holiday lightsWhat better gift to yourself this Holiday Season than a better job. Your first impulse may be to take a break, but you’ll miss some great opportunities to strengthen your professional network. Beyond the basic rules of networking, you can do much more than just stay on track over the holidays.

 

The Christmas/Holiday Card is not dead. With our bombardment by electronic communication, a simple, hand-written 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 handing out a business card like a trade show – but have one ready if the timing is right. Never make the party a chore for those 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.

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 the right wing-man can make the event more enjoyable and successful for you as well.

Make a Date. Stop lamenting that you haven’t seen each other since last December. Instead of “Let’s do lunch”, pull up your calendars and set a date.

Generosity is a two-way street. Volunteer for charitable opportunities. You’ll not only bask in the Holiday Spirit (at a point when you may benefit from feeling good about yourself), but it’s a great way to make new and influential contacts while showcasing your softer side.

Throw Your Own. The budget may be tight, but throwing your own Holiday gathering is 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.

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 be in mind when the next opening materializes.

Give the gift of your attention. Make it about them. Ask how a CEO got started or 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 something long term.

Don’t panic – Prioritize. You don’t have to talk to everyone at every event. One 10-minute discussion is worth more than 10 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 forego. 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.

Live the Scout Motto. Be prepared for the questions usually heard over a cocktail or cheese-ball. Craft a conversation starter to use when asked how you are – not just “Fine”. “What have you been up to?” should lead to a conversation about how you’ve met challenges. Like a Cliff Note “Elevator Resume”, have a great answer for “What are you looking for?”… you just might get it.

Stay Healthy. Don’t let the holidays – and that extra plum pudding – keep you from that healthy lifestyle you’ve been promising yourself. Keep working towards that “fighting weight”.

Don’t just follow-up – Thank. Always, 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 here. 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 drink 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.

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