Building a network within your company can be as important to your success as developing contacts outside. But watch out: The wrong moves can sink you. Here's how to avoid some of the most common pitfalls.
Assess Your Workplace Culture
In a small private equity firm that values intimacy, relentless networking could brand you as cutthroat. On the other hand, meeting an influential department head on the 47th floor of a behemoth investment bank might cement a deal and earn you a reputation as a go-getter.
"If people come to work together ... for the benefit of the client, then don't be worried about positioning in your own organization," advises Kenneth M. Rich, a recruitment consultant for A.T. Kearney Executive Search in New York. "In some (other) organizations, there's peril associated with going to work. People are going to be territorial in some firms and have their own agenda."
Follow Company Guidelines
Your company may have protocol for networking or making a lateral move from, say, collateralized debt obligation to M&A. "There can be procedures. You always want to follow them if they exist," says Cynthia Shapiro, a workplace advisor and author of Corporate Confidential (St. Martin's Griffin: 2005).
Marcus M. Brooks, President of PEP Consultants, a banking and brokerage consulting firm in Princeton Junction, N.J., relied on an in-house mentoring program as one networking strategy during his 20-year career with a Wall Street financial management firm. "It widened your contacts and gave you visibility through the organization," he says. He supplemented the corporate opportunity with informal networking.
Keep Your Boss In The Loop
Avoid the temptation to circumvent your boss. If an opportunity arises in another department, you'll need his or her approval anyway. "Your boss is your gatekeeper and you're not going anywhere without your boss's nod," observes Shapiro. "I would always let my boss know what I was doing," adds Brooks, who credits networking with his largest career breaks.
"Don't speak negatively about anyone or anything in the organization - ever," says Ford R. Myers, president of Career Potential, LLC, a career consulting firm in Haverford, Pa. And, especially, never gripe via e-mail. A 2005 survey conducted by the American Management Association and The ePolicy Institute revealed that 55 percent of employers retain and review messages.
Make time for those people who gave you their 15 minutes. "You cannot be perceived as a user. That will damage you," says Susan Guarneri, president of Career Assessment Goddess, a career-consulting firm in Three Lakes, Wisc. What you want to avoid is garnering a negative reputation among colleagues.
Don't Be Pushy
"Networking is not about 'cold calls' to strangers, but rather about 'warm calls' through personal and professional referrals," says Myers. "So, it generally should not be difficult to get people to take your calls." If your target doesn't respond to three of your networking attempts, focus on other contacts.
Remember that if you leave a company, your inter-office network remains invaluable. Old contacts can land new positions that may enrich your future networking efforts. Don't click "delete contact" in your address files.
Originally published April 26, 2006