Networking Beyond the Corner Office: Strategies for Senior Leaders
When you’re first starting out in a career, networking is relatively easy. You have nowhere to go but up, stretch opportunities are plentiful, and almost everyone you meet in the course of your duties is higher up the totem pole than you are, which makes them great resources. When you’re in that position, opportunities often find you; it’s not unusual for “headhunters” or other people you’ve met to reach out with potential offers even when you’re not necessarily looking for them.
However, as time passes and you progress through the ranks, you start to outrank most of the people with whom you associate, and positions at your level become fewer and farther between. If you’re now a top dog who’s ready for a new bone, networking is as important as it ever was, but it may look a bit different.
The two top challenges for senior leaders when it comes to networking are:
- The Perceived Need for Secrecy
People who have reached senior leadership levels have often become used to calling the shots, commanding respect, and writing their own ticket. This kind of authority feeds the ego (we all have egos—there’s no shame in that) and can contribute to a heightened sense of self-sufficiency, a disinclination to ask for advice, and a reluctance to seek help or admit to your peers that you need a job. Doing so can be a challenging exercise in humility, especially if you’ve lost your current position due to downsizing or something of that nature.
The Perceived Need for Secrecy
If, on the other hand, you’re looking for a new role not because you need it but because you’re simply ready for the next challenge, you may feel hesitant to start talking to others about it because you don’t want word to get back to your organization that you’re on the move. You want to leave on your own terms, when you’re ready, and you may feel like the process would be unnecessarily expedited if the wrong people caught wind of your plans. So, you try to keep your search on the down-low, which makes it hard to reach out to the right people in the right circles.
As far as ego is concerned, you’ll probably find it best to start small. Reach out to people who work in a lower-ranking position than yours (they can still open doors for you), or to people who work for companies in which you don’t necessarily have a strong interest. That way, the stakes won’t feel as high, and you’ll get used to simply saying the words. Practice, as they say, makes perfect. When you get used to checking your ego at the door, it will get easier as you go.
In terms of discretion, my advice may surprise you: Don’t worry too much about it. I’m not saying you should send a memo to your organization letting them know your plans, but don’t let fear limit your possibilities. Reach out to the people who can most help you, be honest, speak positively about your current position and the people with whom you work, and let nature take its course. You are well within your rights to pursue career growth, and you can always ask the people you’re talking to be discreet.
Now that you’ve overcome your ego and your concern about discovery, let’s talk about some places where you can get started:
- Executive Networking Groups – Industry-specific groups and forums are a valuable resource for connecting with other professionals in your field. Look for groups that are geared toward C-suite execs, like these.
- Networking Apps – Some networking apps have become available that are specific to higher-level executives.
- Social Media – Social media is still a great place to engage with people you might not otherwise meet. Use it to your advantage!
- Events and Webinars – Whether they are in person or online, industry events and webinars are great places to make connections.
. Alumni Networks – Reconnect with your alma mater or former educational institutions. Alumni networks often host gatherings and provide platforms for graduates to network with each other and offer mentorship opportunities.
. Mentorship Programs – Consider enrolling in mentorship programs tailored to executives. These programs connect seasoned professionals with emerging leaders, fostering meaningful relationships that can lead to valuable insights and opportunities.
. Corporate boards – Participating in Corporate Boards or Advisory Boards in your industry is worth considering. These roles serve as networking opportunities and offer a valuable platform for you to share your expertise at the highest executive level.
Leveraging Your Network
The above tools are good ways to expand your contacts, but don’t forget you already know a lot of people, so start there. Leverage your existing network by reaching out to friends and professional connections (clients, former colleagues, etc.) who may have insights into plum openings in your field. Clearly express your job search intentions and don’t be shy about requesting information or referrals.
Stay engaged with both your new and your existing network by offering assistance anywhere you can and sharing your skills. Also, craft a compelling online presence and resume. When an opportunity arises, confidently ask for introductions or recommendations. Powerful networking isn’t only about meeting people and getting your name “out there”; it’s about building and maintaining authentic, strong relationships. When the time comes, those people will be happy to help you.
By Octavio Lepe
Octavio is the search practice leader for Executive Management, Agriculture, Sales & Marketing, and D&I in the Americas.
Barbachano International is the premier executive search and leadership advisory firm in the Americas (USA, Mexico, Canada, and Latin America) with a focus on diversity and multicultural target markets. Outplacement, Exe