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How to Network at Military Holiday Parties

15th Marine Expeditionary Unit Command Element Marines enjoy a meal at the holiday party in 2011. Cpl. John Robbart III/Marine Corps
15th Marine Expeditionary Unit Command Element Marines enjoy a meal at the holiday party in 2011. Cpl. John Robbart III/Marine Corps

"We have our battalion holiday parties coming up, and I want to use them as a time to network," says Marine Corps wife Christina.

"I need a new job," she adds. "This is one of my only opportunities to meet and mingle with other spouses who work, and I want to make some connections. Where do I start?"

While the rest of us are bemoaning the unit Thanksgivings, cookie exchanges and the myriad of holiday parties suddenly filling up our military life calendars, Christina is taking the long view. She's ready to make the most of it.

"Other stay-at-home moms aren't going to get me a job," she says. "I know I need to meet people who are working."

If, like Christina, you are looking to make the most of your upcoming social events and use them as an opportunity to network, look no further. We have compiled the ultimate guide to holiday party networking in six easy steps -- and it's sneaky enough that no one will suspect a thing.

1. Master Your Introduction.

"I'm so-and-so's wife, nice to meet you," is great for Family Fun Day. But if you are trying to use a holiday party as a moment to connect with other workers, you will need to step up your game a little bit -- but without laying on a two-minute elevator pitch.

In Gear Career suggests you keep that pitch to 30 seconds, a good time frame for you to talk about what opportunities excite you professionally, what experience or skills you bring to the table that make those opportunities such a good fit, and a key accomplishment.

If you can't find a way to work these naturally into conversation, don't push it. You can always ask for the other person's contact information so you can meet informally for coffee later. (And with any good connection, you should be doing that anyway!)

2. Go Ahead and Stalk a Little.

For many big military events, we know who is coming in advance -- or at least, we usually know who is supposed to be there.

Before you go to the event, make a wish list of people you definitely want to connect with and do a little research about them. Look them up on professional search engines, Google their names, and see what you can find out.

You may discover you have a lot in common, which will help you direct the conversation toward your professional queries.

Think that sounds a little weird? A little on the stalker side? It is not.

Professionals list themselves on professional search engines so that they can be found there by people interested in connecting for professional reasons. If you are really serious about making connections, do it here. People have put themselves online for just that purpose.

3. Dress the Part.

Ugly holiday sweater? Check. Dressed up like your upper half is the present? Check. When it comes to holiday parties, we have seen it all and so have you. But if you are looking to make professional connections at this year's parties, make sure that you are not the one dressed memorably. Opt for festive but classic, fun but controlled.

As Rachel Zoe has said, "Style is a way to say who you are without having to speak." If you are looking for a job, make sure the style you choose also says "naturally professional.”

4. Work the Room.

To state the obvious, if you are looking to meet people who might be potential professional connections, the key to making the holiday party a success is to actually meet people.

Do not stay closed off with your usual group of friends. Instead, ask your spouse to introduce to the people with whom he or she works.

Even on your spouse's arm, you can mix, mingle and meet people you have not met before -- ho-ho-ho-ing and networking while you go.

5. Make Plans to Follow Up.

When you find someone with whom you are really connecting, pretend he or she is a friend you have just made. Invite them to coffee in the coming weeks to keep the conversation going. If holiday travel schedules make that impossible, plan to reconnect again soon after.

In the meantime, make sure you exchange contact information. Ask for a business card and, if you have cards of your own, make sure you offer them.

If neither of you have cards, exchange numbers -- take theirs, and text a follow-up note later that it was great to meet them. That way, they have your name in print (so they can remember it) and your number listed correctly, too.

In the coming days, feel free to look for and connect with these people on professional networking sites too.

6. Actually Do It.

The very final trick for networking at holiday parties? You actually have to do something with those connections.

If you have made plans for coffee, keep the date. If you are just planning to stay in touch, do so twice: once on the heels of the event and again in early January, when things have calmed down a bit and you can pick your conversation up where you left off.

Holiday parties may fill the season with cheer, but they can also be a great opportunity to make new professional connections. Follow Christina's lead and take advantage of the chance. "If I'm going to meet all these people, at least one of them will probably be able to help me," she says. "I'm going prepared to ask for help!"

For more tips on how to make the most of holiday parties, check out Monster's guide to making them work for you.

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