In this essay we discuss the light-matter interactions at molecule-covered metal surfaces that initiate surface photochemistry. The hot-electron mechanism for surface photochemistry, whereby the absorption of light by a metal surface creates an electron-hole pair, and the hot electron scatters through an unoccupied resonance of adsorbate to initiate nuclear dynamics leading to photochemistry, has become widely accepted. Yet, ultrafast spectroscopic measurements of molecule-surface electronic structure and photoexcitation dynamics provide scant support for the hot electron mechanism. Instead, in most cases the adsorbate resonances are excited through photoinduced substrate-to-adsorbate charge transfer. Based on recent studies of the role of coherence in adsorbate photoexcitation, as measured by the optical phase and momentum resolved two-photon photoemission measurements, we examine critically the hot electron mechanism, and propose an alternative description based on direct charge transfer of electrons from the substrate to adsorbate. The advantage of this more quantum mechanically rigorous description is that it informs how material properties of the substrate and adsorbate, as well as their interaction, influence the frequency dependent probability of photoexcitation and ultimately how light can be used to probe and control surface femtochemistry.