Infiltrating the CEO Circle: Creative Networking Tips


When was the last time you had a meaningful conversation at a networking event? It’s not that networking is a bad idea; casting a wide net is a lauded tactic for career advancement. But how we go about making professional connections should be looked at critically, just like all business decisions. Staged events aren’t the only avenues for creating inroads with top level management. It can be hard to be memorable and sincere in such a forced setting.

 If typical networking makes you feel like a bad actor, don’t reflexively RSVP to the next event just because you think you should. Mix it up and try meeting executives on different turf. It’s all about proximity. Here are some of my stealthiest ideas for creating encounters that could land you your dream job.

Join a high end gym

Signing up for a luxury gym like Equinox or Reebok Sports Club might seem unnecessarily lavish. You’re just there to sweat, right? Instead, think of it as an investment in the same vein as a chic work suit or an enviable watch. It ups the ante and puts you in the position to be noticed by executives who don’t think twice about shelling out for a pricey health club.

Keep in mind: Most executives work out early—around 5am. You’ll have to get in the locker room then, too. But you’ll be surprised how many VPs and CEOs will chat you up about the class schedule, the latest election news, and your career. It’s an open invitation to share your aspirations and accomplishments.

Find the conference hotel bar

Conferences are one of the best places to network with higher ups in your chosen field. But if you approach an executive in between sessions, you won’t have much time to make a lasting impression. However, if you park yourself at the bar after the conference concludes, you’ll surely run into executives who no longer feel so rushed.

Keep in mind: You don’t need to drink the whole time. It’s acceptable to slowly sip a single glass of wine or bottomless Cokes while you wait for someone fascinating to sit by you. Bring a book or the newspaper. You’ll have to give it a little bit of time, but it will be worth making the professional connection.

Use the airline executive lounge

If flying stresses you out, an airport lounge is a great place to relax before your next flight. You’ll have to pay for it (annual costs range from about $250 to $500); however, it’s a worthwhile career investment. Lounges are usually teeming with managers and directors, many with time to kill due to a delayed flight.

Keep in mind: Some airline lounges offer day passes for as low as $29, which is a good way to test out if this networking hack works for you.

Choose your seat wisely at dinner

Company dinners are an opportunity to meet and mingle with different departments. Treat them as a rare chance to network within your own company and introduce yourself to management. When you attend a dinner, don’t sprint to sit at the back table with all of your office friends.  You want to position yourself close to the front, near the “reserved” tables. This is where many of the mid-level executives will be sitting.

Keep in mind: You should resist the temptation to pull out your phone and text.  No selfies. No snapchats. You’re here to impress IRL (in real life).


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About Author

Jena E. Abernathy is managing partner/chair of board services with a leading executive search firm. She is the author of The Inequality Equalizer – Want It, Claim It, Own It — And Maximize Your Career Success.