Video: “How do I talk to a successful person?”

What do you do if you take someone to coffee? How do you not come across as sleazy or looking for a job?

Ramit Sethi

NO! This is not another worthless tip that ends with “Just get out there and network!”

If you ever hear me say that, please kill me.

One of my readers asked me what to do if they take someone out to coffee. What should they say so they don’t come across as sleazy or just looking for a job?

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So I scripted it out for him with specific questions you can ask. Check out the new video:

What’s the BEST and WORST way you’ve approached talking to a successful person? Leave your story in the comments below.

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  1. John Garvens

    Last night, I met Herb Dean–a top referee for the UFC–when he visited my MMA academy to promote his upcoming grappling tournament in Chicago.

    This video applies PERFECTLY to my situation.

    At first, I wanted to show him around my gym, introduce him to my members and generally talk about myself and the programs we teach.

    It wasn’t until I started talking to Herb Dean ABOUT Herb Dean that our conversation really took off. Specifically, we talked about his grappling tournament (that he cares about deeply), his experiences as a referee in the UFC, his personal grappling training, etc.

    Once, I struck Herb’s “Hey! This guy gives a damn about ME!” nerve, the conversation opened up and ended up being really awesome.

    Thanks for the video, Ramit! Awesome as usual.

    • Malcolm

      Wow that is wonderful John, i am a huge fan of MMA sport. In fact i am actually enrolling for a basic MMA lessons for my workout program. Meeting Herb Dean is one of my dream as a Mix Martial Art practitioner.

  2. IronFly

    I was always looking forward to the day I could say: Hey Ramit! Your advice worked! …and today is that day. I set up a couple of information interviews recently to learn more about the film making industry (a notoriously hard one to break into as a newb). I learnt more through my meetings with those people than through months and months of reading books and surfing web articles. Their advice and their experiences were absolutely *invaluable*. Also, they were just fun to talk to.

    I think it’s important to know your motivation for speaking to someone successful, and as you say, explicitly looking for a job will make you seem a tad insincere. I think networking is done best when you have a clear question or goal in mind (esp. in creative industries, a good goal is a possible future collaboration).

    Interested to know why where I stand in the cafe is important though! I usually turn up 15 minutes early and sit at a table reading a book before they arrive.

    Great video, by the way. I’m noticing a steady increase in the production quality of your vids. 🙂

  3. Jrsygrl

    Perfect timing for this video!!! I for sure appreciate it as a new grad and I am sure many others do as well!!!

  4. Chris Johnson

    First -realize that as long as you don’t screw the pooch too too much, you’re gonna get another chance.

    I had some bad intros to people that I’m doing business with. (Ryan Holiday, Brad Feld, Brian Clark).

    The ability to recover later makes it easy.

    Second: It’s all data. Just data. So someone hates my pitch. Fix your pitch, bitch, and find your niche. It’s not a big deal. It’s data. In lieu of being dependent, be curious. I’ve gotten farther with “Hmmm…would *insert big dude here* like this than I have with “OMG if he ONLY LOVED ME I’d be RICH!”

    Third: There are no kingmakers. One intro won’t help you unless you’re ready. You have to be ready. A successful guy can be an accelerant, but it’s not gonna change the fundamentals. You can’t pitch a turd. Fix yourself.

    Finally: Cultivate indifference. If I need someone to like me/approve of me, that’s a repellant. That is revolting. Realize that if you don’t land “Dave McClure” or whoever with your pitch, there are dozens of other people that might be a better fit. You’re more compelling when you’re friendly, affabile, but firmly yourself.

    (P.S. I blew an intro to dozens of people, and I’m still kickin’).

  5. Varaneka

    your scripts were my best but they work on everyone but you lol

    the worst…hmm

    the worst probably would be trying to appeal to their mercy or gratitude instead of their own self-interests

  6. Alex Michna

    Dear Ramit Sethi,

    I really appreciate your advice and I would like to ask you a question.
    My parents took a 30 year loan to buy a house and will soon be renegoitiating
    the intrest rate after a 10year fixed rate period.
    How do you create leverage in the negotiantion other than maybe refinancing?

    Thank you,
    Alex from Germany

  7. Jessica

    I’ve had a lot of successful networking meetings thanks to what I learned in the Dream Job course. I’ve found that the conversation flows naturally for maybe 30-40 minutes and I get a lot of valuable information, and then there will suddenly be a long pause once the person’s said everything they can think of and I don’t have any more questions to ask. At that point I usually say, “Well, thanks so much for your time, and I really appreciate your insights. Is there anything else you think I should know about working in this field? (or Is there anyone you recommend I talk to?)” Once they’ve responded and there’s a pause, I thank them again and wrap up. Is there a more elegant way I should be taking the conversation to its conclusion, or is it normal to run up against a point where there’s silence because you’ve both run out of things to say?

    • Nick

      30-40 minutes is quite a long time, so during the conversation you should tell them that you have some information/website/whatever that would benefit them. As the conversation draws to a close, you can wrap it up by saying that you’ll definitely get in touch with them again to share the information you’d mentioned earlier in the conversation. This ensures that you have their contact details, and a few days later you can get in touch with them again with something interesting/useful for them. “Hey VIP, it was great to talk to you at XYZ. Here is the useful information I’d mentioned the other day…”

  8. Connie Solidad

    I always have a difficult time approaching successful people unless I plan out how I approach them and what I will say.

  9. NO! This is not another worthless tip that ends with “Just get out there and network!” | Indiana University Maurer School of Law Public Interest Law Foundation

    […] […]

  10. Sue

    Best – I am looking for a job in legal marketing. I saw an opening at a law firm, and found someone who worked at that firm on LinkedIn. I was especially interested in this job because it was doing marketing for the labor and employment practice, which I have experience with. She seemed nice over e-mail, so I asked her to coffee. She was super helpful, but it also helped that I am knowledgeable about this field, so we were able to have a more specific conversation. I had recently gone to a Legal Marketing Association presentation, so I sent her the slides from that talk. I added value for the successful person!

    Worst – A junior in college was speaking my friend Kim and I about becoming a lawyer. I was in law school and Kim is an associate at a law firm. This person e-mailed both of us after the party where we met. I was happy to help at first. She continued to reach out to us, but that ultimately became annoying because 1) she didn’t make any distinction about our being at different points in the journey of becoming a lawyer 2) she wasn’t getting any further in the process and simply kept asking for advice. 3) Connections do fade. Maybe she could have found someone else to approach, like a lawyer in her hometown.

  11. Anonymous for this

    I have met a number of extremely successful people in the IT, business, and modeling worlds through social and business situations. This was years ago, so I wasn’t actually networking, but in my experience:

    1) In IT, it was all about an exchange of technical knowledge. If I knew enough, I was accepted and we would discuss technical stuff for hours. Social interaction or interest in the actual person was moot. Disagreements or differences of opinion and heated debates were acceptable and encouraged. These folks were possibly somewhat arrogant, but my real feeling was they were somewhat autistic (sort of the Dr. Sheldon Coopers of the world). Time spent was probably 60% their ideas, 40% mine.
    2) In business, it was all about knowing/asking about the other person’s business experiences. Your estimate of 5 mins of me, 25 of them was right on. Knowing about their history is necessary and about their business is critical. Asking their advice in your 5 mins also elicits great advice–although some of it may be dated.
    3) In modeling, it was all about the model. We could discuss what designers, agencies, and photographers they preferred. My job was to soak up their wonderfulness. If this is your target, the estimate would be 30 minutes of them–and you’d better know them well enough to ask a lot about their rise to fame. (Also, if you are meeting at their homes, as I sometimes did, a trip to their bathroom on the way out can be mind boggling. I’ve never seen mirrored walls, ceiling, and floors before–utterly humbling to ordinary folk like me!)

    Worst way of approaching someone famous: being unprepared. I’ve met some folks (sports greats) from whom I could have mined valuable advice and data, but didn’t even recognize them, nor know anything about the field they worked in. This is a guaranteed disaster, as they feel dissed that someone is unaware of them.

  12. Joe

    These approaches were both spontaneous: I went to a conference or party and just saw both of them there. Didn’t plan for it but was still prepared (at least in the 1st case).

    Blogger, tv personality I had read about online. He was a huge inspiration for me. I saw him in line at registration for conference I was at. So I went up to him, told him I was a big fan and how what he wrote inspired me. I was really specific. He asked a few questions about me, I told him my situation (i had rehearsed a quick elevator pitch). I guess I made a good impression b/c he gave me his card and about a month later we met for coffee and it was great.

    I’ve probably had a lot of bad approaches. This was the most recent. Another online blogger type character (someone you have worked with, Ramit). Again, something he wrote really inspired me in a big way and I wanted to talk more with him about it and his experiences, etc.
    So we were at party was ending and I bumped into him, introduced myself, told him I knew who he was and I said….”You’re the reason why I’m here.” Kind of weird but whatever.
    He asked, “Oh, so why are you here?” Great open-ended question.
    Then I just started rambling, I think my nerves took over. I don’t even remember what stupid shit I said. I noticed it wasn’t going so well when he had a weirded out look on his face, the it-was-nice-to-meet-you-I-gotta-go face.

  13. Bri


    All within a couple weeks of finding your website, you have taken me so incredibly far. First you made me see how much and in what specific ways I needed to practice interviewing. Then you made it clear to me that I needed to stop passively applying to job postings. I narrowed my broad interests enough to pin point my dream job, made a resume that reflected that, and started talking to people in my life about my job search.

    Using your script, I landed an informational interview with someone who works not only for the best possible company I could hope for, but happens to be a supervisor in the exact department I want to work in. Because of our mutual friend, he has already volunteered to refer me without even having met me!

    Remarkably, this video is exactly what I needed once again. Two weeks ago, I would never have imagined how close I would be to getting my dream job.

    You are amazing. Thank you for giving all of this advice for free, since as a recent graduate, I would not be paying for career advice at this stage. You are seriously my hero.

  14. Michael

    When I take someone out for coffee or lunch I usually pay for it because I’m picking someone else’s brains so their time and advice could potentially be worth more than the ~$20 lunch or ~$5 coffee.

  15. Joe Cassandra

    Hi Ramit,

    Great stuff, I love these short Ask Ramit videos.

    Is this something you do during an actual interview? I recently had a lunch interview for a job for a financial analyst position that I was stoked about, and they were asking about my background, skills, hobbies, my website everything and I was just talking about each of those, but I didn’t ask him really about those things in his life.

    As it turns out, it sounded like they were really interested, then I get the dreaded call saying they wanted to pursue another candidate without any reason to what I did wrong. So I was thinking..

    And I saw this video, and I’m curious if maybe that’s what happened. Since I did extract information from his personal experience, maybe I came across a pompous D-Bag

    Not sure…

  16. mortgagebrokers

    I actually just learned from your previous post (spend less and save more) since especially nowadays…people save less and spend more..and now you’re coaching how to talk to successful person..and I learned even more because in my job I met a lot of people.