Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

Who you bring to an office function could make or break your career

Treena Matthews*, a lawyer with a large Los Angeles-based international law firm, attends her share of networking affairs. Although she knows educated and accomplished people, there is only one guy she feels comfortable inviting. “It works out really naturally when I take him to functions,” she said of a doctor she dates casually. “He enjoys being around the bigwig attorneys, and I imagine he does brag on me,” added Matthews. Her considerations are not uncommon.

Whether you’re married or single, there’ll come a time when you’ll have to take a friend or a spouse to a business function. How do you choose a person who’ll be compatible with the image you present to the business or work community? Whether the escort is your spouse or a friend, they must be privy to office politics, etiquette and not say anything that will be detrimental to your career. More importantly, they need to tout your virtues when you can’t.

“Probably every time there’s a situation for networking, you make a call on whether this is the kind of event you need to attend and, if so, what kind of support you need,” says A. Reginald Eaves, public safety consultant and former county commissioner in Atlanta.

Here are some tips on who to take to your next office or business affair:

  • Take someone who can introduce you. Someone who knows other people in attendance can open the path for you to make contacts. When Eaves attends a business function outside of Atlanta, he goes with an elected official with similar priorities. “I need him to point out key individuals who are in my line of thinking and would therefore be supportive of what I’m doing or give me some leads on what I should do in my field,” says Eaves.
  • Take a professional who knows you outside of the office. Another option is to take a well-established professional with whom you may have served on a board or committee. And it’s a plus if this person can help you have comfortable discussions with high-level executives and bridge any gap. “These executives may discover they have things in common with you outside of work that may make them more curious about you at work. They may start tracking your career and asking about you and including you in on projects,” explains Jessie Woolley, president of Crimson & Brown Associates, a diversity recruiting and career publishing firm in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
  • Take a supporter. You want a companion who not only respects you and is comfortable with you but who knows your education, track record, strengths and career goals. This way you’ll be well represented.

Other important points to consider:

  • Don’t coach your friend. Don’t rehearse him or her on your work assignments or key people to talk to. “If there is a tinge of drama or orchestration, people will sniff it out. It will be hard to recover from it,” adds Woolley.
  • Compare notes afterwards. On the way home, talk over the event. Share the experiences-your companion may have heard about new projects
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