Internal interview? Want to meet more of your e team and make a good impression? Then prepare. As the boy scouts say: “always be prepared”.

Recently a client of mine was going to have breakfast with the CFO of her very large corporation. She did not know him well but wanted to create a relationship with him and have him keep her in mind when one of his direct reports moved on. We discussed what she needed to know and how she might conduct herself in the meeting. Here is how we broke it down.

1. Learn the issues the senior team is focused on
Ideally everyone in the company should know the strategic priorities. She recognized that she needed to bone up on these so she knew them, too. She was thinking in advance what she will say to him. I suggested she read the meeting reports and ask others about him. She had and was going to outline them again for her dialogue.

2. Prepare how you might discuss this
My client has been working on her personal brand which was I fix problems. She wanted to be seen as more strategic so she needed to work out a key message about her projects, her career and herself. This is good practice whether you meet a senior person or not. She developed her examples in a list and realized the change in her branding statement needed to be I see opportunities.

3. Be yourself
She knew she would not be interested in many of his interests and passions. So how to relate? She realized she could not pretend but could relate to how much passion she has for something and that feeling passion makes her know and use it to drive her work.
When you are introduced to the senior leader, make eye contact as you shake hands. Smile and act relaxed. Feel free to ask questions about what’s going on in the company. If appropriate, talk about what you are working on. This is your opportunity to use your messages. Strive to be brief and to the point.

Going to a (social) one-on-one meeting

1. Personal Interests
You might try to learn of a boss’s personal interests ahead — hobbies, sports he or she likes, or their volunteer activities. Look around their office. Again ask others, then be sure you now current information about that sport or star or cause. As I write this it could be college football teams’ freshman players errors in the first three televised games; the Major League Baseball playoffs and wild card wins; hurricane relief, children’s diabetes, German Short Hair Pointer training or the Paris spring fashions.

2. Read the situation
Keep speaking if the boss is interested; if not, thank the person for his time and move on, even when you didn’t get the opportunity to use your key messages. In some ways your sense of company etiquette is more important than what you say. Rattling on when no one is interested marks you as lacking in self-awareness; knowing when to end the conversation says much about your ability to read the situation.

Spontaneous Opportunities

1. Have your key messages memorized/Be current on the E suite priorities
Such preparation is good when you know in advance you may meet a senior executive or a member of the board, but what about accidental encounters, say at the airport, a social gathering, or even a sporting event? The good news is that what works for prepared encounters works for impromptu ones. Just assume that someday soon you will run into a senior person and prepare for it as you would for a more predictable encounter. And that preparation will pay off in other contexts too, such as during team meetings or conversations with clients.
That’s why you should practice your key messages from time to time, say on your drive to work. You can even practice by recording them on your mobile phone, just to see how you sound. The exercise will give you confidence that you have what it takes to have a clear and coherent conversation with people in power.

2. People first, executives second
Never forget that senior leaders are people first; executives second. A good leader will know this and act like it. The more you can establish a person-to-person relationship the better you will understand the boss and they you. Never forget your own personal abilities and that making small talk can have a big impact on your career.

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