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On The Job

Holiday Networking Tips for Every Stage of Your Career

Liz Ryan

Whether you're a new grad or senior manager, the holidays are an ideal time to perfect your business networking skills.

The holidays can be hectic, but a busy social schedule is also fertile ground for business networking. Between lunches, office parties, school concerts, worship-related events and other social gatherings, you may come into contact with dozens or even hundreds of new people during the month of December alone. Take full advantage.

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Some of those interactions could prove beneficial to your career in 2012, whether you plan to embark on a job search or move up the corporate ladder at your current employer. So how will you handle the various networking opportunities over the holidays?

The types of networking situations in which you’re likely to find yourself will vary depending on your career stage, as will the business and social etiquette. This guide to holiday networking will help you navigate these situations whether you’re a new grad, a mid-level manager or a senior executive.


Just Starting Out: New College Grads

If you’re just out of school and looking for work, make it a point to attend as many networking events as possible hosted by your school’s alumni association. That could put you into contact with key people, such as a potential mentor or someone with a great first job opportunity, in your field of interest. Prepare a few conversation starters beforehand to help alleviate any awkward moments associated with trying to strike up a conversation with a complete stranger. For example, “So, how are you connected to this event?” or “Are you an alum? I’m James Smith. And you?”

The next step is to get your short intro down pat. It shouldn’t be a canned speech, but rather a casual explanation of your situation with an aspirational twist at the end. You could say, “I graduated in June with a degree in finance. Right now, I’m working at a department store to earn some money while I’m on the career hunt. I’m really interested in finance jobs with manufacturing companies -- I was almost an engineer and am fascinated by mechanical things. What about you?”

In addition to alumni events, nearly every trade association and industry roundtable hosts some sort of holiday mixer. Some are free for attendees, while others may cost. Check for a roster of networking events either in your local newspaper or in business trade publications and select a few to attend that fit your budget and taste (some may require formal wear, while others are more casual). Also consider a one-on-one meet-up via a coffee, lunch or dinner with a family friend, local alumnus or well-known business person. Doing this will allow you to pick their brains on a more personal level about how they got to where they’re at in their careers and what you could be doing better to help snag your dream job.

Keep in mind that you will not generate a job-search lead with every interaction and that not every event you attend will leave you with a clear and measurable business win. Networking is like planting seeds. You’re building your mojo, your credibility and interpersonal skills with every conversation.

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