The Power of a Half Hour

Today's guest post is written by Dan P.  Dan is currently in supply chain operations in the consumer goods industry. He enjoys  Michigan State athletics, the Detroit Tigers, golfing and traveling. Dan firmly believes in the power of building relationships through daily interactions and is always looking for great networking opportunities.  


Every day, aspiring business professionals like you walk throughout the halls of corporate offices, college campuses, cafeterias and coffee shops. These settings are filled with coworkers, fellow students, professors, and strangers that are moving along with their day. You may give someone a wave, stop and chat for a few minutes, or you may choose to keep to yourself before your meeting or lecture. What appears to be a short hello or a quick, meaningless conversation could be a great networking opportunity and a possible lead to a one-on-one meeting. As a recent graduate, I have observed many similarities with these daily interactions and these can mirror what happens on a college campus…

Dan’s Four Principles to Guide One-On-One Success:

  • Initiate the Conversation
  • The 30 minute set-up
  • Preparation
  • Follow-up

Initiate the Conversation!

In Corporate America there are dozens of opportunities in a day to interact with coworkers and senior leaders whether it is in meetings, town halls, coffee breaks, walking through the building, etc. As a newer employee, I take full advantage of these chances to interact with professionals that have years of work experience and can give me a piece of advice or two. 

A few weeks back I was on a short, 30 minute connecting flight and sat next to a gentleman on this small puddle jumper. I noticed he was wearing a quarter-zip that had a logo of a golf course near the town I currently live in. As a curious golfer and eager to start a conversation I took this opportunity to ask him how he liked the course…..as the seat belt sign went on I realized that we had talked the entire flight! We exchanged business cards as he mentioned he was a President of a company he started in Ohio and currently on the Board of Directors of a large manufacturing company. 

Initiating the conversation is the first step in the process to a one-on-one. You would be surprised how a simple hello or wave could lead to something bigger. You will find that most people in the corporate world are social (depending on the department). Initiating the conversation gets easier as you move along your career and become more comfortable in the workplace.

The 30 minute Set-Up

Although the conversation I had with the gentleman on the flight became my 30 minute one-on-one, it doesn’t always work that way. Luckily for me, whether he wanted to be engaged or not, he was stuck in that seat for the duration of the flight but reading the engagement and interest of your audience is a different topic…

There are a few best practices when setting up your one-on-one:

  • Email them directly. Mention some of the topics that you discussed in your first conversation. This first email may be your first initiation of the conversation, and that’s okay! Keep your email short and to the point
  • Set-up the meeting on their calendar. Skip the email portion and go straight to scheduling the meeting. You can always put a description in the email explaining what the one-on-one is about. A lot of the time they will know it is coming after you have first initiated the conversation
  • One-on-one times and locations. Don’t be afraid to meet before or after work hours. Coffee shops and restaurants are great locations and can be a nice change of scenery when having discussions
  • 30 minutes to shine. Be mindful of schedules. Thirty minutes is a typical one-on-one time length and can get you a spot on a senior leader’s calendar.  You typically will go over!

Preparation is Key!

Whether you are preparing for a one-on-one with the VP of Marketing or a peer in the business school, the thought process is very similar:

  • Have some specific questions you want to ask. Think about what you want to get out of your conversation
  • Look them up on the company page or LinkedIn to get an idea of their background before you meet
  • Prepare to take notes and utilize these in your follow-up
  • Stay relaxed, engaged and make your 30 minutes count! You would be surprised how a 30 minute conversation can lead to many other opportunities down the road if you leave a good impression!

Follow-Up

One of the most important pieces that students and professionals tend to forget is the follow-up. This piece of the puzzle is essential to moving forward in the relationship with your peers, professors and coworkers.

  • Add them on LinkedIn if you have not already. Don’t hesitate to send them a message through LinkedIn or endorse them for a few skills
  • Follow-up with another one-on-one if needed, potentially change the scenery at another building or location
  • Ask them if there are any others they recommend meeting with in the company to gain more advice and network!

I was on a business trip a few months back and on the flight down I traveled with a few individuals that work in other departments. I sat next to this individual who worked in a department I knew I would be rotating into. After initiating the conversation and talking the entire flight, I set-up a one-on-one with him and he became my mentor with the company.

(No, I don’t do all of my one-on-ones on flights but I do feel bad for my colleague who sat with me on our 17+ hour flight to India). 

Following up can be the difference maker after the one-on-one whether it was a simple thank you, or an action item that your boss gave you in the discussion. Make sure to take notes and be ready as you move forward.

Comparison to Undergrad

As an undergrad, there are many similarities to one-on-ones in the corporate world and all of the above principles can be utilized in the higher education space. A few different scenarios come to mind as I reminisce on my college days...

  • Professor Interactions are big triggers and essential! 
    • Office hours are a great opportunity to talk with and meet your professor in person, especially in those 500 person lectures!
    • Professors not only know what is on the tests, know the material, and determine your grade; they also tend to know business professionals as well through conferences and other events. Take advantage of their network!
  • Students with internship experience:
    • Take some time to get to know your peers in business classes. Network and learn about their experiences and create a similar thought process of questions as if meeting with a senior manager or director in the corporate world
  • Career Fairs and Company Presentations:
    • Recruiters are on campus and in the hallways all the time. Make every interaction count and don’t be afraid to initiate the conversation. It may lead to a 30 minute interview!
    • Make a great first impression on a presenter from a company. Stay involved in clubs and other campus news on when companies are visiting to speak. Reach out to these individuals beforehand and try and set-up some time with them!

One-on-ones are a great way to learn, expand your network and gain exposure in both the corporate world and in the undergrad space. It does not stop at personal one-on-ones; there are many other themes and ways to go about having one-on-ones with direct reports, your boss, a mentor/mentee relationship, etc. It can all start with a hello in the hallway, so make every interaction count and you will realize the power of a half hour!

Thought Starters

  • How are you going to make your next professional interaction count?
  • Who are some of these professionals that you have already met or are on your radar that you should set up some 30-minute conversations with?