structure the conversation, what questions to ask, what to wear, whether or not to actually have coffee and so forth. Also, depending on the availability of both parties, coffee meetings are much quicker than a formal meeting to set up.
Being outside of the workplace brings out the real you. A more creative conversation happens at a friendly coffee shop than would happen in a meeting room at your office. This is so because you are having a downtime from being under the demands of the workplace. It brings the best in you and you find yourself more open to expressing your whole self through your conversation. The mere semblance of being at a public place takes the pressure off your mind.
They don’t cost you much. Paying for one or two coffees is generally affordable for most people. Considering the benefit you can get from a successful coffee meeting, even buying some extra treats would be worth the money you spend.
You have the flexibility to choose a mutually convenient venue. This is hard to achieve if you are planning to set up a meeting at your or other party’s office. Depending on the strategic value of the meeting for you, offer to meet at a location convenient to the person you are meeting with. This will likely make it easier for them to say yes to your invite.
You have the leeway to engage in a more personal conversation. It is generally acceptable to talk about personal matters as long as you don’t come across as overly intrusive. Conversations that are unrelated to work do the best job at rapport building. This is why coffee meetings offer a better chance at building long-term relationships than formal meetings.
At the same time, let’s not underplay the fact that coffee meetings can be a major waste of time. Based on your professional goals, the career stage you are at, your lifestyle and personal commitments, you need to take a conscious decision as to how many invites you can afford to extend and accept in a week.
Typically, at a younger age and at the rapid growth phase of your career, you should spend a good amount of time grabbing coffee to give a kick of caffeine to your career. At a later stage in your career, being selective makes more sense.
Majid Kazmi is a banking professional, board member, speaker, writer and mentor, based in Toronto, Canada. He frequently writes on topics related to personal and professional success. His detailed profile is available on www.majidkazmi.com.