Tis the season to shop, celebrate and network. Many of you — whether you are in a job or are looking for a job — will find yourself networking with people in different industries and with different careers.
Networking comes in many forms: from conversation at a basketball game, to coffee and lunch meetings, holiday parties or conference events. There is a misperception that networking is easier for some people (i.e. “extroverts”) and that other people have learned how to be more social and able to make great contacts with strangers.
In reality, networking is not just about being social and outgoing. What matters is the attitude and approach you take to using the networking activity to gain opportunity. When attending a networking event, especially around the holidays and particularly one where you don’t know anyone, instead of dreading the interaction, consider making it your job to assume the role of facilitator. Assume the position of someone who is there to meet other people, to make them feel comfortable in your presence, and leave having made a good impression.
Here are 10 tips to get the most from your holiday networking:
- Make it your job to meet people. Set a goal of how many people you will meet, and stick to it. This gives your networking a sense of purpose and direction.
- As uncomfortable as you might feel, seek to meet the people who are standing by themselves. Introduce yourself to the person standing alone. They will be grateful for your conversation! By approaching them and starting a conversation, you are rescuing them from what they perceive to be a glaring light shining on their aloneness.
- Ask open-ended questions. Instead of “nice party, huh?” ask, “What did you think of the boss’ presentation?” or “What type of work are you in?” You are seeking to start a conversation, not conduct an interrogation. Open-ended questions show your willingness to engage.
- Always look for the other person’s favorite subject. When talking with someone new, seek out things that make them smile or laugh rather than topics that cause their face to droop. At the holidays, many of us like to talk about college-age kids returning home or family holiday traditions.
- At the company party, greet your boss and your boss’ boss. If it’s your spouse’s party, do the same. Smile and keep the conversation brief (unless they keep talking). Thank them for the party. Even though they likely had nothing to do with the planning and preparation, it’s polite to thank them since they are the “host”.
- Avoid gossip. Holiday parties are often the time when people let down their hair (with the help of spiked eggnog) and rumors swirl. The best advice is to dismiss yourself from gossip.
- Be yourself. Authenticity is the most attractive feature in people. When we feel someone is genuine, we feel most at ease in their presence.
- Don’t take things too personally. If you are talking to someone and they spot someone they’d rather talk with and abandon you, just move on. Most people get easily distracted this time of year. Besides, if they just met you they couldn’t possibly know enough about you to reject you (personally).
- Be subtle about your exit. Don’t call attention to yourself if you have to run home to relieve a babysitter or you just want to leave the conversation. Say “thank you” and good-bye and leave the event.
- Be mindful about what you post on social media after the event. Your boss may not appreciate the comments/photos you share about the event or what he “accidentally” said. Remember: everything you put online is public.
By making networking your job, you assume responsibility for making others feel comfortable. Others will appreciate your generosity, and you will make a positive impression going into the New Year.