Ask (for Coffee),
and Ye Shall Receive

By Brenna Pavey

Last year I found myself contracting for a client in a position I knew was too good to be true. The hours and pay were great, but the prospects for future projects weren’t, and there was zero security. Sure enough, the contract ended on short notice, and I found myself without work in a city that’s all about who you know, where jobs for people of my age, experience and salary level are simply not advertised.

I’d been in Perth for about 15 years, and thus far I had never gotten a job by applying for one. Even as an immigrant, I had always found my next gig through someone I knew. At first, I dreaded the thought of pounding the pavement, but I knew to trust in my networks.

So I got on the horn, so to speak, via email, text message, social media, and the good old-fashioned telephone. My overture to both existing and new contacts was simple, but not overly narrow: I’m a communications person with a diverse background and skill set, and I’m looking for something new.

To my surprise, I soon found I was excited about pursuing new connections on the recommendations of people I knew. Everyone had a unique angle when it came to communications, and their own backgrounds and experience were all fascinating. Among the new connections were:

  • A labor force expert with insights automation
  • An environmental scientist consultant
  • An art director
  • An HR expert
  • A market researcher who switched careers by investing in a drone start-up
  • A professional musician whose performing arts company was struggling with its own success

None of these people would appear to have anything in common, but over dozens of coffees in about three months, some themes began to emerge:

  • People are happy to connect you with people they know if they see you are genuine, honest, and interested
  • People are generally flattered when asked for their advice and wisdom
  • Nobody said I was crazy when I said I wanted to aim high rather than settle in a sluggish economy
  • Relevant wisdom can be found in everyone’s experience or advice

You may not be looking for a job, but you should always be looking for new connections. Here are some tips on where to look and how to approach these connections with the right mindset.

Look for Connections in Unexpected Places

When we think about networking, we often think of formal opportunities like luncheons and conferences. But there are two unexpected places you shouldn’t overlook.

First, forget schmoozing over lunch at expensive conferences. Just talk to people: parents on the playground, fellow volunteers, ex-colleagues, the woman next to you in the checkout line.

Don’t ask for anything. Just be interested in what other people do and say. I have no experience with drones, but I know my kid likes flying them, and I think they are becoming extremely important.

Second, use LinkedIn. I never thought I’d be proud to be a super-user of LinkedIn, but there is a lot of value in those second- and third-hand connections, especially when searching in specific industries.

Want some inside dirt on a job you’ve applied for but can’t get past the recruiter? Type in the name of the hiring manager’s title, and you might get a hit. Did you know LinkedIn offers a free mentor-matching service? I’ve had coffee with three local mentors in different industries whom I would not have met otherwise.

Be bold. Be prepared. Be patient.

Be bold. If you put forward a clear purpose for a meeting with someone, without asking for anything but their time, they will most likely be candid, interested, and helpful. A meeting with one person can lead to a handful of new introductions, each of whom inspires a new idea to pursue.

Be prepared. If the person you’re meeting with has an online presence, do your research beforehand. At the meeting, take notes to show your interest, remember key information for later, and remind yourself of this connection if need be in the future.

Be patient. It’s unreasonable to expect that one meeting will land you a job or a sale the next day, but the networking will work. Trust the process, and you’ll know your network is working for you when you get a call out of the blue.

A couple months into my process, I was somewhat reluctantly enjoying a holiday weekend on a nearby island. Because I hadn’t yet found a new role, I felt I didn’t deserve to watch the stunning sunset when I got a call from my HR friend. She said she had a great contact for me, and she was right. My first interview was over the phone, and the second over – you guessed it – a coffee. Although this chapter is incomplete, it has the makings of a dream job. At the very least, it will be another fantastic addition to my network.

Brenna Pavey is a strategic communications specialist based in Perth, Western Australia. Originally from Los Angeles, she has worked as a wordsmith, project manager, lobbyist, change agent, and tech strategist in a range of sectors, from tourism and banking to energy and the public service.

Brenna has an MBA from the University of Western Australia and a BA from UC Berkeley.

Brenna Pavey