Meeting an executive can seem intimidating - terrifying even. It’s easy to blurt out the wrong thing and make things uncomfortable. It’s easy not to know what to say or ask.
It’s easier to not do it at all.
To say I was scared to hit “Send” on that email is an understatement. I was terrified. After all, I was just an intern. What would I even talk to CEO of a Fortune 500 company about? Why would he even want to meet with me?
But, I forced myself to hit that button, set up a meeting, and have a surprisingly amazing conversation. I came out quite inspired, with a lot to think about, and a holding few nuggets of wisdom.
Without a doubt, it was the highlight of my internship.
Why you should too
Meeting top level executives puts perspective to your own work.
Their vision spans much larger than others at the company. The decisions they make can potentially affect tens of thousands of employees, with consequences playing out over decades.
There’s a lot to be learned from how they think. The teams I’ve worked in planned 3–4 years in advance, but my CEO mentioned that in order to stay ahead, he needs to look at 20 years and beyond. Understanding a CEO’s priorities and concerns will, in turn, provide you with greater clarity of the trajectory of your work.
If you’re in engineering, you might find yourself quite removed from customers and business goals. Being technically aware is important, but it’s just as important to be cognizant of where the business is heading.
They’re incredible leaders.
Imagine leading an organization of thousands of people (potentially tens of thousands of people). For a CEO to be successful, their vision of the company has to trickle down through layers and layers of hierarchy. Every employee needs to be bought into that mission. The best CEO’s are known for creating supportive, inspiring, and self-sustaining work cultures.
Zuckerberg talks about his role at Facebook…
“It’s been a process over time of building a culture where people think about the mission in the same way that I do. That’s allowed us to take on more and more products and things that we can try to solve for the world.”
Take the world famous Netflix Culture Deck, now on their website…
The decisions a CEO makes as a leader can either propel or sink the company. As a result, they can teach us quite a lot about people management, leadership, and everything in between.
They have some of the best habits.
I’m an avid reader of personal development blogs, always scouring the internet for new content or the latest apps. Top level executives shoulder so much responsibility, yet they still remain sane and enjoy life to its fullest.
We have a lot to learn from that.
As Richard Branson of Virgin put it, “Working out is the secret to being productive.” He says that exercise gives him 4 hours of productivity a day.
The fact that my CEO bikes to work some days and devotes most of the weekend to spend time with family really puts things into perspective.
They give you great life tips
Someone who is a CEO is obviously very successful. They’ve worked with hundreds of people at all levels of the organization, made some significant business decisions, and probably have traveled quite a bit.
But they too started out one day where you’re sitting. Through several good decisions, hard work, and a lot of luck, they’re heading the organization. Who better to give you tips to be successful than someone like that.
When I asked my CEO for one tip that would help me move fast and deliver successful projects, he replied…
“Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
That’s something I’m going to remember for a long time to come.
We only ever read about big CEOs in the news, meeting them in real life is surreal. In many ways, you come out realizing that they’re human too.
How to get started
- Send an email with a soft ask. Tell them you’re interested in learning about what it takes to run such a successful organization and that you would be very grateful for some of their time. Ask to talk for 20 minutes. It might spill over to 30, but 20 sounds a lot better when you ask.
- Be flexible with your schedule. It’ll take some time to put you on their calendar, but just be open to a meeting anytime, anywhere.
- Make a list of questions you want to ask. Have around 10–12 solid questions ready to fill up all the time. Good topics to discuss would be why they joined the company, how they got to be the CEO, where they see the company going, some of their best leadership practices, some challenges they might face, what drives them, how they maintain a balanced life, what they’re passionate about, etc.
- Get to their office early! If you’ve never been there, check it out before-hand and make sure you don’t get lost.
- Dress the part. Don’t look sloppy.
- Say thank you first. Time is a CEO’s most valuable resource and they’re doing you a huge favor by meeting you.
- Have fun, you’re getting an experience of a lifetime! Stay cool, be confident, ask your questions, and have a productive conversation — they’re people too. Make sure to mention the work you’re doing and why you like it.
- Keep track of the time.
- Get a picture if you can! Makes for good memories and stories later on.
- Send a follow up email. Mention some things you learned from that conversation and thank them once more for their time.
If you come out with that meeting with trust in the CEO and a renewed belief in the importance of the work you do, you can count that meeting a success.
Meeting my CEO was the best part of my internship, and will make it a point to try again at future companies I work for. I really hope you do as well! Good luck!