How to Network with Executives (with Examples for Mid-Level Professionals)
Your networking and job application strategy should include building relationships with senior management and various levels of decision-makers. When you start and maintain connections with Human Resources, Hiring Managers, Chief Executive Officers, or other executives, you can learn more about the company culture, propose your expertise, contribute at industry events, get referrals, and follow up after applying to a company.
Whether you are planning to change jobs or are comfortably employed, these are productive relationships and partnerships for your professional development. Your networking skills and your professional network can provide you with high-quality information for your ongoing projects or new career opportunities, when it’s time to look for a new role.
Here are practical suggestions with examples of how you can network with executives for your career advancement.
1. Create a list of potential employers.
This is a list of 10-50 target employers that you can organize in any format that works for you. This list can include:
✓ leading companies in your industry (national and international)
✓ local organizations and local offices of larger organizations
✓ companies where some of your colleagues worked or currently work
✓ newly launched interesting organizations (small businesses, start-ups, non-profit foundations)
To find such organizations, you can use:
✓ a list of conference sponsors in your industry
✓ business magazines in your area or national publications
✓ executive-level networking events
✓ LinkedIn Explorer https://linkedin.github.io/career-explorer/
✓ professional Facebook and LinkedIn groups
✓ professional associations in your industry
✓ informational interviews or informal chats with your colleagues
2. Research target employers carefully and take notes.
Research is an essential part of the job search process. You want to be prepared at every stage, be it your initial list of target employers, professional development, cover letter writing, interview preparation, or salary research. Many resources are available digitally (for free or through subscriptions) to help you gain new insights into your industry, target role(s), and career growth.
The basic information you can uncover by researching the company includes its investments, team size, dba names, business standing, locations, and offices. You may also be interested in finding out more about their turnover rates, debts, acquisitions, profits, work volumes, legal action, growth trajectory, and company culture (workplace wellness, diversity, equity, ethics, causes, employee reviews, etc.). When you research your target employers, you also want to find senior executives for potential introductions.
Remember that the marketing materials you will easily find about the company (its website, videos, and company pages on social media) are written for customers. As a potential employee, you want to learn about the back office. One way to do this is to connect with the company’s former employees and ask them some questions. When doing this, show the person that you have done your research, state what you have found, and ask, “Does this seem accurate?” or “Is this in line with what you have experienced or know about the company based on your time there?”
You can collect business intelligence using the following websites:
✓ Glassdoor (salary data and employee reviews)
✓ Dun & Bradstreet
✓ Better Business Bureau
✓ LexisNexis (via your library)
✓ Bloomberg (via your library)
✓ PrivCo (via your library)
✓ Company’s annual reports
✓ Company’s Careers page, social media, and newsletters
✓ Company’s website (specifically, the portion written for investors)
✓ Employer surveys by professional associations (If you cannot find any, reach out to the associations’ leaders and ask for such recent reviews or surveys.)
✓ Various social media channels (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok)
✓ Jobscan (for information on what ATS is used by a specific company)
✓ General employer and industry surveys published by independent organizations. For example, in Ontario: https://www.peelhaltonworkforce.com/employer-surveys/
✓ Boolean search on Google
Boolean search allows you to combine keywords with search operators such as AND, NOT, and OR to produce more specific results, for example:
“XYZ University” AND “sexual harassment”
“ABC Company” AND “employee satisfaction”
“ABC Company” AND “investigation”
“ABC Company” AND “pandemic losses”
“ABC Company” AND “growth”
“ABC Company” AND “investment”
Check if/how the leadership of the company was changing over the past few years and Google the media for the related stories.
3. Identify executive decision-makers and learn more about them.
Before you introduce yourself, learn about the executive’s background and interest areas by reading their bio and watching some of their video presentations. Choose executives who are recommended as people-focused leaders. They are the ones who develop and coach their teams and care about the well-being of the whole organization.
You do not want to invest networking effort into leaders who are self-centered and are not respected by their teams for their leadership style. Look them up on YouTube, LinkedIn, other social media, and do an extensive Boolean search on Google to uncover any red flags. Once you have identified several leaders who are genuinely interested in developing people and advancing their organizations in an ethical manner, think about what you can offer them. Know your unique strengths and differentiators so you can network as a business partner and a professional who can make valuable contributions.
4. Reach out at the right moment or come recommended.
The best time to start these conversations is not when you are actively looking for work, but when you are actively learning about the industry and contributing through projects of your own.
It is preferable to be introduced to an executive of your choice by someone you both know. It can be a respected figure in the industry, an association leader, or someone you studied or worked with. Think about the people in your professional network with whom you have positive relationships and ask for introductions—strategically and selectively.
A good time to reach out to an executive is when a company or an individual has announced a new project, an expansion, or an open position. This information will give you a starting point and more details about their current needs. This is a much better conversation starter than introducing yourself more generally via a cold email.
The first contact is important for the impression you leave. You want to be clear, precise, and memorable. Make it a short introduction that is highly relevant. Phrase your message with clarity and in a collaborative tone. Help your contact see your value and want to learn more about you.
Once the conversation is open, consider moving it away from LinkedIn and into a more direct means of exchange (email, phone, or Zoom). Request permission to contact them by email or follow up in a certain amount of time. Ask for a 15-minute phone call.
Ask executives about the best way to reconnect with them later. Some prefer email, others a phone call. They may not always be on LinkedIn. Find the most direct and efficient way to get in touch with them again, per their preference.
5. Use your professional association membership to build more connections with the leaders.
Review your current or past professional association memberships. Write down how you can make the best use of them over the next few months. For example:
✓ Introduce yourself to the association founders and leaders. Mention your specializations and ask what you can contribute to the organization.
✓ Attend webinars, local chapter meetings, or the annual conference; connect with every presenter or attendee you spend some time with in person. Follow up every 2-3 months after the initial meeting to maintain a connection.
✓ Volunteer for the association in any other way that fits your goals, schedule, and skillset.
✓ Serve on the association’s board or conference organization committee. Contact the board and the committee to introduce yourself and ask if there is a role for you.
✓ Co-write an article with other colleagues or executives for the association newsletter or blog.
✓ Create and upload your directory listing. Review other members’ directory listings and learn about their specializations.
✓ Review association archives available to members (recorded webinars, other members’ articles). Connect with the authors whose content you found helpful.
6. Aim to forge relationships with executives in person at industry events.
Trust is the foundation of any productive, lasting relationship. You may be working in an industry that relies particularly on in-person connections. You can balance your online networking with in-person meetings by finding the top industry events and local events to attend.
✓ Create a list of conferences and industry events.
✓ Attend 1-2 events per year and plan your attendance carefully. Study the program in advance and send LinkedIn introductions to some of the presenters and/or conference sponsors. You could also network with colleagues to potentially meet the day before the conference for ice-breakers and informal networking.
✓ Come with a good handshake and strong conversational skills. When introducing yourself to executives, get to the point and respect your interlocutor’s time. Much can be accomplished in a 7-minute conversation if you prepare ideas and questions in advance and get to the gist of it yourself before you introduce the idea to someone else.
✓ Bring your business cards.
✓ Practice your short introduction.
7. Have a professional email signature.
Use your email signature as a marketing tool. Services like https://www.wisestamp.com/ allow you to create a visually elegant signature (free or paid options). Such a signature may include your photo, website, social media handles, or links to your other online profiles. This will allow a recipient of your email to refresh their memory of your work or learn new things about you.
8. Find a mentor among the senior leaders in your industry.
This is especially relevant if you are planning to change industries or are looking for a higher-level role in your line of work. Your professional associations may have a mentorship program. You can also search the directory to find a few names of people you would like to learn from. Ask them via email if they would be open to mentoring you. Your career coach may also have ideas on whom to approach and how.
Mentorship may involve just a few hours of your mentor’s time, but the resulting relationship can be good for both of you for years to come. Ask your former colleagues or bosses if they can recommend someone with the expertise you seek and put in a word for you. Also, take a look at the directory of members of your professional association.
9. Don’t neglect opportunities to build or improve a relationship with your current boss.
Your boss may or may not be the best leader you have known, but it is always a good idea to maintain a respectful relationship and grow its strong sides using the resources you currently have. You may need a recommendation letter in the future. Your current boss may be able to offer some industry insights in the future, even after you have moved on to the next role.
Focus on maintaining a positive, professional relationship—with the understanding that you are in charge of your career and you can make your career growth happen through your own effort, in another organization or in your current team. When you have a positive relationship with your boss, you can comfortably ask for a promotion, share your vision, introduce improvements, or move on to a new challenge while staying on good terms.
10. Express gratitude in genuine and pithy ways.
Executives are busy and their priorities are usually well-defined. If you had a conversation, arranged a mentorship, received coaching, or agreed to stay in touch in the future, acknowledge their time with gratitude. Offer specific thanks and use objective, professional terms. A small gift such as a pertinent book can also be appropriate and memorable.
About the author:
Tanya Mykhaylychenko provides resume writing and career strategy services for executives. Connect with her on LinkedIn for networking tips and ideas on executive career development.