19

First thing first. If you google this question, very likely you would result in bunch of hollow advice like, 'just be yourself, they are also human beings'. Or something like, 'they are more than happy to offer as long as you ask'.

However, what I observe from reality is that this is totally not true. In reality, even as a capable employee of my boss, my boss would only think about me when he needs me. Other things, he doesn't care at all, and tries to cut every friendly conversation short.

Soon I grow to realize the seniors just don't bother. I could be wrong, but the impression I got from numerous attempts is like, juniors are just like disposable tools for them to achieve their next great bonus or career aspiration.

Maybe I'm too pessimistic, but it seems to me to be a problem. Thus, I'm seeking honest answers to how to properly network with seniors within the company (assume a large organization). I want the 0 to 1 process. But things become very difficult, as seniors judge juniors on the ground of 'what can you do for me?'.

To simplify things and be very honest, the goal of networking would be for career progression. It exists, no matter how you deny it.

Edit: some people ask for rigorous definition of juniority. But as the discussion goes, it is never definite. Despite the terms 'junior' and 'senior' are always implicitly consensed, but for the sake of convenience and rigor, a one sentence assumption to facilitate discussion would be: junior is a relative term, relative to N+2 or up. Though junior is more commonly referred to those with <3 years of work experience. But it would be good to see both cases discussed if possible. The focus here is the rank superiority in general.

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  • 6
    "..3 years still junior?" In case you worked within this company already for 3 years I'd consider you as an established employee. But 3 years experience within your field is still 'junior' in my opinion - thou opinions may vary.. Try not to take downvotes personally, some people have their point of view on this question and therefore downvoted it - nothing to worry too much about ;)
    – iLuvLogix
    Jan 3, 2023 at 14:04
  • 11
    You say your "goal of networking would be for career progression." Why is it a surprise that "the seniors just don't bother"? If your interest in them (as people) were sincere, maybe you would fare differently.
    – Theodore
    Jan 3, 2023 at 15:45
  • 18
    I believe "networking" assumes that involved parties mutually benefit in the result. I do not see it here.
    – PM 77-1
    Jan 3, 2023 at 18:26
  • 10
    "'just be yourself, they are also human beings' [..] what I observe from reality is that this is totally not true" Are you working for lizard people? This can significantly impact the correct answer.
    – Flater
    Jan 3, 2023 at 23:20
  • 5
    @Student "would you still call work experience with 3 years still junior?" This might not apply to every kind of job, and I can only vouch for the IT sector, but the seniority of a position is not inherently decided by the time that has elapsed since you started. If it were, promotions would be set on a schedule rather than being judged by merit. Some people take a decade to progress to senior positions, others can shoot up in record time.
    – Flater
    Jan 3, 2023 at 23:23

9 Answers 9

29

Short and simple answer here:

Try networking at the water-cooler, in breaks or during company events and try to engage in a professional conversation with them (leave politics and similar sensitive and controversial topics out of that, maybe some tech-talk will work depending on the field you are in).

In case nobody wants to connect with you professionally - you could always sign up for LinkedIn, Xing or the like and start your career-network outside of your current workplace.

In regards to:

" In reality, even as a capable employee of my boss, my boss would only think about me when he needs me. Other things, he doesn't care at all, and try to cut every friendly conversation short."

That's their choice and quite common - as long as they are friendly you have to accept that. Not everyone wants to engage on a more personal level beyond what's professionally needed - and that's completely within their rights to set that boundary.

21

Remember that a senior manager's time is valuable, there are many demands on that time, and that unless you work in a small company, they literally do not have time to spend on just getting to know everyone.

If you want to get on their radar, you need to do so on merit. Assume they will be annoyed if you waste their time, and don't bother them unless they invite input and you have something that is genuinely worth their time and that they are the most appropriate person to contact for.

Wait for them to create opportunities -- all-hands meetings where they stay afterwards to take informal questions -- or catch them at social events they sponsor or attend where work isn't the primary focus

Or, if there is an internal discussion system like Slack which they participate in, you may be able to distinguish yourself by being a valued participant there and you may be noticed. Note that I said "valued", not just visible.

Or, network with folks nearer your own level, which is generally much easier and more productive.

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  • 2
    This is bad advice. Getting to know people requires effort to actually socialize. Just putting your head down and work is actually going to damage you in the long run if you don't make an effort to connect with people.
    – Bene
    Jan 4, 2023 at 0:46
  • 12
    There are appropriate ways to connect with people. Trying to force a skip-level connection at work has extremely high risk of backlash. That's politicking at best, and quite possibly brown-nosing.
    – keshlam
    Jan 4, 2023 at 5:15
  • 8
    I've often done skip-level, but NOT FOR TRIVIAL THINGS. Which is my point. Networking qua networking is not a reason that they will usually appreciate. It has to be something that justified the time spent by both parties, and the farther the jump the harder it is to find a good justification. Yes, knowing a division director personally is sometimes useful, but that evolved out of having actually worked with them on something; trying to manufacture a connection would have gotten me classified as a nuisance at best and wouldn't have gotten the assist I needed. Do it right or don't try.
    – keshlam
    Jan 4, 2023 at 16:22
  • 6
    @Bene I don't know; I have been pulled up to C-suite meetings and private conversations with execs in several organizations while pretty much keeping my head down. And now has seen the same conversations from the other side: if you have someone not just technically capable, but able to lead, you pull them up. If all they do is executing tasks they are assigned and cooler talking you, they are not likely to get anywhere. Possibly, the doors will get shut for them if they manage to be particularly annoying with nothing to back it up with.
    – Lodinn
    Jan 4, 2023 at 18:04
  • 2
    There can be many pitfalls in 'skip' networking, if you are seen as not respecting your own manager. I would tread carefully. Jan 4, 2023 at 21:22
9

If you want to socialize, then find social events at work to attend. Does your company have

  • Employee events? Things like summer picnic, Christmas party.
  • Charity work. There might be a fund raising for a "5k walk for ____"

These kinds of events don't run themselves, and volunteering is a good way to interact with people.

If you work for a souless kind of corporation, maybe you can lead some small events. A potluck lunch. A fantasy sports league (months worth of small talk right here). A halloween office decoration contest.


If you want to network, I would search for "problems" to work on(*). This depends on your skillset, and the industry you work in.

Do you interface with other departments? Are you aware of any direct "friction" that causes inefficency? Perhaps your supervisor isn't so keen on small talk, but maybe topics of a more "corporate" interest are easier to converse on. Ideally, this is more productive than just complaining about something.

Some companies have small amounts of funds allocated to "business development" or small R&D type projects. Such projects often would benefit from additional help. This is a good way to meet peers with unrelated skills, but also networking with superiors.

Do you have relevant skills that your peers do not, or more experience in some area? Leading a "lunch and learn" event could be beneficial where you talk about a specific technology.

Do you have IT/programming skills? I guarantee there are higherups that spend too much time on a simple task that coule be automated by a simple script (beware (*)). Something that helped my current career was working on a problem several senior managers were dealing with.

Do you have annual performance reviews? Maybe you and your supervisor can define a small (*) extra goal that touches on the above concepts. This also provides justification for further discussion (status repotrs, clarification on goals/requirements, etc).


(*) Budget your time accordingly, probably outside of your normal working hours. Some of these tasks you will be compensated for, some you will not. This may or may not ever pay off. In your situation, perhaps corporate recognition has intrinsic value. Set a personal limit on your "risk tolerance" and how long you are willing to wait for any payoff.

6

Unfortunately, you can't force people to network with you if they're more invested in their own social/professional group.

There's a couple of tactics you can use to increase your visibility.

  1. Simply be friendly - a friendly smile and a "hello" if you meet managers and a bit of small talk lets them get to know you a little without seeming like you're forcing yourself upon them.

  2. Find out what they enjoy doing and parrot that behaviour. This behaviour is more common in the USA where if you want to get in with a boss who likes golf (for example), you take up golf.

I generally stay friendly with people and every so often I find myself invited to social events. It does help that my managers are pretty friendly open people too though.

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    "Parrot that behaviour" may be common in the US, but it's also a way to distance yourself from coworkers. A more appropriate action to take would be to find common interests. If the boss/manager is interested in car racing/3D printing/woodworking/whatever, talk about it, show your real interest and knowledge in it, not some contrived topic that you don't really enjoy. Parroting will gain you more enemies than friends, and it may only work in certain specific instances, rather than in a general sense throughout your career. Jan 3, 2023 at 20:58
  • It isn't cmon in the US these days, except among folks who have been sold a bill of goods by books like HTMFAIP which are big sellers because they claim to have a shortcut but which realistically don't deliver what they promise.
    – keshlam
    Jan 6, 2023 at 5:02
4

What I observe in the modern workplace is that most managers do not "network" at all. What time they do not spend working, they spend at home with their family. Fraternizing even with close friends, much less colleagues is minimal. I host very fancy, luxurious parties frequently and have to practically drag people out of their houses to come. Sure, if the person is 25 years old and single they will come. But a 40-year old executive with 3 kids, it is like a 1% chance I can get him to come, unless there is some huge incentive or compulsion. People just aren't interested in socializing anymore. It just gets more and more isolated and insular every year.

So, the bottom line here is that you are more or less wasting your energy if you want to befriend an older, married executive.

The only real exception is that when there is some organized activity that the executives make time for, like fishing or hunting or something like that. Planned outings. To the extent that such outings exist, that is what you should concentrate on. You may even be able to nudge people in the company into organizing an outing.

4
  • I would not ever come to such a party back when I was in my early 20s and single. Either I liked you before - in which case, fair game - or I would really, really dislike you for entertaining the idea of inviting me more than once. Amusingly, I am somewhat moving in the opposite direction an getting more open to such social life. But I still find the advice of trying to rope people into social outings really hard to accept, at least at the point where you are distant with those people.
    – Lodinn
    Jan 4, 2023 at 17:56
  • @Lodinn I have other parties where people lay around in casual clothing on couches eating pizza and drinking beer for people like you. The nice parties are for the executives and their wives.
    – Socrates
    Jan 4, 2023 at 22:02
  • 1
    Hmpf, it is hard to tell if I attended more posh parties or pizza and beer parties in my youth. By count alone, probably pizza and beer. It is not the type of the party, it is the very invitation I would find offensive and out of the line - if you would fail to read the room repeatedly. I said "no" a few times already, what makes you think I am changing my mind for the next one? That said, invitations to a BBQ are somewhat common here, and you can meet both young juniors and senior execs there, but approaching people directly, one-on-one with invitations is a big no-no still.
    – Lodinn
    Jan 5, 2023 at 2:44
  • What I think you are stating here is that it's difficult networking with or getting to know people outside your current stage in life. However, it is a lot easier to strike up meaningful conversations if you have kids, pets, or family going through the same things as those you wish to talk to.
    – Fuffer
    Jan 9, 2023 at 17:18
2

iLuvLogix has a good answer, but missed an opportunity with their approach.

If you find a common interest outside of work, you will have a better chance of having a real conversation with whomever you are trying to talk to. Generally, this works best if it's a personal interest of theirs, instead of it being work related, but you can (and probably should) start off the conversation on a work related conversation.

The trick is to not make it seem like a planned speech or some formal elevator pitch. Keep it conversational and if they aren't interested, try again later. Maybe.

Don't be pushy, just be friendly. Maybe they just don't have time right that second to talk about it, and maybe they'll come back to you about the topic. And maybe they won't.

And don't be a pest. Talk to them when it seems natural to do so, rather than chasing them down at every opportunity.

People have a wide variety of responses to social interaction and not all of them are great. If you've seen the original GhostBusters movie, you might remember that Janine tries to spark up a conversation with Egon soon after was she hired, but fails miserably because he doesn't really know how to respond appropriately. There may simply not be a good way to interact with some people without a significant amount of effort, and some of that effort may not be welcome, so definitely pick and choose the appropriate people to try to talk to. This feeds into the last paragraph of iLuvLogix 's answer, which I totally agree with.

2

Personally, I feel like 'networking' as a career move should be retired.

Unless you're in sales and relationships are your business, networking can be overrated.

As more companies focus on technology and automation, TedTalk style presentations seem to garner more internal respect than generic water cooler conversations. Leaders and managers have to be webinar mastercrafters.

If your company does regular meetings with employee-led agendas, consider proposing a talk on a new technology or process that you or your team have found successful. Or if you're more on the business side of things, create a case-study on one of your clients.

Managers love this kind of stuff and will gladly work with employees to demonstrate team wins.

6
  • Very interesting answer. Follow ups: i) how about a non-technical manager leading a technical team? Very easily, especially when the technical team is not of core business, we are left to vent for ourselves. In this kind of complete-hand-off situation, how can your advice apply? ii) this kind of webinar is not happening everyday/low frequency, how to maintain the impression in managers' eyes then?
    – Student
    Jan 5, 2023 at 5:45
  • I downvoted this answer because although I agree that too many companies make too many important decisions based on interpersonal relationships, this website focuses on actionable advise in the real world. Where networking is unfortunately still more important than doing something useful.
    – Philipp
    Jan 5, 2023 at 11:29
  • Updated, disagreeing strongly with @Philipp. Though this may vary between countries, professions, and companies, networking as The Answer and skip-level networking in particular has definitely been oversold. And LeLetter does provide alternative actionable advice which may be as effective or more effective. Build a general reputation and leadership may reach out to you.
    – keshlam
    Jan 5, 2023 at 16:10
  • @Student managers of technical teams have a unique and powerful position: the ability to translate the wins and acheivements of the technical teams into real improvements for the rest of the company. Technical team managers are also managers of expections. You should coordinate your efforts with product managers as much as possible, and become the person people talk to instead of individual contributors.
    – LeLetter
    Jan 5, 2023 at 17:25
  • @Philipp While it is important, I've seen it done poorly enough (by myself and others) that I'm starting to think it shouldn't be the end-all-be-all of career growth tactics. Demonstrating an ability to do the job is (slowly) becoming more valuable than personal water cooler conversations.
    – LeLetter
    Jan 5, 2023 at 17:39
2

The same way you make conversation with anyone else: you find out what their hobbies and interests are and look for overlap with your own. I ran into a Vice President for my company at the airport gate when we were both flying home after a company event. Didn't even know he was a VP at my company (it's a major airport and I don't live anywhere near the home office so it was actually a bit surprising). But I noticed that he had some boat-related paraphernalia, and I like sailing, so I struck up a conversation. Of course during the course of the conversation realized who he was, we talked shop a bit too.

Did I get any tangible benefit? Not immediately. But that wasn't the goal: I was just making the best of the situation I found myself in. Now, at least to that particular individual, my face is not a blank one in a mass of peons, but instead "that guy I met at the airport and talked about sailing and yachts with". You are almost certainly not going to have some "big break" moment where a senior manager "discovers" you and you finally get all the recognition you crave and you feel your talent deserves. You get there by being a competent affable self-promoter who gets **** done and doesn't let anyone forget it.

It helps to genuinely like people. Or to be a scheming Machiavellian sociopath. The first one is easier for me, YMMV.

1

I had a former boss who I approached during a 1 on 1 with "So... how exactly do we get you promoted because I'm trying to make more money" which he thought was very funny (given how most people try to warm up at the water cooler /make it professional etc...) but ultimately led to a very constructive relationship and getting myself on a management track.

It's not the fact that I made a joke that mattered here (although it helped), its the fact that it was direct. I have found in general with being this direct that it's either a home run or an instant strike out. With a lot more strikeouts than homeruns (although the ratio can improve with practice). You probably shouldn't practice on your boss first thing until you feel like you know how to build good rapport.

I would start by finding semi-distant leadership and directly asking them (and being honest about it) "hey I think what you do is cool, what kinds of problems could I work on to learn more about this area", or if you already know that you have some good skills you can directly ask "hey I think what you do is cool, I was thinking about problem X in your area and had an idea, would this be useful for us to pursue?"

You can also say "hey what can I do for you that would helpful to you". Expect more rejections at connections than acceptances but at some point someone might say "Well look, we have "hard problem x" if you can make some progress on it that would be useful" and then you go do your homework and come back with a prototype/collection of ideas etc... and mentorship starts there.

Keep in mind: having a mentor IS NOT THE SAME as having a sponsor. A sponsor is someone who takes a great liking of you and believes your success/failure to be their own success/failure. It's possible to find mentors easily using the above strategies, but finding sponsors requires you to actually convince someone "I am worth investing in, investing time in me will be a greater reward than saving that time/investing it in someone else". Finding a sponsor is difficult, it requires you to actually be a good investment (or at least have the appearance of being a good investment but the facade can only last so long).

And at some point to move up in management/career you need to have sponsors and not merely mentors.

2
  • Thanks for the advice! Regarding to proposing to work on a problem, I wonder how could I precisely know what their pain points are while not directly in the team? And why people would reject more than accept on "hey what can I do for you that would helpful to you"?
    – Student
    Jan 6, 2023 at 1:30
  • If you don’t know how to know then you should ask. A simple way to know is (if they build a product) use the product and find a bug or come up with a useful feature and learn as much as you can to build this feature yourself. Jan 6, 2023 at 16:01

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