As an ambitious junior in college I had heard the stories about how networking and creating personal relationships could make or break my future career. However, I also knew how intimidating it could be to ask a professional to spend some of their precious time to just sit and chat with you. But, I had an opportunity thrown into my lap and decided to put my bravery and this networking thing to the test. I worked as an editor at my college newspaper and was able to attend a student editor’s workshop at the New York Times. I had never been to the Big Apple and I was giddy with excitement. I also knew that one of my heroes resided in this city. So, I sent this particular journalist an email asking if he would have just 30 minutes to meet up and talk with me. I didn’t expect a yes, and I didn’t even expect a response. So you can imagine how my heart jumped into my throat when he responded with a “Sure!” and gave me a date and time to meet up at a coffee shop. I’ll tell you, that weekend and that meeting was life changing. If not just for my ambitions, but for my realization that I could network with cool people and create these beautiful connections that would continue to inspire me to this day.
The following summer I was working in D.C. and decided to take my findings a step further. I challenged myself to ask professionals and executives to lunch. I wanted to be able to sit down with them, ask them questions about their careers, and create a personal relationship that is deeper than emails or a “Hi” in the hallway. I had several talks with my supervisor over lunches about how to improve my work and how his journey brought him to where he was now. I was able to connect with documentary filmmakers and people from all over the world. I started to build a network of people who I could go to for advise, help, or keep up with for future endeavors. Here is what I discovered about why lunch breaks can be so successful:
- Everyone takes lunch breaks. We all have to eat lunch at some point during the day, plus it’s nice to have a short break from all of the emails and meetings. Lunch breaks are a great time for you to ask people to meet up because they will normally be taking a lunch break anyways.
- You don’t cut into their schedule. By asking them to go to lunch, you aren’t taking away from time they have scheduled out for other things. People will usually set aside at least 30 minutes to eat, so if you can join them during that time it is perfect.
- It gives you something to talk about. Sometimes meeting with someone one on one can be intimidating and awkward. I’ve found that choosing somewhere to eat can break the ice. Pick somewhere unique, ethnic, or just plain interesting. This will give you something to talk about upon meeting up and can allow you to then gracefully steer the conversation however you wish.
- This makes you memorable. By choosing a fun place to eat, the person you are meeting with will associate that place with you. They will remember the time you asked them to go to lunch and you chatted over curry, pho, or the food truck tacos that you swear are ‘unreal’.
So what I want you to take from this is don’t by shy. Don’t be afraid to ask someone to lunch. I mean, the worst that can happen is they say no and then you both go about your day as your normally would. There is no risk involved in this and if you send out those email invitations, you will begin to create lasting relationships and friendships that will help you in ways you couldn’t have imagined.