Henry passed by the Vice President of Engineering for the hundredth time. One of these days he’d work up the nerve to say hello. That’s what he told himself each time, but the most he’d ever manage was an awkward smile. Looking foolish, or not having anything meaningful to say, were the two main reasons he second guessed himself every time. He didn’t want to waste the VP’s time, but his caution kept holding him back from really getting his name out there.
I’ll be the first to admit that it can be really difficult to work up the courage to talk to someone in a more senior role than yourself (especially if you’re an introvert). Like Henry, the fear of coming off the wrong way can be a huge deterrent for people. It took me a while to get out of my comfort zone too, but I developed some easy tips along the way to help you do the same.
6 Tips for Networking with Senior Leadership
- Find a purpose for speaking with them
- Send an introduction email
- Schedule a meeting on their calendar
- Come prepared with your topic
- Follow-up with a thank you email
- Always greet them by name afterward
Step 1: Find a Purpose for Speaking with Them
Before even getting started, you need to really think about why you’re trying to connect with this person. Is it to impress them with some idea you have? If so, stop right there and rethink your purpose. No one wants to spend 30 minutes of their time with someone they just met, who goes on rambling the whole time about something that’s out of context. Your purpose should be genuine and not simply self-promoting.
Think about what you can give to the person you’re meeting with. Maybe it’s some background about a projects your team is working on. Maybe it’s asking them for expert feedback about an idea you were thinking of. Another great starter is asking them about their story, an introduction about how they got their start. Lastly, make sure you ask what you can do to make things easier for them. It’s a simple question but one that shows that you’re interest in more than just self-promotion. Again, be genuine.
Step 2: Send an Introduction Email
I personally think it’s rude to send a calendar invite to someone you’ve never met before without some type of introduction. For someone who is levels above you, it’s a nice gesture to even ask if you can schedule some time with them. More often than not, they will respond positively and give you the green light to send an invite.
Keep in mind that an intro email should be brief and to the point. Introduce yourself in just a single line. Tell them the purpose of the email in another line. Below is a simple example to make this easier for you:
We haven’t formally met but I’m the Software Engineer for the Beta team. I was hoping to be able to grab some time with you to discuss some of the work we’re doing and get your feedback. Would you be available for a quick coffee?
I’m also really interested to hear more about the new initiatives you announced. I’d love to be able to contribute more and hope you could give me some pointers.
Thanks in advance, looking forward to meeting with you!
Step 3: Schedule a Meeting on Their Calendar
Wait until they respond with an affirmative and then follow-up with a calendar invite. Keep it short, 15-30 minutes is enough. If you can get 30 minutes, that’s ideal, but sometimes the person may not have that much time for you.
In some companies, you can schedule the invite yourself, but if they have a secretary, then make sure to go through him or her. Also, don’t take too long to get this scheduled. If possible, try for the same week. Lastly, in the calendar invite, make sure to write your introduction again and the purpose of your meeting. This is a good way to make sure it doesn’t get cancelled or ignored later on.
Step 4: Come Prepared with Your Topic
Besides not showing up (or being late), the worst thing you can do is come ill prepared. There are countless stories of people scheduling meetings and then wasting the other person’s time because they didn’t come prepared. Don’t be that person. Trust me, if you’re not prepared, you’ll forever burn an important bridge.
What does it mean to be prepared? Well, write down the items you want to discuss. You should have thought about these in step 1. Make an agenda, and I’d even suggest sending it out with the calendar invite. Your agenda will ensure you keep the conversation going. If you don’t have time to go over every topic you prepared for, don’t worry. Ending on time leaves a good impression, and you can always schedule another meeting if the first one went well.
Another important tip is: don’t do all the talking. Remember you’re there to hear from them. Make sure to listen more than you speak. Stay engaged and act like you’re eagerly soaking up their every word. Even if you’re not able to get more than a few sentences out, it’s okay. Your first impression will be a good one, and they’ll be more likely to welcome another meeting in the future.
Step 5: Follow-up with a Thank You Email
A thank you email is simply good manners and something so many people forget to do. Use this time to highlight the fact that you appreciate the time they gave to you and that you were listening intently. Mention a few of the takeaways you got and how the person’s insight was very helpful to you. You want them to feel good about the time they invested in you. A good thank you email will allow for you to continue this new relationship in the future.
Step 6: Always Greet Them by Name Afterward
Don’t act like a stranger the next time you see the person walking in the halls. Make sure to always look into their eyes and greet them. Make sure you use their first name when saying hello, because there’s a huge benefit in doing so. You can go one step further too, by mentioning an important point they made in your last meeting and saying how you still remember it. This shows that you’re someone who not only listens well, but tries their best to implement what they learn.
Henry couldn’t work up the nerve to talk with the VP of Engineering, but he knew that if he ever wanted to grow he would need to. He decided to go another route, and ask his manager, Sarah, to set up an introduction. Sarah sent an introduction email, but told Henry that it was up to him to do the rest. He needed to learn to network on his own, she couldn’t hold his hand forever.
Do you have someone more senior that you’ve been wanting to network with? If so, even if you’re hesitant, just do it! There’s no reason to wait, and you’re hurting your own career development by stalling. These 6 steps will help guide you, but you have to take the first step. I promise it’ll be well worth it, because it has been for me.
Credit: Feature image by Freepik