Tis the season for friends, family and networking. Yes, networking. Whether you have a job or are looking for a new one, the holidays are an opportunity for you to expand your professional network and build better relationships with your existing contacts. Consider using some of these tips to make the most of your time with colleagues, friends, neighbors, family, local organizations, open houses, dinner parties and galas this holiday season.

Tip #1: Do Your Research

For professional social functions, consider researching the host or hostess as well as any senior level guests before the event. If your paths cross during the party, you’ll already know enough about them to start a conversation that covers your common interests. It’s also helpful to know which guests work in your desired industry so you can seek them out during the event and introduce yourself.

Tip #2: Dress to Impress

When you decide to attend an event, take note of the dress code. Most invitations will have one listed and when in doubt, contact the host or hostess. Your goal is to appear festive, yet professional. For example, let’s say the event is an ugly sweater party at the office. Consider wearing an appropriate – no naughty humor – ugly sweater and throwing a blazer over that eyesore. You get brownie points for playing along, but you also look professional.

Tip #3: Sip Slowly

The last thing you want is to be the person barely standing at the end of the night because you’ve had one too many drinks. Sip your alcoholic drinks slowly and know your limits. Your boss won’t be impressed with your drunken antics and neither will prospective employers. A good rule of thumb is to alternate alcoholic drinks with water to help flush your system and slow down your alcohol intake.

Tip #4: Emit Positive Body Language

You’ve heard about this in every customer service class you’ve ever taken. Present yourself in a positive, welcoming manner by practicing good body language. Stand with your legs about shoulder-length apart, leave your hands by your sides and don’t use your plate as a barrier. When you’re speaking with someone, use good eye contact and lean in slightly to show you’re listening. Don’t look around the room for someone “better” to talk to when you’re engaged in a conversation. Instead, politely excuse yourself if you need to leave. And one huge gaffe to avoid –  playing on your phone during the event. It’s rude and signals that you think everyone around you is less important than what’s on your phone.

Tip #5: Be Genuine, Ask Open-ended Questions

When you’re at a networking event, make it a personal goal to meet and learn from 3-5 people. There’s no reason to shake hands with every person at the party. Instead, get in the mindset that quality is better than quantity. When you meet a new person, show a genuine interest in their family, hobbies and career. Don’t immediately start talking about looking for a job or asking if they have any openings at their company. If you show a sincere interest in them, they’ll take an interest in you. Make each event about developing personal relationships. The added bonus of a professional contact will come later. Some easy conversation starters include open-ended questions like:

  • How do you know the host?
  • How is your family?
  • Do you have any big plans for the new year?
  • How is your business doing?

Tip #6: Leave Your Resume at Home, Cards in Your Pocket

Most people agree that you should leave your resume at home when it comes to social networking, but business cards are more of a gray area. If you’re looking for employment, some experts recommend creating business cards that tell people the line of work you’re interested in and passing them out as needed. For example, “Joe Smith, Information Technology Expert” or “Jane Smith, Graphic Design Artist.” There are others who say you should leave your business cards at home and trade information via cell phone instead. Put the other person’s information into your phone and follow-up a few days later. It’s a great excuse to reach out to the person. For example, “Hi Joe, here’s my contact information. Had a great time at the XYZ party a few days ago. Any chance you can grab coffee to follow-up on what we discussed?” Each situation is different so plan accordingly by having cards and your phone available.

Tip #7: Be Gracious

Before you leave any event, make sure you seek out the host or hostess to thank them for inviting you. You may also want to follow up with an email or a handwritten note to the host/hostess or anyone you met at the event. Also, be on the lookout for anyone who looks uncomfortable at the party. Reaching out to the person standing off to the side by themselves is a gracious thing to do and may even lead to a great professional relationship.

Finally, start saying yes when it comes to events. If you stick with the goal of meeting 3-5 new people at each event you’ll find that not only are your professional contacts growing, but also your personal relationships. And remember, dress well, ask open-ended questions and most of all, be yourself.

Related News

Jennifer Cary is a freelance writer, blogger and former government employee. You can visit her website here.