Courtney and I get asked out to coffee all of the time from people who want to “pick our brain.” Let me start by saying that there is nothing more I love doing than being able to give back and help people who are just starting in their career or looking to get into the industry. On the flip side, there is nothing that irks me more than one someone says, “can I pick your brain?” Why is that? Because it’s a lazy way to try and network with someone.
It’s extremely important to reach out to people and try to network, especially when you are just seeking advice but there is a finesse to it that I don’t think a lot of people entirely understand or consider. What I DO want to do, is give some advice on how you should reach out to someone to show that you are intentional and thoughtful – trust me, it will put you leaps ahead.
Do your research:
Just because you graduated doesn’t mean that the research is over my friend! It’s so important to do your research on the person you are reaching out to or the brand/ agency they work for. One time, a girl emailed me and opened her email describing a recent campaign I just did for my full-time job at Small Girls PR. She had been following the campaign and linked to her favorite articles that covered it. I was immediately impressed that she had taken the time to do her research and knew exactly what I had been working on and could ask specific questions. This not only shows that you are able to do research but it shows that you went a step beyond writing a basic copy and paste email (that can very easily get lost in someone’s inbox).
Send a tailored message:
Knowing specifics about the person and tailoring every email is extremely important to catching someone’s interest and actually getting a response. Whether you can say something about where they went to college or commenting on a recent trip you saw they went on via IG, make sure each note is different so you don’t sound like a robot!
Know your “Why” and be upfront about it:
I have gone to dozens of coffee dates where in the middle, I’m basically like “wait, why are we here?” It’s important to think about why you are reaching out to that specific person and to also be upfront about your intentions. Set your objective for the meeting in the outreach email so you both understand what the point of the coffee meeting is. For example, “my objective for this meeting is to gain better understanding of how I can work at XYZ company.”
To get super granular, be as accommodating as possible with your ask and get organized. If that person cannot commit to an hour long coffee, ask if they may be at an upcoming event or panel where you can plan to meet them or even ask for a 15 minute phone call. Once you get a response, immediately ask for their date availability and send them a calendar invite. If you don’t get a response, don’t be afraid to follow-up! More so…NEVER be the one to drop the ball. Someone reached out to me recently and I asked them to send over specific questions so I knew how to tailor the conversation and they never responded to the email. Unfortunately, what this implied is that they simply didn’t want to put the time into actually thinking about questions and rather put the onus on me to lead the conversation. When you are seeking advice – always be intentional.
Come with prepared questions:
Come to a meeting with a list of written down and prepared questions. It will show the person that you have taken the time to organize and prepare your thoughts in order to get the most out of your meeting. The questions should be specific not just “tell me about your career” because that is immediately putting the responsibility on that person. Get granular with your questions like “can you tell me about a specific project you worked on” or “is there a specific course you recommend I take?”
Don’t just take, give:
If you are just starting in the industry and don’t think you have much to bring to the table, you are wrong. Think about what sets you apart from the pack and what your specialty is. For example, say you want to work for a blogger, ask them if they have a specific campaign they have coming up and need some help with a mood board or writing copy for social media posts. Saying something along the lines of “since you are taking the time to do something for me, I would love to do something for you in return.” This shows them that you truly do value their time and effort to help you. You can even take it a step further and offer to pay them in hourly rate for their time. Especially if you are reaching out to a freelancer, that is an hour of time in their day where they could be making money!! I think that is always a bit awkward but it at least shows that you understand and value their time.
Trust me, I have absolutely made my fair share of mistakes when outreaching to people. Especially when I was trying to get into the industry with zero experience, I had no idea the nuances of a cold outreach email and how that could effect my career journey. My advice is to not deter you from reaching out to people…rather the complete opposite! I hope some of these points can put you a step ahead and set you apart! Let me know if you have any questions!