Another year is fading into the past and the holidays are right around the corner, which can only mean one thing: holiday gatherings. Office parties, family events, lunches, dinners, pot lucks, socials, happy hours – the holiday season always brings numerous opportunities for people to get together, catch up with those they don’t see often, socialize with coworkers and clients outside the office, and spread holiday cheer with everyone from loved ones to total strangers.
In addition to some much-needed relaxation and celebration, holiday gatherings provide another opportunity: the chance to network. Every successful business professional and savvy job seeker knows the importance of networking to one’s career, and the increased social activity that takes place during the holiday season provides many of us with more networking opportunities than we experience all year.
Though most people don’t attend holiday events with the intention of networking, it’s wise to always be prepared to make valuable business connections at any social event – and the more holiday events you attend, the more opportunity there is to connect with someone who can add value to your network. Let’s look at why networking during the holiday season is important, and how to approach it in order to make a positive impression that lasts long after the fruitcake and eggnog are gone.
It’s All About Timing
Attending holiday events with the intention of targeting potential business contacts who just want to relax and socialize can work against you. However, taking advantage of companies’ year-end slowdown can work in your favor. As Q4 comes to a close, business typically slows as the year winds down. Some employees may decide to change jobs during this time; however, because companies often pay year-end bonuses, many of these employees will wait until January to leave. Regardless, employers want to start the new year fully staffed, and since they typically get their new hiring budgets for the year in January, they’re looking to add to their headcount in order to compensate for the Q4 slowdown and year-end attrition. Job seekers who view the holidays as a networking opportunity and start planting the seeds for their job search early have an advantage over those who wait until the new year to begin their search.
Don’t Be Caught off Guard
While work may be far from the minds of most holiday party attendees, one never knows when or where networking opportunities lie. If you happen to meet a potential business contact at a holiday event, remember that professionalism should never take a holiday. Treat each interaction as you would any trusted business associate, and be prepared to answer questions about your background, qualifications and work history. Also, job seekers should be sure their resumes are in order before attending events at which they may interact with interested employers, and their social media pages reflect a strong personal brand and don’t contain any damaging or unprofessional content.
Avoid the Hard Sell
A key point to remember when attending holiday parties is that they’re not traditional networking events, but rather fun, social events. Therefore, showing up with the intention of selling yourself to everyone you meet could turn others off and achieve the opposite of the desired effect. No one wants to do business with someone who is self-serving and overbearing, particularly when approached at an event where many go to escape from work. If you happen to meet someone with whom you would like to discuss business, ask if you can contact him or her in the next few days to schedule a phone call or meeting. Regardless of the outcome, the person will respect this approach far more than a “won’t take no for an answer” sales pitch at the buffet table.
Have Fun, but Be Responsible
It’s a well-known fact that holiday parties can be a breeding ground for bad decisions. In their quest to have fun, those who want to make lasting business connections should be especially careful to avoid behavior that can come back to haunt them. Drinking too much, being loud or obnoxious, badmouthing current or former coworkers or managers, dressing inappropriately – these are all behaviors that can not only prevent other partygoers from wanting to do business with you but also end up on social media and ruin future business or job prospects. As a general rule of thumb, when it comes to party etiquette, if it’s not appropriate for the office, it’s probably not appropriate for a holiday party.
Most people don’t think of holiday celebrations and events as networking opportunities. But considering the number of people, one can interact with within a short period of time, perhaps more people should. Add to the fact that the holidays are a brief respite leading up to the January rush when employers want to start the new year fully staffed and firing on all cylinders. Job seekers and employees who hope to strengthen their networks should not treat holiday gatherings as professional networking events; however, they should still be prepared. Those who understand the difference between social and business events, while also recognizing the potential for forming lasting relationships and adjusting their approach accordingly, stand to benefit from a few new and valuable connections in the new year.