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Most of us get quite a bit of help along the way in our career. After chatting with a few coworkers at the agency I decided I’d share a little bit of my story and the tips that have been helpful to me in making connections and learning from them.

Networking

Networking can be a terrifying term, especially if your an introvert. Pictures of cocktail parties with herds of people mingling over hors d’oeuvres and small talk are enough to send people running. While this can definitely be true, if you’re like me you do better one-on-one or in smaller groups. While it’s good to push yourself out of your comfort zone you should also play to your strengths.

The Power of Coffee

Since I was in college I’ve been making introductions over coffee. When you offer to buy someone a coffee or lunch they typically take a moment to hear your proposal. The funny part is if they accept they’ll usually end up buying you the coffee instead. Don’t be afraid to aim big with these proposals. I’ve had the opportunity to chat one-on-one with everyone from the presidents of universities to the CEO’s of top agencies like Leo Burnett. While an introduction isn’t a guarantee, what I hear time and time again from these leaders is that I’m the only person who’s asked to met with them like this in say the last 6 months. We assume that many executives won’t have the time to meet with say a jr. art director. The reality is they don’t have the time to come introduce themselves to you, but are more than happy to sit and chat with someone who reaches out to them.

So what do you talk about once you’re in the room with a CEO? My grandmother gave me this great piece of advice, “The thing people know best to talk about is themselves”. I always start each of these meetings asking them about themselves and how they ended up where they are. You’d be surprised sometimes by how similar your stories are or could end up down the road.

Get on the Calendar

Patience is important when reaching out to someone at the executive level. Their gatekeeper is often their secretary, so even if you muster up the courage to introduce yourself in the hallway, be sure to follow up with their secretary and get something on the calendar. If you aren’t written in stone on their schedule, you probably wont get the 30 minutes with them you spoke about in the hallway. Also be aware your meeting time will probably change more than once. That’s ok, just be ready when your opening comes.

Get Involved in a Professional Organization

You’ve heard this one a million times, but the reality is it’s true. The key is to join an organization for the purpose of learning. Networking is about making connections, but what you get from those connections is up to you. If you’re out to find business leads or close deals then there’s a lot of pressure on you and the person you’re meeting. On the other hand if you network with an open mind and simply look to learn from others and share what you know in your area of expertise it’s far less daunting.

Take Opportunities

A few months ago I saw an email come through for an Executives Club of Chicago event featuring the CEO of Potbelly. Our company was a sponsor of the event and anyone from the company was free to go so I took the opportunity. I’m not positive, but I believe I was actually the only person from our company that actually attended the event. At the end of the event they mentioned they were accepting new members into their New Leaders Circle for the Executive Club. I reached out to someone at my company and after filling out an application our CEO who is to say the least an active member sponsored my membership. Since then I’ve had the opportunity to attend presentations by CEO’s of top companies like Proctor and Gamble and Burberry, join a group mentoring program and learn from local executives and go to networking receptions where people drink cocktails and eat hors d’oeuvres.

Some Final Thoughts

While networking can be as simple as making a linkedin connection, meeting with people face-to-face is great experience, especially if you find yourself being a bit introverted. Don’t put to much pressure on yourself, network to learn not create sales leads. While many people are out there to sell you something, if your earnest in wanting to learn from others they’ll often share some insightful tips and be confident in what you know, you’d be surprised how many conversations I’ve had about mobile marketing with finance guys. Be bold and reach out to leaders or executives in your company that you feel you can learn from. When they’ve reached their level, sharing their expertise is often on their to-do list and you can make that easy by making the introduction first.

 

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