How to Use the Holidays to Boost Your Career

Whether you're looking to advance in the job you already have or hoping to find a new one, here's how to take advantage of this golden networking opportunity.

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Karen Burns
It may sound calculating to leverage the holiday season to your professional advantage, but it’s smart, too.

The holidays are primo networking time. Most people are in a more jovial, giving mood. Many workplaces slow down a little this time of year, so you may have more mental space to think about ways to polish your resume and even set up informational interviews. And the end of the year is a natural time to reevaluate, refocus, and think strategically about your future.

If you decide to take advantage of this golden opportunity, whether to advance in the job you already have or find a new one, here are a few guidelines:

Go to your annual workplace party. Where else do worker bees and upper-ups mingle so freely? The powers-that-be will be at their most kindly and their most accessible, so don’t miss this opportunity to get your name and face out there. Introduce yourself; make small talk. And don’t forget to say thank you. Your company dropped a wad of cash on this event, so convey your gratitude.

[See Why You Should Attend Your Office Holiday Party.]

Have a master plan. Think strategically about who you’d like to meet or get to know better this season. Are you interested in transferring to the sales department? Go to that workplace party ready to introduce yourself to the sales staff and, ideally, the sales manager. Do you dream of switching careers entirely? Mention it at your neighborhood get-together, your church social, or your kid’s school play. You never know who you’ll meet.

Remember that competition for jobs is at its lowest during the holidays. In December, many job hunters call it quits, at least until January 2nd. This is your cue to ramp up your own search. It’s not true that companies don’t hire during the holidays. They do. You might even try reaching out between Christmas and New Year’s, when hiring managers are more likely to be answering their own phones.

Send cards. This is the time of year when it's natural to remind the world of your existence. Whether you opt for Christmas cards, New Year’s cards, printed holiday letters, or an e-newsletter, now is the perfect time to reconnect with friends, colleagues, former bosses, former professors—everyone you know or used to know. Keep it tasteful and sincere, and add a personal note to each message.

[See 10 Ways to Step Up Your Job Search Over the Holidays.]

Volunteer. Volunteering—to serve at the food bank, hang decorations downtown, or participate in any activity where people gather and work together—is another stellar way to expand your network. Give it a try. You really can do well for yourself by doing good for others. You might also learn a new skill, or discover a new field, or simply meet new friends.

Always remain professional. Keep in mind that too much holiday cheer can work against you, too. Whatever events you attend, be pleasant and businesslike. You are trying to impress! If eggnog and rum balls turn you woozy, avoid them. Remember that a workplace holiday party is not really a “party.” It’s a business event. Comport yourself accordingly.

[For more career advice, visit U.S. News Careers, or find us on Facebook or Twitter.]

Recharge your batteries. Sure, use those extra days off for family events and parties with friends, but don’t forget to carve out some you-time. Get the sleep you need. Look for healthy ways to deal with holiday stress. Exercise. Take long walks, talk with your mentors, or read inspirational books. That way you’ll be relaxed, refreshed, and ready to hit the ground running come January.

Putting a little energy into your career—while everyone else is figuring out how to leave work early to get to the mall—may just be the best present you can give yourself.

Karen Burns is the author of the illustrated career advice book The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use, recently released by Running Press. She blogs at www.karenburnsworkinggirl.com.