Wouldn’t it be awesome if you could get some face time with the CEO and other senior executives in your company? Believe it or not, this is not as hard to do as it sounds. While the CEO might be a bit high to aim for, meeting with executives that you admire and want to get to know may even open the CEO’s door, eventually. Tony used this technique to get face time with several Vice Presidents at Nationwide Insurance and, eventually, even used it to open the door for the company’s CEO to speak to the Gen Y Associate Resource Group which we were both helping lead, and Tony even got to introduce him to the crowd.
1. Choose someone that looks interesting:
Start by choosing an executive a couple of levels above you and preferably not in your direct hierarchy. The reason you want someone who is not directly above you is because that way they will be more able to relax and be themselves. Make sure it’s someone that you honestly admire and would like to model your career after.
2. Research them in-depth:
If they are profiled somewhere on the company’s website, certainly read that, but also read their LinkedIn profile. If your company uses Yammer or another in-house social network, read what they post there. Google their name, and find out as much as you can about them. What you’re looking for is something you can honestly connect on: a shared experience, background or interest that can be a solid reason for them to agree to meet when you reach out.
3. Understand their department:
Make sure you understand the area they lead as well as you can, so they don’t spend the entire meeting just giving you the basic overview of what they do. Become as educated as possible on it. The more you know about the area the more likely they’ll be impressed and interested in you.
4. Carefully craft the email, and get a good friend to proofread it:
The message should be polite and concise. What you want to communicate is that you admire them and want to learn more about them. Make sure you emphasize what you have in common, and close with a polite request for half an hour of their time: “Hi Mike. I’m a Farm Underwriter and have been with the company for 2 years. I noticed on LinkedIn that you spent some time in the Agribusiness Department early in your career. I was wondering how you ended up making the move to finance and whether you have any advice for someone else trying to make a similar move.I would love to pick your brain about your experience in the company and the different departments you have worked in. Would it be possible to meet in person or over the phone for a 30 minute chat? Thank you so much, Tony Canas”
5. Be very patient:
Understand that they are extremely busy. What you’re looking for is for a quick reply copying the administrative assistant and instructing him or her to find some time for you on the calendar. Work with the admin to find a time that works and understand that it will likely be months down the road.
6. Come prepared:
Print out a copy of his or her LinkedIn profile and review it just before the meeting. Bring a paper pad to take notes on, and if you’re meeting them in person, make sure to be 5 minutes early.
7. Get them talking about themselves:
People love to talk about themselves. Show some honest curiosity, and ask insightful questions about their backgrounds and even about what they want to do next. Make sure to spend as much time as you can getting to know them.
8. Ask them who else you should meet:
If you managed to make a good first impression, they’ll be more than happy to introduce you or at least point you in the direction of other executives in the company that might be a good match for you.
9. Finish the conversation in time:
Whether they gave you 30 minutes or 45 minutes, make sure you wear a watch (don’t look at your phone!) and gently thank them for their time with 3-5 minutes to go with something like. “Thank you so much for meeting me. I want to be cognizant of your time so I don’t want to keep you longer than planned.”
10. Be on the lookout for how you might be able to help them:
Yeah, you read that right. Even if they have been in the industry for 20 years, and you’ve been there for only 2, there’s a very good chance there’s something you can help them with, whether it is help understanding social media, how to better manage their younger employees or help starting a reverse mentoring program. Be creative!
Finally, and you knew this was coming, follow up with a handwritten thank you note! As you already know, the person who made the time to meet with you is very busy. Giving you the gift of his or her time to share wisdom from his or her time in the industry should be appreciated. If you thought of a potential way to help them, this thank you note is not the time to mention it. Follow up later by email and share your idea if you want to keep the conversation going.