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Ask HN: ”Coffee date” etiquette
75 points by cpach on Oct 30, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 68 comments
patio11 and other people on HN recommend that instead of just responding to job postings and sending out one’s resume, a better way to get a good job is to find hiring managers and meet them over a cup of coffee.

To me this sounds like sound advice. Still, I must admit it would feel a bit weird to ask my peers for their manager’s number and then ask the manager if they want to meet, just ”out of the blue”. Perhaps these customs vary from country to country. (I live in Sweden.)

I don’t know, maybe I’m overthinking this. I guess it’s just as simple as asking and see who will seize the opportunity? Or is there some ”coffee date etiquette” one should be aware of? :) Is it okey to ask someone (my peers) to give out someone else’s (the manager’s) number? 

Also, my occupation is currently not programming, I’m rather targeting sysadmin/application support jobs.

The purpose of a coffee date is to weed out people who don't drink coffee. You wouldn't want to work with such a freak of nature!

You can learn a lot about someone's coffee habits. How much sugar, how much milk. How much... whiskey.

So it turns out I love espresso, but I don't drink alcohol. Does that put me in the "freak of nature" category?

No. You're wonderful. But... don't tell anybody we said that.

    - Shall I put rum in the coffee?
    - Sure.

> - Shall I put coffee in the rum?


Who drinks plain coffee? Latte, espresso, chai - single or double shot - soy or low-fat, the list goes on and on!

I'd say about half the people in the Netherlands drink their coffee "gewoon" ("just")! Add too much milk and it's officially "verkeerd" (wrong). As in, coffee machines in petrol stations have a "koffie verkeerd" button, presumably for foreign truckers from far off lands where they spoil their delicious hot beverage with... (blegh) milk.

Speaking of spoiling delicious beverages with milk, have you heard what the English do to their tea?

If you have tea that strong you are going to want to temper it with some milk.

If you drink good coffee it's amazing all by itself.

Our whole team interviewed a guy at a local restaurant over lunch. Normally the interviewee would order something simple because we'd be grilling them pretty hard... but this guy ordered the yak. What did it mean?!!?

Darn. Never touched coffee myself. People always seem surprised especially when they discover I'm a developer.

- He said with a wide eyed stare, his nose bleeding accompanied by the unrelenting taps of his foot.

We'll just go ahead and assume you don't drink coffee because you're too busy munching on mouthfuls of Adderall tablets like they were Tic-Tacs.

Oh. I think I have a sensitivity to caffeine, because drinking coffee causes an onset of a migraine that I don't like when I'm writing code or managing systems.

Caffeine headaches? You mean the headaches that people get when they try and take away my caffeine and I hit them in the head?

Typically caffeine headaches occur when you stop drinking it.

Some people get a caffeine headache in the morning because they haven't been drinking it while they were asleep.

Yes. Only, I have never been a habitual drinker of coffee. When I started drinking regularly for a short period, I stopped once I noticed the pattern. For me, cheese and chocolate, as well, triggers a migraine.

Chocolate of course has theobromine, similar to caffeine with similar effects. Cheese? Any idea why that might be similar?

Tyramine? Tyramine could be the cause of headaches, especially if MAOIs are involved.

Maybe the common thing that is irritating him is the milk products in Cheese, Coffee and Chocolate.

I have felt that certain dairy products do trigger the migraine. However, milk itself doesn't cause it. I also drink milked-tea regularly without any headaches/migraines.

An interesting hypothesis, undermined if the coffee was black.

We can assume you don't get enough sleep like the rest of us. What are you using then, soda?

Not sure if sarcastic but...some people write code and are well rested.

I often have a cup of tea, but that's often herbal. I rarely ever drink soda. Strangely, I'll still ask people if they want to meet for coffee, even though I don't drink it. It just seems to be the standard beverage for these sorts of things.

I don't drink coffee either. I drink water and unsweetened iced tea. That's about the only things that I drink that is non alcoholic.

My guess would be Mountain Dew or similar

Nope, just water and tea, often herbal. Those are really the only two things I drink with any regular frequency, not counting the milk in my morning cereal.

You must get plenty of sleep then. Good for you!

OP is in Sweden. "To have a coffee" is so common that it's a 4 letter verb (att fika) and they are among the top nations for coffee consumption. So while your point still stands, the number of people you exclude from this request is pretty small...

Or a mormon?

I'd consider that a valid excuse. Barely.

Living in the Morridor, very barely, willingness to adapt their faiths dietary rules to other traditions to is very strongly correlated with willing to work on a diverse team without preaching.

Willingness to "Do coffee", even if they order a soda or hot cocoa, is a great test of this. Similarly how adverse are they to a meetup at a brewpub or somewhere similar.

> Is it okey to ask someone (my peers) to give out someone else’s (the manager’s) number?

I generally get these kinds of invites via either email or LinkedIn. I wouldn't appreciate a cold call.

After that the only etiquette I'd expect is: - ask to meet close to my office, I will not travel. I usually invite people to the office - Expect no more than 30 minutes - You do the running during the meeting - don't expect me to drive the meeting. If it looks like you'd be a fit I'll have my own questions.

I'm Irish/based in Ireland.

I think like everyone is kind of saying here, the key is an introduction/intermediary to get your foot in the door. Even if it's just a friend of a friend. Otherwise, you can always try to e-mail out of the blue but calling is probably a little bit too aggressive. The worst thing that could happen is that someone doesn't reply to your e-mail.

Also, I'd be prepared for this meeting to be not just about you getting a job. Come with a lot of interesting questions to ask the person and make it about them and their company. When they ask about you, casually drop that you're looking for a new gig but don't make a big deal about it at all.

I'm a sysadmin manager in the US. Let's suppose that I have a position open (at http://www.smartleaf.com/careers/) and that you think you're qualified for it.

You could send me your resume and a cover letter. This would be impressive, because very few people manage to do this according to my rigorous demands (plain text or PDF, tell me a story about an interesting technical problem you solved).

Or, if you knew someone at the company, you could talk to them and have them talk to me. I will generally trust their opinion enough to set aside time for coffee with you.

Job Requirement: "You must be: Clever, competent and kind"

I wish more job descriptions were like this one. Straight and to the point, not much fluff or buzzword padding all over the place.

The kindness requirement is awesome and refreshing. I was shocked just how much vitriol gets spewed in an average workplace, directed at customers, fellow employees, inanimate objects. I gravitate towards the people I work with that aren't like that, so specifying 'kindness' right up front is great.

Thanks, I spent a while with the LOPSA discussion mailing list giving great feedback.

I don't want to speak for patio11 or anyone else, but "meeting over a cup of coffee" shouldn't be thought of as "a way to get a good job", at least directly. It's not a replacement for the interview process, anyway, at least at any place of employment that won't fit into a single meeting room. Instead, it's (a) a social occasion where you can (at least pretend) to (b) learn about the employer or industry. (b) is as in, "what would I need to learn or do to be an interesting employment prospect".

For (a), an introduction from someone you mutually know would be best, but theoretically, a cold-call to the tune of, "I would like to know more about X and Y, would you have a few minutes to talk to me," would be appropriate.

The best way to get a job is to get a personal introduction to the hiring manager and build rapport with them. I would not ask for their manager's number. I would ask them to make an introduction. That will carry much more weight. A "Coffee Date" is a common way to have that initial meeting. It is perfectly reasonable to suggest (or have the person introducing you suggest) meeting over coffee. It's just a social nicety that can help break the formality of a first 'interview'.

1. Find an Introduction 2. "Do Lunch" or "Do Coffee" don't call it a "date" 3. Talk about problems that are interesting that you've solved(or that they are solving) 4. ??? 5. Profit!

Ask your peer for an introduction. It's always much better to be introduced by someone the manager knows or respects than via a cold-call. (It plays on association fallacy in your favor)

If you don't know anyone who knows the manager, find their contact information and contact them, informing them you're very interested in the position they have open and you would love to discuss it over coffee. It's not "out of the blue" because they have been looking for someone to fill a position, and you are that someone.

Also, keep in mind that some hiring managers may ignore you or put off meeting/interviewing you until you bug them enough. I was kept in limbo for a couple months once because I was afraid of being "pushy" while they were basically waiting me out.

I always give the same answer to questions regarding social etiquette/propriety: just be normal. Seriously, you're overthinking it. Just be a normal person. Make people comfortable, help them get what they want, and smile. That's all you need. If you think something is weird, it probably is, purely because you'll make it weird by thinking that. Would you want to go on a coffee date with someone who was worried it was a weird thing to do?

Dale Carnegie knew what he was talking about. In general, if you treat people like people, you'll do well.

Great advice!

I’ve seen PG/YC recommend How to Win Friends and Influence People from time to time, so I should probably get myself a copy.

I have had a lot of current/potential candidates ask me to get coffee and I usually avoid it unless a) they come highly recommended from someone I trust and/or b) they appear to be exceptionally qualified. Unless one or both of those are met, I think the meetings are more often than not a waste of time unfortunately. However, if it's someone who comes recommended from someone I trust and appears to be a great fit for a role we are hiring now or in the future, I'll jump at the opportunity to meet and prioritize that.

How common is it to have a peer who can introduce you to a hiring manager? I have plenty of friends, and none can get me a meeting with a hiring manager at a good company. Most of my friends are unemployed or working at Panera Bread.

Any advice?

> How common is it to have a peer who can introduce you to a hiring manager?

I haven't gotten a job in the last... six or seven years without an introduction.

> Most of my friends are unemployed or working at Panera Bread.

Only one of my friends - as in, someone I'd meet for a pint - works in my field. Don't sweat that.

But I've got plenty of other developers I keep in touch with to varying degrees.

> Any advice?

Make a list of every person you've worked with in the past, or work with right now. Ask yourself one simple question: if you were sitting in your office and your manager walked in and says "Hey normloman, I just got foobar's resume, and you used to work with them! Are they any good?"

If your answer wouldn't be immediately "hell yeah!", cross their name off the list. Don't hedge, don't equivocate.

Now you've got a list of people that you trust, and if you're a decent worker, odds are most of them feel the same way about you.

The next time you're looking to switch jobs, pull out that list. Send each one of them a quick email/Linkedin/Facebook message/text/whatever that just says "hey, I'm looking to make a change, do you know anyone that's hiring?"

That's pretty much it. And be available for anyone that asks you the same question, because you gotta keep your karma in check ;-)

Network and get more connected friends? I don't mean to be flip, but job hunting/career building is one of the cases where the company you keep is paramount.

The idea is that you area always better off if you have a personal connection to a human being.

Most hiring managers would be thrilled to be introduced to someone talented who comes recommended by someone they trust.

The point of having coffee is to have an informal chat which allows for lots of information exchange without the formality of an interview (for either party).

Also, you get a good sense of things like culture fit and interests, which can often make a big impact on hiring decisions.

In addition, that you want to get to know the manager is a good sign that you take your career seriously and want to work somewhere only if it's a very good fit.

People who already have a great job don't make knee-jerk career decisions. Doing a coffee signals that.

As everyone else has mentioned, ask your peers to introduce you directly to the manager. A couple of things:

Include a brief but enticing paragraph on why you are awesome. It makes it a lot easier for the "intro-er" to forward or reword it.

Be respectful of the other's time. Depending on the company and job, some people really welcome a break for coffee for a potential hire or an interesting person; others are swamped, and the triviality of a "coffee date" will be easy to turn down. Try to gauge which this is.

Coffee meetings can be take, take, take. Try to give back. Maybe you have something the other could learn?

It's fine to ask for a coffee meeting if you want to learn more about an industry, position, or the company.

Hiring, and interviewing is as much about mutual likeablitily as it is skills and qualifications. You can always train for skill and knowledge more than you can train for attitude.

Another thing to remember is as more medium and large companies start to use applicant tracking systems, they generally filter out very good people who don't happen to have the right keywords in their resume that they upload.

Standing out will become more important in those cases.

Ultimately, while what you know is important, who you know can help.

At least in the US, discussing coffee date etiquette usually carries the context of meeting a potential partner. Not so much regarding a relationship establishment for a job. Not to say that this would be frowned-upon, just unusual.

I think that if the two parties are in very near vicinity of each other, meeting over coffee could be a nice replacement for the typical first phone interview (finding out the prospect's experience/aspirations/etc.). I also feel like one would get more responses to these inquiries in Silicon Valley as opposed to, say, the Northeast.

There is the concept of an informational interview -- meeting over coffee to ask about a person's job/industry/company -- but that is distinct from meeting a hiring manager. It may be as effective in the job hunt, although it is not as direct. Consider it, though, as it may be more informative to talk to someone who does a job you'd like to do at a company you're interested in. If that person then recommends you to the hiring manager, you're in a nice position.

Also having some pretext for the date helps I think; asking for advice on how to get a job for the role you're interested, better understanding the company culture and working practices or advice for some other particular situation could all be good reasons to meet. Setting out the reason for the date (in your email response to the email introduction) will make it more likely that your request will be taken up.

I'd personally prefer a nice personal sounding email than a cold call from someone I don't know, but it's not that big a deal. I've gotten "out of the blue" requests like this before and I usually say yes. If the request came via an employee, I'd definitely say yes.

I agree that it would be weird to call the hiring manager "out of the blue"—I would ask for an introduction, rather than a phone number. If your friend is a bit introverted, have them introduce you via email, then respond with a (very short) bit about who you are and what your motivation is.

I'm also based in Sweden. I would recommend you attend to any meetup.com you are interested in. The organizers are usually scouting. If you talk to people and discuss the presentation (many don't) you'll get fika invites instead of asking for them!

Sounds very good. I’ve been impressed by how many interesting and IT-related Meetup events there are in Stockholm.

If you are interested in Ops you should consider the Docker meetups. I hear they are very good.

Cool! I should try to make it there some day. Feel free to ping me if you find any other interesting meetups :) (See my profile for contact info.)

> Still, I must admit it would feel a bit weird to ask my peers for their manager’s number and then ask the manager if they want to meet, just ”out of the blue”.

That would be strange. Wouldn't you get your friend, the intermediary, to set up the "date?"

The normal way to do it is just to drop an email to a relevant person, set a context and ask if they'd be willing to meet for coffee.

Although if you already know someone in common you could do it more casually (i.e. join them for after work drinks).

Sooo much good advice here! Thanks to everyone who has responded. This is very useful for me and hopefully for other readers as well.

Don't turn HN into Reddit.

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