Here’s why you should never ask a busy person to lunch (and what to do instead)

Networking is every successful person’s middle name—but meeting with a busy person is a challenge. Although we can’t give you the secret handshake that will land you a meeting with Sheryl Sandberg (there’s a secret handshake, right?) we can dole out successful networking tips and tricks that will get you in the door with someone high-ranking who has the potential to advance your career. 

Just because networking can feel impossible, doesn’t mean it is. Meeting your career heroes isn’t unheard of and landing that crucial meeting can be done, but you’ll have to get creative. Your career crush didn’t make it where they are by taking every lunch meeting they were cold emailed about. So, here are some ways you can stand out and get your foot in the door.

Try Getting in Touch With Their Assistant First

There are some who claim that a cold call or cold email shows bold initiative. And sometimes, when the work powers that be are acting in your favor, a cold email will launch your career in a way you can’t imagine. There are always outliers. 

Case in point: Jaclyn Johnson, CEO and founder of Create & Cultivate, cold emailed Garance Doré, and she responded and then spoke at C&C Chicago. You never know what will happen until you put yourself out in the universe. But if after a cold email and a follow-up you’re still not getting anything, you should try a new road before either, a) giving up, or b) hounding someone to the point where they will never meet with you. 

When you are just getting started, don’t assume that you are the exception. Assume you are the rule. (That’s not to say you shouldn’t be confident. There is a difference.) Most busy people will not appreciate you clogging up their inbox. It’s not uncommon for a CEO to receive 1000+ emails a day, and wading through those can feel like torture. 

Think of the assistant as Saint Peter at The Gates. You’re not getting in unless you make good with Pete. Many CEOs and executives will have their assistants linked to their inboxes. Meeting with them could be a great inroad. Offer to take them to coffee or lunch. Ask for 15 minutes of their time before you try and meet with their boss. Assistants are overworked, overtired, and often under-appreciated. Get on their good side and it just might land you on their employer’s schedule. 

Skip the Standard Cold Call and Email Vernacular

There is a story in Silicon Valley about Tristan Walker, who recently raised $24 million for personal care products for POC. Before branching out on his own as CEO of Walker and Company, he worked for Foursquare—a job he got from cold emailing the founders eight times. Two years after landing the position, Walker posted the correspondence that landed him a meeting on his blog. You can read it here. There were many, including IA Ventures’ Ben Siscovick who said, “If you are outside StartupLand looking to get in, read this then read it again—this is how it’s done.”

However, despite his success, Walker’s original email is exactly what we would warn against. There is passion in his voice, yes, but he notes nothing concrete that he would bring to the Foursquare team. It worked for Walker, but in most cases, this will not work. Don’t tell a company how awesome they are. Don’t tell someone you’re “hungry.” In a few short sentences, you should be able to explain exactly what you can bring to the table. Be as specific as possible.

For example, if you want to meet with the CEO of a marketing company, convey in two sentences how you’ve helped another company grow, or an idea you had for a client that performed on social well. When applicable, give stats. 

If You’re Asking Them for the Meeting, You Go to Them 

This is really simple. Don’t ask someone to coffee and then suggest a place to meet. Bring them coffee. Show up where they are and make it easy. 

By Failing to Prepare, You Are Preparing to Fail

Come with questions. If person X is giving you 15 minutes of their time, you should be prepared to make use of every. single. second. 

I recently had someone tell me, “I have three.” As in minutes. You better believe that I wrote down what I needed and made those three minutes count. If you waste three minutes of someone’s time, you can be sure that they won’t give you ten in the future. 

You don’t need to print out your resume. Honestly, it’s a little dated and most people are more interested in getting a read on you, not reading what you print on paper. 

This article first appeared on Create and Cultivate.