One of the most critical steps in attaining a C-level executive position is securing a C-level mentor. A great mentor can introduce you to many of the people that you need to meet, guide you as your career develops, and ultimately act as your advocate in the industry. Catching the attention of a C-level executive so you can start to build a professional relationship can prove difficult. The following tips will help you stand out from the crowd of people who may also be vying for a top executive’s attention.
Be as direct as possible.
C-level executives have very little time, and they usually prefer unsolicited communications to be short and to-the-point. When you write an email to someone you think could be a great mentor, you may be tempted to include superfluous information just to prove how much you know. This strategy does not pay off in the long run, because the person will likely see it as a waste of time. Instead, include only the information required and explain everything as succinctly as possible. Never make the person work to understand the point or the action item.
Share your opinions, when appropriate.
Too often, people fail to share critical opinions with executives at their company just because they are not part of the decision-making team. This approach eliminates any chance of making a good impression with the C-suite. If you have something to say that directly applies to a decision, and if you can back up your opinion with objective information, executives will likely respect your input. After all, you have just as much of a stake in the success of the company as those in decision-making roles. Ultimately, the C-suite may not follow your advice, but the fact that you presented a well-reasoned argument will count in your favor.
People who are trying to create a great impression with a C-level executive often take things personally, which in turn discourages them from pursuing the relationship further. Executives may seem dominating or abrupt, but you shouldn’t necessarily interpret that to mean that they don’t like you personally, or that they’re completely dismissing you. If you don’t get the response you hoped for, wait for a better time, bring up the subject again and remind the executive why the matter is important. When you communicate clearly and succinctly, you’re more likely to get their attention.
Demonstrate the bottom-line impact.
When you bring up a topic with a C-suite executive, it may not always be immediately clear how the issue impacts the bottom line. Instead of making assumptions, you should explain what the ultimate impact is. For example, if you want to talk about offering a new employee training program, a C-level executive may see it as an expense rather than an investment. Do your research and demonstrate how the training will drive profits and pay for itself.
Approach with confidence.
When you talk to C-suite executives, try to avoid second-guessing yourself. If you approach them with confidence, you’re more likely to earn their respect. In addition, if your ultimate goal is to attain a C-level position, you need to start acting like a leader and a decision-maker today. As a C-level executive observes your behavior, he or she is more likely to think of you as a peer rather than a follower. Confidence is key to earning respect.
Prove that you are a confidant.
C-level executives are people like everyone else, and they also experience professional and personal disappointments. Avoid acting surprised when someone in this position expresses this, and instead become a confidant by demonstrating that you’re someone they can trust. This action goes further in showing that you are an equal and that you understand the complicated nature of their position. Being regarded as a confidant can earn you invitations to high-level meetings at the company.
Cater your approach according to the individual.
Each C-level executive, just like every person, has a different style of interpersonal communication. Before you approach the person, try to do some reconnaissance work to understand what style works best with him or her. Some people prefer emails, while others value in-person communication. Likewise, some people like a completely direct approach, while others may find this too bold or impolite. In any case, remember that many executives like to back up everything they say with data and examples. Only make your approach when you have your own relevant data and supporting information.
Establish your business acumen.
When a C-level executive takes on a mentee, that person understands that a large part of the role involves education, or even re-education. However, don’t expect a C-suite executive to take the place of an introductory business class, or serve as a substitute for a few years of on-the-job experience. You need to show that you’re not starting from scratch and that you already have a strong business sense. While you won’t possess the same level of expertise as the executive, you should be able to piece together a company’s larger, overarching issues and understand how they impact the decision-making process. If you constantly ask for clarification of basic principles, the executive probably won’t want to mentor you.