Do holiday parties leave you hapless and hopeless? Maybe you're between jobs and not really feeling the spirit? Don't despair! With a little preparation and the right attitude, you can turn festive occasions into opportunities for you to meet new allies for your job search. Follow these tips to turn your not-working into effective networking:
Self-assess. Know what job you want; be specific and targeted. Identify companies where you'd like to work and be prepared to mention several organizations' names. Do not plan to be the "I can do anything" job seeker. While you may think it's a good idea to keep your options open, this approach usually backfires. No one wants to hire or refer someone who seems unfocused or confused about next steps.
Learn how to introduce yourself. We've all heard of the "two-minute elevator speech." Forget everything you know about that and pare your talk down to 30 seconds or less. In less than 100 words (50 is better), practice saying what skills you have and mention a key accomplishment. While you won't launch into this pitch the moment you meet someone, when you're prepared to discuss your best professional qualities, you'll be able to make the most of a good contact.
Research the guest list. It's always best to be prepared, and when you do a little sleuthing, it's not difficult to find out who plans to be at the event. Many invitations are electronic, and the social profiles of attendees may be prominently displayed on RSVPs. Look up the people who plan to attend. Find their LinkedIn profiles and read their Twitter streams. Identify several interesting contacts and make a point to speak to them.
Keep in mind: you want to identify people who could know someone working at your targeted list of companies. Be aware: these networking contacts may come in surprising packages. For example, the neighborhood busy-body probably has all kinds of great contacts. So does the bartender at your neighborhood pub—or the person tending bar at the party you're attending. Don't cross anyone off your list of good people to meet.
Create snazzy business cards. Even if you're not currently working, you should have professional looking business cards that give the recipient easy access to your social media profiles (for example, your LinkedIn URL). Include your pitch on the card. For example, for an accountant: "Save clients an average of 20% off their tax bill using time tested, effective accounting strategies."
Dress the part. Even if it's a casual party, make sure to choose something to wear that looks sharp and in style. If you haven't bought clothing in years, it's a good idea to shop the sales and pick out one or two items that really flatter and make you feel confident. Consider wearing a conversational piece to help make yourself memorable. A colorful, in-style scarf or tie can do the trick.
Be a listener. Make sure people don't sense that you have an agenda when you meet them. Ask questions so you can learn something about the person's hobbies and interests. Use your research to help you ask quality questions and be a good listener. Everyone likes to talk about themselves, so if you're a good listener, people will remember you.
Ask for a follow-up meeting. Use your in-person networking time to request another meeting in a quieter location. For example, if you've had a great talk, and you think there is potential for you to be able to help each other, say, "I'd love to follow up with you and explore how we may be able to be good resources for each other. How about if I send an email tomorrow suggesting some dates to meet for coffee?" You may even want to ask the best way to get in touch—email or phone.
Say thank you—and good bye. Don't forget your manners. Be sure to thank the party organizer, even if you have to stand around to have an audience. It's extra nice to send a card or a note after the event. Remember, you want to make a positive impression. When you go the extra mile to say thank you, people will remember that.
Keep in touch. Depending on the nature of your interactions at the party, you have a lot of options for following up. For example, if you know a new contact's daughter is moving to Chicago soon, you can send a nice note with an article about fun things for newcomers to do in the Chicago area. Always make a point to connect via social media channels—especially LinkedIn. Make sure you follow through with anything you said you'd do during your first conversation and don't squander potential opportunities by failing to keep in touch. When you do, you'll have a better chance of adding new allies to your job search efforts.
Miriam Salpeter is a job search and social media consultant, career coach, author, speaker, resume writer, and owner of Keppie Careers. She is author of Social Networking for Career Success. Miriam teaches job seekers and entrepreneurs how to incorporate social media tools along with traditional strategies to empower their success.