Everybody agrees that networking matters.
It matters for getting jobs. It matters for being good at those jobs. It matters for finding mentors, sponsors, and general champions. It matters for getting promotions.
But while we can and probably should continue to drink half-priced beers, file business cards, and write follow-up emails, there’s one incredibly simple networking trick that can seriously boost your career — and it’s not necessarily intuitive, especially for women, says Karen Licitra, Corporate Vice President of Government Affairs and Public Policy at Johnson & Johnson.
You should schmooze with the senior people in your own organisation.
If it sounds simple, that’s because it is simple — but that doesn’t mean it’s always obvious.
“Growing up in the company with my male colleagues,” Licitra recalls, “I would see them in my boss’s office all the time, just going back and forth. And I finally said to my husband, who worked with me, ‘what do you talk about?’ And he said, ‘Well, nothing — I’m just kinda asking him what he thinks about stuff.'”
The thing is, “just kinda asking” matters.
“You’ve got to learn to take the time to get people to know who you are, both inside and outside of work,” Licitra explains. That means approaching senior colleagues to chat.
“It doesn’t have to be an hour,” she says. “Talk to them for 20 minutes. Say, ‘Hey, I’m interested in your career, I’m interested in what you did and how you got there’ or ‘Here’s a problem I’m dealing with, what do you think? What has your experience taught you?'”
“It gets people to know you — to put a face with a name,” Licitra says. And it’s true: to access new opportunities, you need to be on people’s radars.
So if it’s so important, then why do generally high-achieving women seem to struggle more with this kind of just-popping-by?
“We tend to stay in our offices, keep our heads down — we’re trying to be productive,” she suggests. “I think [women] always feel like they have to have a plan, a specific reason to go and talk to somebody.”
That’s been Licitra’s own experience: while her husband was casually swinging by the boss’s office to get his take on stuff, she wasn’t approaching unless she was armed with “a PowerPoint deck and an agenda.”
That attitude is understandable, she says — but it’s also a mistake. For one thing,
“When you can engage your boss in what you’re thinking about, they feel like they’re more part of the team, that they’re helping you,” she says. “And that’s a great way to build trust and relationships.”
The chances of the corner office someday becoming yours go way up if you’ve got a dialogue going with the person already in it.
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