If you’re like most hardworking employees your lunch hour is spent holed up in your cubicle — noshing in front of your computer while simultaneously completing that report for el jefe, checking ESPN.com for the latest scores and talking to what’s-her-name on your cell. While we admire your multitasking mastery (and cringe at your predictable indigestion) we have an alternative that could potentially move you forward in your career: lunch networking. For Ali T. Curi, President and founder of New York City-based networking events company Hispanic Professionals Networking Group, building career connections over lunch is a fine art that requires striking a balance to be effective.

Figure Out What You Want

There are a variety of reasons to leave your cube for an hour. Maybe you enjoy working at your current company and want to be considered for a future promotion. You can set a lunch date with a human resources manager about potential employment opportunities. Maybe you’re an entrepreneur looking to drum up new clients or perhaps you’re trying to figure out how to move forward in your industry all together. According to Curi, “Networking means building relationships,” and lunch is a good way to introduce yourself to a new contact and pick their brain for information. “Dinner [meetings are] usually for people you know and for businesses that you’ve already established relationships with,” he explains.

Setting the Agenda

When you’re planning your lunch meeting let your guest know what you want to meet about and why. Do you want to find out more about what the person does or learn more about their company? “The way to effectively network during your lunch hour is being prepared enough to know what you want to ask,” Curi says. He admits that he only accepts lunch invitations that have a clear objective. Once you’ve figured out what you want out of the meeting, do your research and prepare a list of questions or key points you want to discuss at the meeting.

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