Search around for networking advice and you're likely to unearth the same sensible-sounding tips again and again: leverage social media, focus on how you can help, attend lots of events, take people out for coffee, etc.
These are all solid suggestions for those early in their careers, but if you're hoping to connect with those at the pinnacle of success, you're going to need another game plan. Those at the top of their profession are more likely to be annoyed by your LinkedIn request, cold email, or canned cocktail party introduction than intrigued by it. Most likely of all, they'll simply ignore it.
So how do you break through the noise and create genuine connections with the extremely high powered? Duke University's Dorie Clark has a suggestion, which she calls inbound networking.
"The world is competing for the attention of the most successful people. If you want to meet them -- and break through and build a lasting connection -- the best strategy is to make them come to you," she explained on HBR recently.
To do that you'll have to make yourself extremely interesting to your professional heroes. That sounds like a tall order, but Clark offers three concrete tips to help you attract the attention of the super successful.
1. Identify your USP.
What sets you apart from the crowd? Why would a super busy professional want to meet you? If you want to connect with the most successful people, you're going to need to answer these questions first. You're not just looking for professional plaudits or great career successes, you're also looking for the quirky details of your life that might spur real interest and bonding. When it comes to networking with top people, "the way to genuinely capture their interest is to share something that seems exotic to them," claims Clark.
We're often better at evaluating the strengths and experiences of others than we are at examining our own, so Clark suggests you "ask your friends to identify the most fascinating elements of your biography, your interests, or your experiences.... At one recent workshop I led, we discovered that one executive had been a ball boy for the U.S. Open tennis tournament in his youth, and one attorney is an avid and regular surfer in the waters of New York City. Both are intriguing enough to spark a great conversation."
Not coming up with much when you comb your life for fascinating nuggets? Then maybe you need to focus on being more interesting before you attempt to play with the big dogs.
2. Develop expertise.
"Almost nothing elicits more interest than genuine expertise. If someone is drawn to a topic that you're knowledgeable about, you'll move to the top of their list," points out Clark. No surprise there. But she takes this straightforward truth in a slightly unexpected direction.
Work-related knowledge is valuable, but "sometimes it's even better when your expertise is outside the fold of your profession," Clark continues. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett didn't bond over business, she points out -- they bonded over bridge.
"When you're an expert in a given niche, you can often connect on a level playing field with people who, under other circumstances, might be out of reach," Clark concludes. "If you know a lot about wine or nutrition or salsa dancing or email marketing or any of a million other subjects, people who care about that topic are sure to be interested in what you have to say."
3. Be the host.
You might need to start with your own circle of acquaintances, but by asking those who attend your events to invite others, you can slowly expand your reach. "At a certain point you'll gain enough momentum that professionals who have heard about the dinners will even reach out to ask for an invitation," predicts Clark. Not much of a chef? Then why not try creating a Facebook group or starting a Meetup?