The Call CEOs Dread: Steps To Avoid Making a Terrible First Impression

Written By Kaisa Kokkonen Published March 23rd, 2010

The call most CEOs dread could start like this: “Hi, my name is John Smith. Kent Johnson suggested we meet. Is there any time in the next few weeks we could get together for lunch?” or “Can we have lunch, just to get to know each other better?” You have no idea how busy CEOs (in fact any successful person) absolutely hate to hear these sentences. Common courtesy to the caller and “Kent Johnson” means the poor CEO has little choice but to squeeze you into his already 75-hour work week, meaning that work, family or charitable duties must suffer.

Finally, it’s the day of the dreaded meeting. If the CEO has a great assistant maybe she has managed to convert the lunch to a short meeting.

“Nice to meet you, sir. So glad you had the time to meet up with me.”
“Nice to meet you, too.”
“So how do you know Kent?”
“We met a few weeks ago at the golf course, and your name came up.”
Another fifteen minutes are wasted on empty pleasantries, like the latest golf scores and the weather. Finally the moment comes.
“So what can I do to help you?”
“Well, I really don’t know. I try to network with as many people as possible. I’m thinking about changing careers.” (Heavy sigh from the CEO.)
“So what kind of job do you think would interest you?”
“Well, I’m not sure. Something exciting compared to my current job and pays very well. I’m really open to anything you may have in mind.” (Now the CEO looks really frustrated)
Then, if the poor CEO is really unlucky, the guest begins to tell his “not-so-interesting” life story in detail. Another fifteen to twenty minutes goes by. The clock is ticking – slowly. Very slowly. Finally, the meeting is over. Another half hour wasted.

Here is what went wrong with the above in my opinion. Is the CEO not social enough? Mean? I don ‘t think so. Even the most charitable person has the right to know: “What’s in it for me?” Although in this case “what’s in it for me” is the joy of helping someone else. Basically, any CEO with a family and obligations to community has every minute of his day already signed up. In return there’s an opportunity cost for every new meeting accepted. If you waste his time because you haven’t thought about your own goals, you come off being, at best – naïve; at worst, completely self-absorbed. I think we can all agree you did not make the best first impression.

It is a complete waste of time for this CEO to use his valuable time to educate you about his industry or decide what you should do with your life. He doesn’t
know you well enough to give you personal career advice. If you want to learn more about an industry, it’s more efficient and effective to read about the industry first
and then interview front line workers — not bother a CEO with general questions.

But, But, But … “But don’t CEOS want to make new friends?” Of course but at their own choosing, not as a social obligation because they are forced to meet you. The odds are against for making a friend in this situation. It is not his responsibility to listen to you. That’s the job of a spouse, friend, therapist or counselor.
If you need to learn more about the industry go and read a book, browse the Internet etc. You need to do hours of research to even scratch the surface of any industry. If your goal is just to meet influential people, well – so does everyone else. That doesn’t mean THEY want to meet you – that’s the reality. You may be talented and wonderful but you’d have to prove that. And guess what, the world is full of talented and wonderful people.

You must know exactly what you need. “Can you introduce me to Bill Bates? I’d like to ask him some questions about the computer industry.”
Why would Bill Gates have any interest in meeting You? Or what would Bill Gates have to skip to make time to meet you. Consider how much personal
capital it would take your friend to set up such a meeting with Bill Gates or what the cost would be to him if he wasted Gates’ time.

The first rule of any “networking” is that you must put yourself in the shoes of the other person. Why would Bill Gates want to meet you? How canhe help with the least possible expenditure of time or effort? How can you make such a meeting desirable for Bill Gates? If you cannot recast your idea of networking—“Here’s what I need,”— into one of humble service: “I’ve got something to give to the world, and with just a little help from you I can make my dream a reality,” you shouldn’t
expect to get far. The reality is you cannot expect the world to revolve around you and what you need.

The suggestions below will help you get the most out of personal meetings with CEOs

Step 1: Get You Home Work Done Before the Meeting.
Do whatever you can to narrow your search to a few industries and research these industries and the leading companies and people in detail. Ask the people close to who what you do better than most. Take some aptitude tests if possible to get your personal “soul searching done”.
you do better than most. Do whatever it takes to narrow your search to a few industries.

Step 2. Specify Your Needs in Detail.
Be super clear about what you want and how a little effort on their part can make a big difference in your life. Bill Gates is far more likely to help you if he understands
what you need, why it matters and how he can help with a minimum of time and effort. If you can’t explain this in a few sentences, you are better of skipping that meeting. Seriously.

Step 3. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes as a rule. Always.
Put yourself in their shoes every time when you contact anyone. Why would they want to talk with you? How can you make it easy on them? How can you
demonstrate that talking with you would be entertaining or educational? At the very least, be humble and appreciative.

4. Easy is the Way to Go.
No lunch if a short meeting will do. No meeting if a phone call will suffice. Iif an e-mail will get the job done do NOT ask even for a call.

Step 5. Do not Become a Pest.
Back off if the other person isn’t interested. You can always ask if there’s someone else they suggest you could talk with or something they suggest you read. Perseverance is a great character trait – known in Finland as sisu – if you are pursuing a worthy goal, but an empty meeting is not a worthy goal.

Step 6. Start at the bottom.

Do yourself a favor and narrow the list of industries, make your first contacts with people who are helping serve real customers – maybe recently joined the
company. These are the people who can tell you the most about what your experience will be like with this company and this industry. Learn about an industry’s history by reading biographies of industry pioneers.

7. Prepare, Prepare and Prepare.
If you truly need a phone call or meeting, better be prepared. Read all the important books about the industry and the biographies about its pioneers in advance. Research the company and the individual with whom you are meeting.

Step 8. Send a list of questions in advance.
If you have a short list of questions that helps set the agenda and shows that you’ve done your homework. Sending that list in advance makes the most of a short meeting.

Step 9. Get Personal – Ask Questions.
Keep in mind that your goal in a face-to-face meeting is to establish a relationship. Use your time in a personal interview to learn about the other person. How did they make it? Any mistakes you should be aware of? What do they regret – or cherish? If they believe you are sincere and dedicated to their industry, and perhaps following in their steps, they are more likely to see you as a younger version of themselves, and are more likely to want to help. Be authentic.

Step 10. Give something unexpected in return.
Being willing to give of yourself without being asked is a sign of maturity and character. Whether it is time for his charity – or some other way you can give them an unexpected gift, it counts. At least pledge to help someone like yourself in the future – pay forward like any other good person.
A busy CEO can make up to several million dollars each year. That means his time per hour is worth a thousand dollars or so on average, and a marginal hour of time is worth much more. By comparison, as a newly minted MBA or young professional, an hour of your time is maybe worth $50 or so, meaning that you should be willing
to volunteer several hours of your time in return for a half-hour meeting. If this sounds way too expensive I think you really don’t need the meeting. Sorry, takes are a dime in the dozen.

Step 11. The gatekeepers – Be Respectful and Courteous.
Never ever forget that executive assistants run many companies in reality. They can be the most valuable source of information about a company or a CEO. They are not a barrier, they

12 Follow up.
Always, always, always write a handwritten thank you note. Let the CEO how his advice or recommendation helped. Do something unexpected.

CEOs are busy. Every moment of their time already is committed. People who use social contrivances or relationships to gain access for meaningless meetings
take time away from them – don’t go there. You become someone who will be remembered as a nuisance. Pay forward!


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Investing in Your Destiny® & Coaching Program - Wealth Building Summit Dallas, Texas

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