You Schmooze You Lose?

How to network, grow and move up, without kissing up or alarming your boss

Recently, a young colleague asked how to stay on top of networking and self-promotion without seeming like you’re trying to jump ship.

He asked, for example, what if you want a current manager to write a LinkedIn review for you, or you simply want to continue meeting professionals in your field , but outside your company? What’s the best way to go about maintaining upward growth without giving your employer the impression that you’re looking for a new opportunity?

These are all great questions for both the young professional looking to move up and the seasoned veteran striving to stay connected in their company or industry.

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It’s important to first distinguish between the two types of networking: internal and external. Internal networking refers to the contacts you make within your company or organization both interdepartmentally and across departments. External networking refers to sales, employment seeking or connecting with other people in your industry. Each one is important, serves a different function and can be perceived in a variety of both positive and negative ways.

To keep internal networking in a positive light and not viewed as playing politic or worse, brownnosing, consider your intentions. If your goal is to get to know your colleagues in other departments in order to be helpful and benefit your department, as well as others and the company as a whole, then you are on the right track.   

Networking internally includes everything from chatting people up in the break room and sending congratulatory emails when someone knocks a project out of the park or gets an award or promotion, to seeking out the leaders in your company for a powwow over coffee or even to initiate a mentor/mentee relationship. The most successful internal networking will lead to better communication, understanding the daily function of the other people in your company and being considered for projects and promotions. But again the goal should be to benefit the company, with upward movement being icing on the cake.

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External networking is the type that has more potential for strife. If done incorrectly, it can, in fact, seem to your supervisor that you are trying to find another job. The best approach is to begin with the person who is most likely to misinterpret your intentions. Ask your boss for advice about how to meet your professional peers and which professional groups he or she recommends joining. Let them know that you are interested in growing with the company and ask for guidance on professional development, gaining upward movement, opportunities for advancement and their suggested next steps. If you keep your boss in the loop and engage him or her as your ally, it won’t come as a surprise when their counterpart from a competing firm mentions meeting you at a recent business happy hour or when you ask for a LinkedIn review.

This is, of course, the best-case scenario: a kind boss and mentor keen to help you advance. But, what if your boss sees you as a threat or you just can’t seem to get through to him or her due to simple incompatibility? In that case, it’s even more important to make sure your boss understands your motives, so either bring up your desires for professional development or upward movement during your next review or put them in an email.

Most employers understand that we all want to cultivate relationships with others in our field for support, connections or even to occasionally commiserate over coffee or a cocktail. As with most things, being honest, communicative and well intentioned will almost always keep things running smoothly.


Melanie Warner Spencer is editor of New Orleans Bride and New Orleans Homes & Lifestyles and managing editor of Louisiana Life and Acadiana Profile. Spencer’s ever-expanding library of etiquette books is rivaled only by her ever-ready stash of blank thank-you notes. Submit business etiquette questions to Melanie@MyNewOrleans.com.

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