A few weeks ago I had coffee with a former student. You may think this happens all the time; there are hundreds of former students and coffee is everywhere. And yet, not so much with the all the time.
Whenever I speak to college students, I invite further connection; I declare myself open for coffee or meal dates, I encourage them to e-mail me or contact me through social media. I love the follow-up so much that the part after I speak is almost more fun for me than the speaking. It’s so great to hear individual stories.
With all this opportunity, you would think that my calendar would be, if not full, at least……occupied. Lattes with this young professional, lunch with this other new mom, a walk with someone considering graduate school. But no.
If one of these women ever does reach out to me, as happens every once in a while, I often find myself wishing that someone had given her a few tips on how to navigate the conversation.
So, for future reference, here are my suggestions for “How to Ask a Professional For Anything Related to Career/Life Advice Without Looking Like a Bad Millennial Stereotype:”
1) Reach out directly to the individual you want to meet with, don’t negotiate passively with a proxy go-between. This is not your mom’s informational interview.
2) Briefly request a meeting of no more than an hour at a time and place of their choosing (suggest a few options of locations and times but be clear that they pick).
3) Agree with whatever they respond with, including 7:00 a.m. at Gate 84 in Terminal 2 of the San Francisco Airport.
4) Arrive at least 20 minutes early and scope out a table where there is room to talk without being overheard or cramped. (If you are in fact at Gate 84 in Terminal 2 of the San Francisco Airport, I recommend the Buena Vista Cafe.)
5) Bring enough cash to purchase four full meals, even if you are just getting frozen yogurt.
6) DO NOT look at your phone while you are waiting for them. Instead, watch the actual entrance and stand up as soon as you see the person you are meeting come through the doorway.
7) Initiate; introduce yourself again, strong handshake, thank them profusely for coming.
8) Offer to buy them anything they want from the actual or secret menu (hint: ordering “the largest shake in all the land” at In N Out is a home run).
9) Insist on buying them at least a coffee (they’ll want something to hold/distract themselves from you).
10) Commence with your questions for them.
11) Act fascinated.
12) Say: “Tell me more about………”
14) When there are 10 minutes left, say “I don’t want to take up too much more of your time and I am so very grateful for all of what you’ve shared. Is there anything else you think I should know about……”
15) Shake hands, thank profusely, let them leave first.
16) Immediately send a thank-you e-mail from your phone.
17) Go home and write an old fashioned thank you note; mail within 24 hours.
18) Within three days, Google topics that came up in your conversation; find an article that relates to something that you discussed. Can be a loose connection.
19) Send another e-mail with a link to that article. Add in well wishes for an upcoming holiday/project/goal that they mentioned when you met. Anything from a kids’ birthday to a new product rollout.
20) Find another professional you admire and start at #1