Talking to your company’s senior leaders can be daunting, especially if you’re a new or young employee. While you’re all working together to make the organization successful, the position and power of these executives can often seem intimidating. The way you handle your first meeting with them can shape your future.
You want to come across as someone with leadership skills of your own. That means showing that you're engaged, confident, and poised to make the best impression. Sound hard? Here are some ways to make sure you’re ready when you meet upper management.
Interview with confidence
Sometimes, you’ll know ahead of time that an executive will be present. Other times, a leader will pop in unexpectedly at the end of the interview to ask a few questions.
The key is to show confidence. If you prepare carefully for your interview, you should be ready for any questions. Your homework should involve:
- Researching the company or new position with great care
- Being ready to discuss your career plans
- Preparing a few good questions that show you understand the company’s direction and your eagerness to support it
- Practising with a friend or colleague so your questions and answers come naturally
Present a solid proposal
When you present to upper management, you have a golden opportunity to get noticed. Here are some ways to get ready:
- Do your research. Bring as much background as you can to build your case. Show senior leaders that you know your subject.
- Memorize your opening. Don’t rely too heavily on your prepared notes. You want to project confidence. Practise until you sound natural.
- Prepare for the unexpected. Upper management may have only a few minutes, even though you planned a long presentation. They might be late. Your technology might not work. Think about what could go wrong and be ready to summarize, talk without slides, bring the executive up to speed, or do whatever else is needed.
- Deliver key information first. If you need something from senior leaders, make that clear up front. Are you asking for a bigger budget? Do you need a decision? Executives will respect that you’ve told them off the top.
- Avoid minute detail—but be ready to give it. Show that you respect the time of senior leaders by sticking to high-level information and arguments. But make sure you can drill down to details and data if they have questions.
- Be ready to recommend. Most leaders prefer a presentation that includes strong recommendations for action. When you make recommendations, you show them that you have a plan and are ready to move forward.
Chat in the hallway
Sometimes, your first meeting with an executive will happen when you least expect it. If you see a leader in the hallway, on the shop floor, or in a casual moment before an online meeting gets underway, decide if it’s the right time make a good impression. Remember a few basic dos and don’ts for these sorts of opportunities:
- Be ready with a 30-second introduction. When you work up the nerve to approach an executive, describe who you are and what you do—briefly. If the leader seems ready to chat, ask some smart questions about the company. If they’re really receptive and you’d like to discuss something important, ask for a 15-minute meeting at another time.
- Never interrupt a conversation. Approach senior leaders at work only if they’re free and don’t seem in a rush to be somewhere else. Never interrupt a conversation, and try not to hover.
- Talk about why you love the company. This makes a great first impression. But do more than just gush about the organization. Be ready with fact-based opinions about why you’re so enthusiastic. Do your homework on innovative projects, benefits to the community, and other successes.
Meet in a social setting
If you have a chance to socialize with upper management, you should take it. Having a meal after work or approaching an executive at the company holiday party might make you nervous. But you should view any interaction with senior leaders as work that can further your career. You need to:
- Prepare some questions. What are their interests? Are they into sports? The arts? Do they have kids? Find out from your co-workers so you’re ready for a social meeting. Thinking up some questions in advance is an especially good idea if you get tongue-tied around leaders.
- Stay away from controversy. Don’t bring up politics or religion at a party. Stick to topics like vacation plans, food, music, or fun things to do locally. Read the room and follow their lead—for example, a party may or may not be the right place to talk about work.
- Stay professional. Even if people around you are drinking a lot, take it easy on the alcohol. You don’t want to wake up the next day with regrets. Acting foolish is not only embarrassing, it could also affect whether upper management feels you’re responsible enough to take on that next big project or represent the company in a higher-level role.
Preparing for any chance to speak with—and impress—a senior leader in your organization can have an outsized impact on your career. Put in the work to ensure the impact is positive.