How to tell a good Coffee Chat from a Bad one?

I just had a Coffee Chat with a Project Leader at BCG, and while I thought well I can help but feel a sense of doubt that I maybe messed it up. I was confident in my answers albeit a little fast but I’m a fast talker so I don’t think I can really knock myself there. I asked about various experiences the Project Leader had at BCG, clients, experiences around the surrounding areas, and like places they’d traveled. We went for a good 20+ minutes but I still have this thought that maybe I messed something up and I’m not sure what I should have done or even how I should approach this in such a way that my resume gets moved up in the stack and everything.

Not consulting so take it with a grain of salt, but I've found the most successful IB coffee chats I've had we talked a lot about our hobbies and personal lives.

From the receiver's side, I of course am very happy to answer questions you have, that's why I'm there in the first place. But I admittedly remember best the people I got to know a little more during the chat.

As for referrals, I'm pretty adamant on testing them first, at least once. At the end of the day, it goes back to the old question: would I want to work with them? Simple.

For sure, I tried to a genuine interest in the specific sector the receiver and the kind of work and hobbies they had. Actually, Id never been to the city of the BCG Office I'm targeting so I tried to steer the conversation in such a way that I got to learn from the person I was setting the Coffee Chat with to get their recommendations as well as maybe share a hobby of mine which I wanted to kinda take to the next level at the Office. 

How have you seen people do a good job with that? I also tend to ask a question, get a response, repeat. Occasionally, if I relate to something they say I try to throw in something I’ve experienced. Also at the beginning of a call there’s usually a little back and forth where I talk about myself more. But, the bulk of the call is me asking about their experience at firm, casework, travel, culture, future goals, etc.

Most Helpful

A few things, certainly I pay attention to whether you:

  • know what questions you want to ask (usually a no brainer)
  • are actively listening (some people ask something and then are already waiting to ask the next one without paying attention to what you're telling them, which you can normally tell)
  • try to relax (being nervous is normal, but you should be able to get over it quickly; otherwise I'd be concerned how you'd react in a team meeting with partners and with clients)
  • are interested in more than just "the work" (I know that work isn't your whole life, so don't act like it's the only thing you'd care about and ask about the people & culture too)
  • ask things you individually care to know / which matter to you (is there a football/soccer team I could join? is there an affinity group for XXX? can you manage personal sustainability goals like gym/book club/charity/ etc. while working?)

And finally, but that one is just for me personally so I can also enjoy the 20-30mins chat, is I hope you have a bit of a sense of humour and don't take yourself too seriously. I'll usually try to break the ice first by making a few funny comments to try and help you relax. Now, the person may not respond to it for a variety of reasons (it's just not their day, they're stressed at work/uni, they just don't find me very funny [ouch, but I get it..]), but at least I hope they don't take themselves too seriously and aren't arrogant.

I don't care if they have a perfect score from Harvard and are on every dean's list in the world, I'm not helping someone who feels entitled.

EDIT: After re-reading myself, I'd like to clarify that I am not expecting anyone to come to a coffee chat to "entertain" me and make me laugh. I'm usually just trying to lighten the mood in an effort to make the other a bit more comfortable and show them it's still just a job. It's great if I can also enjoy my half hour during that time, but by no means does it affect the answers I give or my demeanor towards them. Figured I'd clarify.

A few thoughts:

1. Be upfront with why you want to meet. Are you looking to learn more about the firm? Applying and want to understand how you can best stand-out? It's amazing how many people reach out to me for a "coffee chat" and never actually say why they want to connect.

2. It's ok to lead with general open-ended questions, but make sure you eventually funnel into specific closed-end questions.

3. Be yourself - as others have said, inject some personality into the conversation. No one wants to speak with a drone. Don't take it too far and start cursing and telling off-color jokes but also be yourself and try to establish common ground with the person you're speaking with.

4. Don't just ask objective questions - ask what the person THINKS about the topics you raise and show you value their opinion. People love to talk about their opinions so, yes, it's a bit pandering but also a good way to get people to open up.

5. Don't ONLY ask questions. I hate Q&A - it's rough, it's course and it gets everywhere.

6. Tell a story. This doesn't have to be prose - you can leverage an effective question guide that tells a narrative. Make that narrative about you, your interests and why you're best suited for the job. Anticipate answers and connect them to your interests and, more importantly, make it a conversation (see #5 above).

Hope this helps!

It does, honestly after the first one I got it down. I was just nervous cause it was a Project Lead. I had a chat with an Analyst at McKinsey and an AC at Bain and those were WAY more fun. I could ask them about UVA since I just got accepted as a transfer and then I was able to really get to know about them a ton and everything. It was just classic intimidation from the title. But Coffee Chats are super fun and I really wanna schedule more, haha.

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