Holiday parties may seem like a time to kick back and enjoy – and yet they also may be the best opportunities all winter to grow your network and add a little warmth to those who have helped you out, or may do so in the year ahead.
After all there are plenty of holiday celebrations and fundraisers where you can build connections, whether it’s a group of neighbors at a cookie exchange, a professional association holiday happening or your company’s party or potluck. Every social event brings opportunities to connect – and those connections, carefully nurtured, could lead to career or other opportunities later on.
You want to create a bond and build trust, paving the way for further contact later, said Nancy Karas, a Five O’Clock Club senior career coach who also has worked as a human resources executive. Here’s her advice on how to do that before and during the holiday parties:
Seek out the stars and shakers. Take time ahead of the event to create a list of people with whom you’d like to connect. Try to get a list of attendees. Come up with at least four people – and then be glad if you get to spend time with half of them, she said. When you’re at your professional association party, maybe you want to meet the president or president elect of the organization. Look up the head of a committee you’d like to join, or someone who you’ve emailed often about industry news or the head of a division of your company where you’d like to work. Karas chooses people who are happy and confident, or those who may be able to assist her in achieving her goals.
Do some due diligence ahead of time. Once you have targeted a handful of people, read up on each of them. Make note of what charities they support and what hobbies or sidelines they have. Find out about their personal interests as well as their professional path. “Find a common bond, a common denominator and use it to connect with that person,” she said. It could be a charity or children the same age or a shared passion for freshwater fishing.
Prepare a two-minute pitch. Create a concise statement that focuses on who you are, what you’ve done — and what your career goals or aspirations are. Then, practice it so you sound polished and professional “so that you can do a good job presenting yourself in the way you want to be seen.” You may not use it at every event, but when someone important asks about you and your professional expertise, you are prepared to share your accomplishments and talk about yourself a bit.
Consider how you could help. Watch for opportunities to connect the executive with someone you know, or with a cause that may appeal to them. Or see if you could network on their behalf or send them an article you just read about a country the executive will visit with her family over spring break. “Everybody needs something in business and in life,” said Karas.
Come in projecting confidence, professionalism and warmth. You want to be seen as cordial and smart, not overly pushy. Do not pitch yourself for a job opening or pass out resumes or brochures for your consulting company. If you want to give the person your business card, wait until the end of the conversation when you’re moving on to hand it over, so it feels more like a farewell and hope we can connect again gesture. “The goal is to build a relationship and open the door now,” said Karas. “Make that connection; have a really meaningful conversation.”
“If you look like you’re on a mission to network, you’ve also scared people away, she said. “It’s a holiday party — come on festive, relaxed, warm and happy.”
She suggests you limit conversations that are unproductive and avoid drinking anything alcoholic. Pick up a sparkling water with lemon instead. That way you are the person who makes a positive impression, not the one people are gossiping about the day after the party.
Vickie Elmer regularly contributes articles on careers and small business to the Washington Post. She has collected a slew of journalism awards, large and small. Her career and workplace articles also have appeared in Fortune, Parents, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, the Financial Times, the Chicago Tribune, Newsday and many more. She has been called “dazzling,” “incredibly competitive” “creative” and “prolific and feisty” by those who work with her. Elmer is the mother of three children and the co-owner of Mity Nice, a start-up that employs teens to sell Italian ice and sweet treats from a shiny silver cart in Ann Arbor, Mich. An active volunteer, she encourages kindness and creativity and embracing change, and she blogs and tweets under the moniker WorkingKind.