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Network up!

Wow, hasn't your career taken an exciting turn! Through lucky chance, you got assigned to an important project with an exec who is dazzled by your brilliance and quickly became your mentor. Now fame, wealth and romance are yours . . .

Wait a minute -- you're daydreaming again; that was Melanie Griffith in Working Girl. You're really slaving away as a corporate peon, stuck in entry-level hell. So how do you fast track your career from cog to big wheel? The answer is to network up.

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Dress for success
Just as Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith) in 1988's Working Girl learned, if you're a secretary but want to be a junior exec, then dress like the junior execs in your company.

"Tess was very keen in her observations, not just at work, but in informal gatherings. And it wasn't just changing her wardrobe. She cut her hair and changed her makeup and jewelry," explains Pat Boer, a National Certified Career Counselor in Indianapolis. "It's called dressing for the job you want, not for the job you have. This shows the boss 'I know how to dress properly.'"

This can be a strain on your budget if the executive level wears designer suits, but you can get close by wearing similar styles of clothing, jewelry and hair. When you meet with upper management, they'll be able to see you as a junior exec. Hint: Don't have tattoos or multiple body piercings showing.

Go team!
At your job as an assistant's assistant, you'll probably never be much more than a faceless staff member to the folks who do the promoting. But join the company softball team and you can shine in front of secretaries, VPs and the CEO alike, or at least get noticed.

"One of the issues in a big company is you need to get known," explains Barbara Pachter, of Pachter & Associates in Cherry Hill, N.J., and author of Climbing the Corporate Ladder. "Join company teams -- you'll meet a cross section of people. The bigger your organization, the more important it is to take advantage of these things."

Even if you're not a star player, you can show off your organizational skills as team manager, or plain ol' enthusiasm as a cheering team player. When you join the bosses on a corporate team for a charity fun run for example, you become a person to them, not just another employee.

"Go to company functions. Dress appropriately and don't get drunk. Don't just stay with the people you know," Pachter continues. In other words, don't sit there with your fellow peons swilling beer on the company's tab. Take the opportunity to mix and mingle with folks at all levels of your company.

Ooze schmooze
These attempts to know upper management can begin to feel forced and uncomfortable. I mean, who wants to kiss butt?

"If you have to suck up all the time as a way to get ahead in your company, you might be in the wrong company," says Keith Jurow, a career counselor in New Haven, Conn. Sincerity -- or a lack of it -- in your networking efforts will come across.

"There are ways to network up without losing integrity," continues Jurow. "You've got to be a nice person. If you can learn how to listen, the whole world will open up. Have a helping attitude. Let go of arrogance."

Kissing up to get ahead won't look lousy just to your co-workers and friends, but that lack of sincerity can be obvious to the person you're trying to impress. Again, sincerity in your team participation and socializing count as much as the chance to meet the boss.

"If you're really [participating in company events or committees], you're not brown-nosing; you're helping out and volunteering," says Pachter. Networking is a two-way street -- you have to be willing to be a connection for the other person.

"No one likes a user," says Jurow. "The world doesn't care how smart you are -- it wants to know what you can do. Show people what you have to offer them."

Aim high?
If you're in a hurry, getting to know the CEO might seem like the way to go. But of course it's not that easy. A generational difference and lifestyle gap are just two hurdles you face. Unless you're a member of the country club through your parents, it might be tough to meet the chairman of the board socially. There can be other problems with this goal, especially for women.

"A 24-year-old woman can't go out drinking with the 55-year-old CEO. But she can get involved at work through teams or committees," warns Pachter.

"It's very situational," counters Boer. "If you're at a conference and your CEO is there and you're invited to join a group for dinner or drinks, you don't want to turn it down. It depends on the occasion and how it's done."

If you are looking for a job in another company, you can use your social networking skills to meet executives in your chosen industry. Join professional associations and community organizations such as the chamber of commerce or the Kiwanis. Volunteering for committees and taking leadership roles in them are the best ways to get to know people.

Just knowing the right people is not enough however. You still need talent, hard work and your winning personality.

"You need to be good at your job. Connections may help you get the job interview, but it's rare you'll get the job on that alone," says Pachter.

Lost in the jungle
With your eye on the next rung of the ladder, you might lose sight of where you are standing now. In other words, don't ignore, step on or generally be a nuisance to those you work with most closely. Your co-workers and peers are all valuable network contacts. Besides someday the slob in the next cubicle could have the big corner office, and your networking efforts tomorrow will be for naught if you dumped on him or her yesterday.

 

 

 
-- Updated: May 10, 2004
   

 

 
 

 

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