The Coffee Chat Preparation That Makes Michigan Ross Students The Best Interns
By Allison Kurlak, BBA ‘17
This is the third in a series of posts authored by Michigan Ross Career Services Peer Coaches. Peer Coaches are undergraduate students working with Career Services to help their fellow students prepare for interviews and on-the-job success. To see the full series, click here.
Coffee chats will be a big part of your internship experience, so knowing what they are, how to use them to their biggest benefit, and even who should pay, is going to be essential to your internship success.
Generally, a coffee chat is a term used for informal networking (this could also be referred to as a “one on one,”) when you reach out to someone at your company and ask to meet with him or her to learn more about his or her roles/experiences. Typically, but not always, this is done while having coffee.
During my summer internship at J.P. Morgan Asset Management as an Investment Management Marketing Analyst, I utilized coffee chats to network with individuals from the marketing department as well as the company as a whole - and I learned some things along the way that I want to share with you.
- Ask for referrals, and don’t be afraid to meet with people outside your internship department.
- When reaching out in an email, be clear, detailed and respectful.
- Come prepared with a statement about the purpose of the meeting, and have a variety of questions ready to ask. In addition, come prepared to answer questions about yourself and why you are interning at the company.
- Generally, each person will pay for their own beverage; do not assume that the individual with whom you are meeting will pay for your drink.
Ask For Referrals and Get Around
When I first started my internship, I asked my manager who she believed were key people to meet with over my summer. She gave me a list of names, but also encouraged me to do my own research and look up people with interesting backgrounds or experiences.
She emphasized meeting people in all parts of asset management. Talking with a broad range of people was important. Coffee chats are a great way for you as an intern to understand other parts the company and determine where you best fit.
Halfway through my internship, I realized I had mostly had coffee chats with individuals from different parts of the Investment Management Marketing department where I worked, so I decided it was a good time to branch out. I asked to be connected with people in different departments by utilizing relationships I had already developed from previous coffee chats.
How to Reach Out
When reaching out to employees, you can start with more recent college graduates, as these individuals will be closer in age and can provide advice on transitioning into the workplace from college.
At least, that’s where I started before I began to reach out to upper level executives. Starting with the managing director or upper level executive on your assigned team is a good next step. Typically reaching out to and scheduling meetings with managing directors involves setting up a meeting with his or her administrative assistant. Reach out to this individual first, explaining you would like to set up a meeting with the upper level executive.
Once I was provided a name, I reached out using the following email format:
- I stated I was an intern and gave my current role.
- I stated who referred me to the individual.
- I showcased my interest in learning more about the individual’s role/experience.
- I asked for their best availability within the following week or weeks.
Since you are asking for someone else’s time, it’s important to stay respectful and not get ‘pushy’ or impatient with regard to the timing or to meeting at all.
Almost all the people I reached out to responded and were happy to meet. After meeting with individuals from other departments and hearing about projects they were working on, I better understood how Investment Management operates across departments.
Now let’s talk about coffee chat logistics:
- Location: Once an individual agrees to meeting and provides a time, follow up with a calendar invitation via the company's software and add a location. Locations can include a coffee shop or cafeteria in the building. If the building does not have one of these, I suggest asking your manager in the beginning of your internship a good place to meet for coffee chats.
- Questions: When you go to meet your coffee chat “date,” come prepared with questions to ask. Try to vary questions for every coffee chat you have-- you do not want to be known for asking the same questions at every meeting. The individual you meet with will want to get to know you as well. Be yourself and genuine. Sometimes conversations will flow easily and sometimes you will need to refer to your prepared questions. Always start with more general questions then ask follow ups. This will help the conversation flow.
- Sample Questions:
- What brought you to X company?
- How has technology influenced and changed the company since you have been here?
- What is your favorite part about living in X city?
- Who is paying: If you go to get coffee with the individual you are meeting with, do not ask for him or her to pay for your coffee and do not offer to pay for his or her coffee. Most likely the individual will pay, but do not assume. Act like you normally would when ordering, if the individual is paying for you, he or she will say something.
- Number of coffee chats to schedule: This is very dependent on the company you work for and the culture. At J.P. Morgan coffee chats are encouraged and common. I scheduled on average of three to four chats per week. When you first start, feel out the culture and understand what is the norm. I would recommend not over scheduling yourself––you still need to do your work, after all. You also want to avoid networking for the sake of networking; it’s important to stay genuine when coffee chatting.
Overall, coffee chats are a great way to network around your company. By getting your name out there and appealing to a range of people, you can increase your network and the number of individuals supporting you to get the full-time offer. Not only is this an opportunity for individuals to get to know you, but also an opportunity for you to get to know all aspects of the company to understand if it is the right fit for you.
Allison Kurlak is a graduating senior in the Michigan Ross BBA Program and serves as a Career Peer Coach with Ross Career Services. After graduation, Allison will begin work in New York City at J.P. Morgan Asset & Wealth Management as an Asset Management Marketing Analyst.