The languid, sticky, sunny days of summer aren’t only about lounging at the beach. More daylight brings a more relaxed energy to the office, making it the perfect time to network and reconnect with former colleagues over an iced latte or after-work cocktail. Summer networking can lead to fall hiring so it’s time to tap into the vibe and get busy. But when you ask out your professional date, you better come prepared. And that’s where we can help.

We’re all familiar with the career maxim, It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. This is especially true for women returning to the workforce after taking a career break.  

The people in your network can connect you to job leads and opportunities. They can act as a source of information about the latest trends and developments in your industry. And ultimately, they can be your lifeline between working and not working.

But how you show up to that coffee date can determine what you get out of it.  Below are tips to make the most of that meeting.

  1. Ask yourself beforehand, what’s the specific purpose of this meeting and what do I want to get out of it.  

“Your coffee dates are your investment in going back into the workforce. Am I doing coffee dates for relationship building or to acquire information?” says Nancy Mellard, national leader of Women’s Advantage, an initiative aimed at supporting the female employee base at CBIZ, a professional services firm. When you’re building relationships, you’re putting a support system into place before you start job searching. When you are acquiring information, you are likely looking for leads or exploring how to market yourself. This clarity around why you’re going on this coffee date is important to have so you know what you’re looking to achieve and accomplish. And it can be a little of both.

  1. Prepare for your coffee date like you would a work meeting.

“Knowing what you want and being clear about your objective before a meeting will set you up for success,” says Gretchen Hydo, a Los Angeles-based executive coach. “Take some time to prepare before your meeting. What is your objective? What outcome are you hoping for? Vagueness often derails a conversation. Mentally plan to highlight the areas that you want the other person to see.”

By being focused, you are also making it easier for someone to help you. The more specific you are, the better. The coffee meeting shouldn’t be a fishing expedition where you are all over the place, but rather a more strategic conversation.

  1. Do your research.

Spend time Googling the companies where you are hoping to be hired and be current on any developments at that company and in the industry. Also, spend time researching the person you have asked to have coffee – yes, even if they are your friend. Go on to their LinkedIn profiles, read any pieces that they have published and look at their Twitter feeds to see what they post and comment about. The more information you have, the more prepared you will be walking into that coffee. You always want to impress and you’ll look smarter if you are up-to-date on the most relevant topics.  

“I’m more inclined to help someone out when they really feel passionate about my company and have done their homework,” says Debra Feinberg, a hiring manager at a New York based estate company.   

  1. If you have specific questions, you can give a heads-up when you’re making plans.

When you schedule your meeting, prepare the other person for the conversation. This gives the other person time to prepare a thoughtful answer, rather than being caught off guard.  You can say something like, “John, I am really looking forward to our meeting. I would love to go over ‘xyz’ and get your opinion on the best way to navigate that situation.” If you have an ask, let them know.

  1.  It’s okay to make an “ask” during a coffee date.  In fact, you should but be specific.

“A parallel is that women don’t ask in terms of negotiating for salaries,” says Nancy Mellard. “Women need to be comfortable in asking and saying, ‘I know you have the opportunity to introduce me to these two individuals. If you were willing, could you introduce me? We are so good at sharing resources, so let’s do so in our careers and professional lives.”

And the more specific you are, the more likely your coffee date can connect you to someone who can really help.

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