Meeting with Your CEO? Read This First

When Priscilla Ning ’19 starts an internship, she does it with a goal in mind: networking.

While on the job, she’s focused on connecting with as many people as she can. Including the company’s CEO.

“Whenever I start an internship, I make networking a priority,” she said. “I make a short list of people I’d like to meet, and at the top of that list is the CEO.”

That’s exactly what she did as a corporate sales intern at subscription snacking service NatureBox: connected with Gautam Gupta ’07, the company’s co-founder and CEO.

How does an intern connect with the CEO? It takes clear communication, an eye for personal growth and career management, and a high level of professionalism—all skills taught to undergraduate students at Babson.

Babson’s undergraduate curriculum educates students on the fundamentals of business while preparing them to competent professionals. In partnership with the Hoffman Family Undergraduate Center for Career Development (UGCCD), Babson faculty integrate career readiness into the classroom to prepare students for work the moment they leave campus. UGCCD engages with students from their first day on campus and throughout their college journey. That includes helping them become internship-ready well before graduation.

Step one in securing the meeting: just ask, said Donna Sosnowski, director of UGCCD. “Go for it. Have enough confidence to be able to pursue this. What’s the worst that can happen? He or she says no. But, the best? That individual will talk to you.”

What to Ask Your CEO

Once you secure the meeting with your CEO, spend some time thinking about what you want to talk about.

“I try to come up with questions that might be unexpected and that are on topics that I’m interested in learning about,” said Ning. “I don’t want to be typical.”

And, while it’s wise to go in with an idea of what you’d like to ask, don’t think of it as a strict script. Instead, use it as a baseline, and let the conversation flow from there. “Aim for it to be conversational, rather than just shooting questions,” advised Sosnowski. “It’s not an interview!”

So, what should you ask when meeting with your CEO? Here’s a list of starter ideas from Ning, Sosnowski, and members of Babson’s Undergraduate Center for Career Development.

  • What was your career path?
  • Who are your mentors?
  • What challenges have you faced to get to where you are today?
    • What did you learn? How did that challenge influence your path?
  • How do interns fit into your company’s strategy?
    • How can I be of greater help?
  • What keeps you up at night?
  • What do you do outside of work?
  • What are you reading now?
  • How has your career evolved?
  • If you could do it all over again, what would you do differently?
  • What has surprised you most in the last year? Last five years?
  • What advice do you have for interns?

Just don’t forget to do research before you head in. “Maybe you speak the same language, or both do yoga,” said Emily Besen, assistant director, international relationship manager at UGCCD. Finding those commonalities will help the conversation flow, and ultimately lead to a better experience overall.

And, what can result from a good experience? For Ning, it inspired a blog that eventually helped land her another internship.

Or, maybe the understanding you gain will help your internship experience. “It can make you indispensable, valuable,” said Besen. “You’ll know the priorities of the company so you can better contribute to their goals.”

If you’re personally interested in that career path, understanding the CEO’s journey can ultimately advise your own, said Sosnowski. You could even develop a mentoring relationship. And, if you can’t meet with the CEO, no sweat—try to connect with other leaders across the company using the same approach.

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