As holiday cheer envelops your office, it's time to enjoy the spirit of the season. That doesn't mean toss aside your new job search goals for several weeks. Instead it means to go with the flow and make the most of robust networking opportunities right in front of you, hidden holiday networking. Here's how to use those holiday parties to your advantage.
1. Score invites. Sure, there's your regular office get together (and we'll get to that in the next bullet) but there are also the parties you aren't invited to yet. Capitalize on the lightness of the season and endless opportunities to socialize (networking for scintillating new opportunities). Do a quick search on Meetup, search professional organization's local chapter sites for events or even volunteer to work on name tags at the front desk. Ask friends and colleagues at other companies if they have the ability to extend a plus-one invite, whether it's a work-related event or simply a house party. If you're a bit trepidatious about networking, bank on this time of year to work the room in a friendly way since people are usually open to it.
2. Arrive on time. If the party starts at 6 p.m. arrive at six on the dot. Let's say it's your annual holiday office party at a nearby hotel – chances are the executives you need to mix and mingle with will be punctual. Not only that, they'll be more accessible if everyone else shows up fashionably late. Get in your face time as soon as possible, then you're not competing with others for attention before you have your first cocktail. If it's your national professional organization's local chapter soiree, the president will arrive on time more than likely. Get there on time so you can say hello and make introductions. If the president gives a speech to recap the year, approach them afterward; they may be standing in a circle among other officers you can introduce yourself to.
3. Create a game plan. If it is your company party, make it all work first and then play. Perhaps the plan is to introduce yourself to your boss's boss's boss, then talk to your boss's boss for several minutes, followed by talking with your boss. Arrive on a mission to say hello and let others know who you are. Sure, it's in a casual environment, but it's still work nonetheless (save the karaoke for New Year's Eve). What better opportunity to shine than a room full of workplace VIPs?
4. Make a conservative fashion statement. As you're presenting yourself and your brand, make a fashion statement by being conservative. Have you ever walked into a meeting and knew instantly by the way someone was impeccably dressed that they were someone to be reckoned with. Go ahead and be that guy or gal. Your success at a holiday party is not just about the people you meet and connections you make, but how you make people feel when meeting you. Leave an indelible, delightful and polished impression.
5. Home your elevator speech. If it's an internal soiree, what's your succinct introduction? Make sure you say your name, department and title, and mention the projects you're working on. Since it's social, feel free to do just that – veer the conversation to topics that aren't work-related and let people know who you are. This includes making small talk with people at the buffet station and bar. If it's an external soiree, practice your elevator pitch again and create your game plan. Try connecting with three new people and keeping the conversation light.
6. Know when to move on. It's fun to talk to colleagues that you see every day, but you can meet up with them for lunch on Monday. Instead, make the most out of this rich opportunity by expanding your circle and mingling with those you don't see everyday. If it's an external party and you've already exchanged business cards and made tentative plans to have a follow-up coffee conversation, then don't prolong the conversation. You've already made the connection, so continue working the room to see what other interesting people you can meet. Since networking is reciprocal, make it easy for others to have the opportunity to meet you.
Most of all, remember to have fun. Networking should be enjoyable. After all, you're making new connections and learning new things even if it's about a new local restaurant that's a must-visit, it's all good. Enjoy the festive atmosphere and the ability to engage in meaningful conversations while expanding your circle.
Vicki Salemi is the author of Big Career in the Big City and creator, producer and host of Score That Job. This New York City-based career expert and public speaker possesses more than 15 years of corporate experience in recruiting and human resources. She coaches college grads individually with an intense Job Search Boot Camp, writes and edits the MediaJobsDaily blog on Mediabistro, and conducts interviews as a freelance journalist with celebrities and notable names. BlogHer named her one of the country's top 25 career and business women bloggers worth reading.