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Chances are you’ve got holiday parties coming up in both your work and personal lives — and you might not be able to avoid them!

These parties can be draining, especially for those of us who are introverts. This time of year can be rough for everyone, though. It can feel like there’s just no room for yet another item on the to-do list!

However, if you’re planning to be on the job market next year, holiday parties can be the perfect place to kick off your search. Where else will you find a large group of warm, friendly people together in one room? You’ll probably meet up with some friends you haven’t seen in a while who genuinely want to know how you’re doing and what you’re up to. They’ll probably want to reconnect again outside of the event — and they might be able to help you in your search for a new gig.

Holiday parties are, essentially, free networking events — and you don’t even have to wear a suit! Heck, you don’t even have to rehearse your elevator pitch. You’ll know most people, or mutual friends will introduce you. Conversations will be easier, more interesting, and less forced than at a typical networking event.

To truly make the most of your holiday parties this year, plan ahead. Try to get enough rest in advance, and be ready to share the latest news in your life, including personal updates about your family, your home, and your work. Do your best to keep your news positive. Holiday parties are meant to be festive occasions, and you don’t want to be the downer in the room.

If you’re nervous about having engaging conversations, think of a list of questions in advance. Asking a person about their family, vacation plans, or hobbies and interests are all good ways to get the conversation flowing smoothly.

Remember to bring business cards and to exchange them with other guests if and when it seems appropriate. This will help you stay in touch with new friends and update your contact information for old ones. If you’re not currently working, a simple card will do. Include your name, phone number, and email address.

After the event, make a point to follow up with the folks you want to stay in touch with. Invite them to your next party. Ask them to have lunch or coffee. Be sure to connect on LinkedIn.

These small interactions build your friendships and grow your network. When the new year comes, you’ll be more prepared to put your best foot forward. Plus, if you do end up having to ask a friend for help getting a job, it won’t be the first time they’ve seen you in a while. That way, they won’t feel like you’re simply taking advantage of them, and they’ll be more likely to help. It’s always better to build your network of friends when you’re not looking for favors.

A version of this article originally appeared on Copeland Coaching.

Angela Copeland is a career coach and CEO at Copeland Coaching.

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