Mark Payleitner’s diverse background includes directing the 120-member tech-support team at the Arthur Andersen Development Center, managing in Baxter Healthcare’s network support, directing operations for Coleman Home Solutions, and supervising worldwide HR systems for Arthur Andersen. Currently, he teaches business at Computer Services Institute.
Like many professionals, he recognizes the unique networking opportunities that the holiday season provides job seekers. Although your first impulse may be to take a break from your job search, Payleitner says that, beyond the basic rules of networking, you can do much more than just stay on track over the holidays. Here are some of his tips:
The holiday card is not dead. With our bombardment by electronic communication, a simple, handwritten card can really stand out and make the recipient feel like a valued insider. Your note shouldn’t focus on the job search — you’re just solidifying a connection.
Party on. It goes without saying that professional decorum is always the rule, but don’t ignore the right social opportunity. It expands your circle and lets you shine in a relaxed environment. Don’t start every conversation by handing out a business card as if you were at a trade show — but have one ready if the timing is right. Never make the party a chore for the people you talk to — leave a positive memory. Speaking of leaving, arriving early or staying late to help with the event may mean extra face-time with key contacts.
> For more tips, read “Make the Most of Your Holiday Work Party.”
Share the joy. Some hosts allow you to bring a friend. Choose wisely, and you’ll not only provide your guest with the gift of networking but also provide yourself with a networking partner who can make the event more enjoyable and successful for you.
Make a date. Stop lamenting that you haven’t seen each other since last December. Instead of simply saying that you’re going to”do lunch sometime,” pull out your calendars and set a date.
Generosity is a two-way street. Volunteer for charitable opportunities. You’ll bask in the holiday spirit (at a point when you may benefit from feeling good about yourself), and volunteering is a great way to make new and influential contacts.
> For more on the benefits of charitable work, read “Volunteering Can Boost Skills, Advance Careers.”
Throw your own. Your budget may be tight, but throwing your own holiday gathering can be a great investment at many levels. Make the invitees feel special — don’t include your whole address book. Have a good cross-section of business and social guests, and you’ll avoid looking like you planned a self-marketing meeting. Encourage a trusted few to bring new guests.
It’s not always about a job. Don’t always steer the conversation to your job hunt. Instead, probe for ideas regarding a learning opportunity or new experience. People won’t hesitate if its something they can easily provide. You’ll learn something and will more likely be in mind when the next opening materializes.
Give the gift of your attention. Make it about the other person. Ask how a CEO got started or how a marketing exec picked that career. People love to talk about themselves and like people who are interested. They may have a problem you’ve already solved, be implementing a program you’ve already mastered, or simply need an open mind to bounce ideas with. It’s a small step from offering a suggestion to gaining something long term.
Don’t panic — prioritize. You don’t have to talk to everyone at every event. One ten-minute discussion is worth more than ten one-minute greetings.
Know when and how to say no. While this also goes for the open bar, it’s the event itself that you might need to forgo. If a schedule conflict prevents you from attending a gathering, take advantage of the RSVP opportunity to set up a lunch date. Even the promise of a rain-check is better than a simple no and may lead to a more productive post-holiday conversation.
Be prepared. Plan in advance for the questions usually heard over a cocktail or a cheese ball. Craft a conversation starter to use when asked how you are — not just “Fine.” The question “What have you been up to?” should lead to a conversation about how you’ve met challenges. Have a great answer to “What are you looking for?”– you just might get it.
> Get valuable conversation advice in “Prepare Your Elevator Speech.”
Stay healthy. Don’t let holiday treats keep you from that healthy lifestyle you’ve been promising yourself.
Don’t just follow-up — thank. Always send a note or email after a social contact. Don’t ask for more help — thank them for their mentoring, guidance or suggestions — and a little strategic embellishment is OK, too. Now they’re an invested part of your support team that feels they have more to do — for you. Then comes the critical step: schedule a lunch or coffee to thank them and continue the conversation.
Carry a business card, a calendar and a plan. Fill your January calendar by New Year’s Eve. You need to be on the mind of as many decision makers as you can get to during the weeks following the fiscal year start — when those new headcount budgets kick in.
Have fun — you deserve it. This time of year can be socially, emotionally, and financially challenging — especially if your career is stuck in first gear (or worse). Don’t let it dampen your holiday cheer.
What are your holiday-season networking tips? Share your thoughts in the Comments section — and for more networking tips, download our free ebook Monster’s Guide to Online Networking.
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