Soon after I got my first faculty job, I was sitting with a friend of mine–another psychologist–who’d recently been hired for her first job at another university. She said to me, “Our next task is to become independent nodes in people’s conceptual networks.” That was psychology speak for, “Now we need to make sure people know who we are.”
She was right. The reasons why it’s so important for people to know you who you are are all really simple but can be easy to miss: They can’t give you credit for anything you do if they don’t know what you do. They can’t think of you for new assignments if they don’t know you exist. They can’t plan for a future that involves you specifically if they can’t remember your past contributions.
In other words, you need to introduce yourself to some of the top people in your organization–or at least to people higher up than you and your immediate supervisor. Yes, these are people you don’t directly work with, and that’s precisely the point. Here’s how to strike up such a conversation, and what to say when you do.
Look For An Opening, Not An Appointment
You goal should be to keep it pretty informal, so don’t schedule a time to meet. There may be public events at the company that give you an opportunity to meet top-level leaders. I frequently give talks at small and mid-size companies that senior leaders attend, and there’s usually social time before and after internal events like these for other employees to introduce themselves. Yet I’m always surprised how few people make the effort just to say hi. Don’t let a chance like that go to waste.
Good leaders try to make themselves visible around the office. They might even just walk around on occasion intending to meet people. Or they’ll jump into meetings to listen in on what’s happening. In situations like these, it may feel uncomfortable to go up to the CEO or some other exec and start chatting. You might feel like you’re brown nosing. But leaders probably won’t see it that way at all–it’s what they’re hoping you’ll do. Chances are you’ll be seen as taking some initiative rather than currying favor.
If you’re worried about sticking your neck out, ask your boss for help. Good supervisors also want to be able to show off their team members. After all, part of what makes someone a good manager is how well they mentor new talent. So they’ll want their bosses to know they’re developing the people who work for them. If you have a supportive supervisor, see if there’s a chance to get an introduction to more senior leaders.
What To Say
The aim of having an introductory conversation with one of your company’s bigwigs is just to say hello, let the person know what division you work in, and share your excitement about what you do. That’s it.
If you get to have a longer conversation, so much the better, though you should probably just prepare a 30-second description of the most important project you’re working on. If you’re nervous, you might even want to practice delivering that short description to your wall or to a friend a few times to make sure it really is short and clear.
Even if the exec you say hello to doesn’t remember your name later on, they’ll be more likely to recognize you the next time they see you. Plus, your name will at least sound familiar if it’s mentioned again in context. That familiarity will carry some positive feeling along with it. Becoming an “independent node in people’s conceptual networks” isn’t as complicated as it sounds–and it barely takes a minute.