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What is a Coffee Chat?

A coffee chat, sometimes known as an informational interview, is an in-person (or nowadays, virtual) meeting with a professional to help you learn more about a specific company, industry, or the individual's career path and role. Coffee chats are not only one of the most common means of expanding your network but can also help you gain valuable insights and advice as a budding professional. In finance recruiting, candidates often request coffee chats with professionals as it is one of the best ways to learn about the day-to-day activities of working a specific job, and also allows candidates to show their commitment to and interest in the firm or position, thereby increasing their chances of landing an interview. A reasonable goal is to have at least 5 coffee chats for each firm you're interested in applying to.

Coffee Chat Best Practices

  • Do your homework: Before the coffee chat, make sure you do your research on the person you're meeting and their firm – visit their LinkedIn profile, know what about the firm stands out to you and makes you want to work there, and  bring a notepad and pen to take notes. You may also want to have your 'elevator pitch' ready, which will help you answer the "tell me about yourself" question confidently.

  • Plan ahead: If your coffee chat is in person, make sure you plan your travel accordingly so that you arrive at least 5 minutes before the appointment. It may also be helpful to get your contact's phone number as trying to communicate via email in case of an unexpected situation while traveling can be tricky.

  • Be engaged: Come prepared with lots of questions and seem eager to learn more about the firm and the professional's job. Nod your head and smile as they speak, and maintain good eye contact (but don't stare!) throughout.

  • Follow up: After the conversation, be sure to send a follow up email to the professional thanking them for their time and advice. Throughout the coming months, you can also keep them posted on your recruiting progress.

What to Ask During a Coffee Chat?

Coffee chats are supposed to be casual – they are not formal interviews. That being said, it's normal to feel a little nervous about them. Here are some questions to help you get started:

  1. Could you tell me a little bit about yourself and why you decided to join XYZ firm?

  2. What first got you interested in finance?

  3. What types of internships or work experiences did you have before your current job and how have those experiences helped you?

  4. Is there a formal mentorship program at the firm?

  5. Could you speak a little bit about the culture of your firm?

  6. What are some commonalities you see throughout top performers at your firm?

  7. What are some skills or character traits that you've found in those who excel?

  8. What has been your favorite professional experience so far?

  9. What are some of the challenging aspects about your job?

  10. What advice do you have for me?

While these questions should help you keep the conversation alive, they should most definitely not be your "end-all-be-all" list of questions and you should certainly add your own questions to the list. At the end of the day, you have to remember that you are having a conversation, so make sure the questions you ask have some sort of natural or logical progression and are related to one another. If the professional says something that piques your interest, dig deeper and ask follow-up questions. Feel free to guide the conversation towards whatever it is that interests you or that you would like to learn more about.

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