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Advice / Job Search / Networking

3 Common Mistakes Ambitious People Make During Coffee Meetings

I’m sure you’ve lost count of the number of times you’ve heard that you should reach out to your network when you’re looking for a job. The people you know might be able to introduce you to a hiring manager, or they might have some knowledge about your field that would help you become a better candidate, or they might be hiring themselves.

However, there are a few ways your requests could actually be annoying people. Here are some common mistakes people make before they even sit down for that seemingly innocent cup of coffee.

1. You’re Not Doing Enough Research

It’s always a good idea to take a peek at someone’s LinkedIn profile, social media, or blog (if one exists) to make sure that you know what he or she’s been up to lately. It’s an even better idea to include a detail or two in your networking request. But if you’re not careful, you could end up making that person laugh—and not in a good way.

In a recent request that I received, the person who wanted to pick my brain made some wild guesses about when I finished graduate school. I probably would’ve missed this in a lot of cases—but in this instance, the person asking for a meeting was someone with whom I graduated.

While this isn’t a complete deal-breaker, make sure you double (and triple) check every networking request email you send before you mistakenly point out something that’s not true or wildly outdated.

2. You’re Asking Your Contact to Do Too Much Work

Many people I know tend to be pretty open to getting together for networking purposes—even when they don’t know the other person very well. In some cases, my friends will say to themselves, “Well, I usually step out at that time for coffee anyway, so why not?”

You shouldn’t be afraid of asking to meet up, but be careful not to ask for too much. Think about how you might feel if someone you haven’t heard from in a long time said, “I’d love to pick your brain about how to become a full-time writer. Please review my resume, cover letter, three writing samples, and my college transcripts before our meeting.”

You probably wouldn’t be super motivated to meet with that person—so keep that in mind when you’re coming up with your “ask.”

3. You’re Beating Around the Bush

I can’t think of anyone in my network who enjoys reading emails that don’t get to the point as quickly as possible. When it comes to meeting for coffee or lunch to discuss an opportunity, these emails should be relatively short and sweet.

I’ve gotten a few that’ve danced around the fact that the sender wanted something from me, and each time I’ve been equal parts amused and irritated. “Why doesn’t he just ask me to meet? I would say yes if I knew that’s what he wanted,” I always say to myself. Even if you haven’t spoken to the person you’d like to chat with in ages, don't worry—it’s perfectly okay to send a brief email.

How short? Try this on for size.

Dear Rich,

Hope you’ve been well! I know it has been a while, but I was wondering if you’d be willing to let me pick your brain about a career in writing. I’ve been keeping up your work via LinkedIn and have been so impressed with all your articles. Please let me know what would work for you!

Your Name

That’s it. If you send something even shorter and it makes sense, that’s fine as well. Don’t write full-length novels when you want someone to meet for coffee. You’ll get brownie points for, well, getting to the point sooner.

Getting the chance to talk to someone about a potential job opportunity or increase your knowledge on a topic is something that you should always pursue. However, you also need to be smart about how you approach people. If you’re not careful, your requests will start to fall on deaf ears on a regular basis. And that would be a shame, because even though these mistakes are subtle at times, they stick out to someone who has a busy calendar and has to be selective about the types of networking inquiries they entertain.

Photo of coffee meeting courtesy of John Wildgoose/Getty Images.