You might feel comfortable networking with your peers, but what about networking with professionals who are more senior in age, experience, job title, or reputation? It’s easy to think of networking as “peer-to-peer”, but the real world is rarely that simple. Learning how to interact and engage with people who are more established in their careers is a key skill.
It’s the same conundrum that you face when looking for your first job: companies want to hire someone with experience, but how can you get experience if they won’t hire you? First of all, remember that you don’t need a network of CEOs and presidents to be successful. You can give and receive value from networking partners across the spectrum of experience. That being said, there are few important ideas to keep in mind whether you are connecting with the person in the cubicle next to you or Elon Musk.
1. Every person is just that, a person.
It may sound obvious, but everyone is a person first. It’s easy to get overawed or intimidated by someone’s experience, reputation, or rank, but remember that everyone puts their pants (or skirt) on one leg at a time. Relationships are built between two people, so connect with them as a person.
I once ran into a well-known movie actor in a Chicago bar (think hobbits) and ended up hanging out with him the whole night. I think he enjoyed our conversation because I wasn’t gushing over his movies, we just talked about the band that was playing and the city. It reminded me that everyone is just a person looking to make human connections.
2. They do have many demands on their time
You have to be cognizant that you aren’t the only one who would like some of their attention. Be respectful of their schedules and their other responsibilities. In your interactions, be willing to take the first step and don’t take it personally if they don’t respond quickly (or sometimes at all).
3. Provide value
Go back to a definition of networking that is about building mutual relationships. You might wonder what you can bring to the relationship if you are a year out of school and they are an accomplished professional. Take stock of what you can provide, and offer to help.
For example, you could share your unique (as a Millennial) perspective to technology or other business questions. You could also offer to share your energy and time on one of their projects. It can also be as simple as paying it forward, and passing on the networking karma to someone else in your network. There are many things that you can add to the relationship once you look for them.
The best advice for connecting with more experienced professionals: Just do it. You can’t expect to start a relationship without taking the first step. Start where you are and reach out to someone. Your network is your responsibility and you have to put the work in. But when you do, the benefits will make it worth pushing past the nervousness!