- Schedule as many networking opportunities as possible. This includes holiday parties at companies you want to work for, as well as networking groups, conferences, workshops and one-on one events. While you don’t want to overbook yourself to the point of exhaustion, you want to take advantage of this season, which has more events than the rest of the year. Plus, people are in better moods right now, thanks to the holidays, which is even more of a reason to kick networking into high gear!
- Don’t pitch yourself at the party. Focus on making friends. Yes, you want a job. But networking isn’t about pushing your agenda. It’s about making contacts and nurturing them. So you might meet a hiring manager at a party tomorrow. Rather than announcing your needs in the job department, follow up with an email. Then invite her to coffee or lunch. Maintain the relationship, and at the right time, you can ask about a job. Tactfully.
- Don’t slack off on the job hunt right now. It might be tempting to forgo your daily job search to wrap gifts instead, but you’d be making a big mistake. Many people assume job hunting is dead during the holidays, but in fact, the holidays are a great time to work on those relationships. Hiring managers are more available with work slowing, so it’s a great time to make contact, either over the phone or in-person.
- Strategically plan to be at parties where you know key decision makers will be. If you’re not sure which parties to fill your dance card with, aim for the ones with people who work for the companies you want to work for. If you’re lucky, you might have a friend who works for that company who can invite you to the annual holiday party. But also look at networking groups (check Meetup and see who the members are) to find the key decision makers.
- Send holiday cards as followup to meeting people. Networking isn’t just about drinking eggnog with other people; it also includes the follow-up. This time of year, you will stand out by sending a holiday card to your newly-made contacts. Handwrite a short note telling them how nice it was to meet them at the X party. Include your business card if you didn’t already exchange them at the party. Include a personal mention, playing off the conversation you had (“I hope your son wins the soccer tournament!”) to add a little more intimate connection.
- Schedule a coffee meeting if you feel the connection is solid enough. As you nurture these contacts, you’ll interact with them more and more. It might start out with a few emails back and forth. But if it feels right (you think the person will be receptive), invite your new contact out for coffee. Your objective here isn’t to ask for a job, but rather to get advice. Maybe it’s to ask what this particular company looks for in an employee, or maybe it’s to get mentored on how you can improve your skills to be more hireable. If your contact is comfortable with you and is in a position to help, let her ask if she can give you a reference or set up an interview.
- Find local meetings in your industry and participate. A great way to meet the movers and shakers in your industry is by diving in headfirst. Find groups in your area that meet monthly to discuss topics that relate to your field. This will help you get the behind-the-scenes buzz on who’s hiring and what they’re looking for.
- Don’t drink too much! We’ve all heard about the office party that went a little crazy. While it’s fine to have a glass of wine, remember you’re networking to impress. If the hiring manager’s memory of you involves a lampshade, you probably won’t fall high on the hiring list.
- Focus on giving, rather than getting. Networking is about creating value. Don’t go into it looking for what you can get out of it. Instead, focus on how you can make yourself useful to new people. Maybe you can recommend a good book to read, or connect a new contact to a graphic designer if she’s looking for one. The more you give, the more people will stick around. And they’ll want to give back to you!
- Don’t forget your business cards! This one seems like a no-brainer, but I can’t tell you how many industry events I’ve attended where people had forgotten their business cards! Make sure yours has up-to-date contact information, and that you have enough to exchange. (Better too many than not enough!)
Keep these tips in mind as you network throughout December. Remember, it’s about developing long-term relationships, not getting what you want right now.
Photo credit: Richard.Asia