Network for the Holidays!
The holidays are the perfect time to network for several reasons. First, people are more open to socializing with professional colleagues at all levels during this time of year. Second, on just about any given week from Thanksgiving to New Year’s, someone is throwing a party – including the Chicago AMA. (By the way, you can click here to register for the party now, if you haven’t already done so.) Third, the holidays are an ideal time to reconnect with past employers, colleagues, college friends, and peripheral people in your network via e-cards, traditional holiday cards and social media postings.
There are however, some cardinal rules to follow during all of these activities, whatever the season. Here they are:
- Make it Personal – the point of networking is to develop personal relationships with other professionals whether peers, vendors, educators, investors or potential clients. While you might want to avoid discussions on politics and religion, sharing views on just about everything else should be considered fair game. Family. Sports. Books. Food. Hobbies. Exchanging information about professional histories is fine as long as it doesn’t sound like your reciting your resume.
- Don’t Sell, Celebrate! – Making a sales pitch when networking is not only rude, its counter- productive. The idea is to make people who don’t know you well, want to know you better. Having someone try to sell you something in a social situation does not accomplish this.
- Give to Get – Make a point of going out of your way to help others in any way you can. If you ask someone what they do and find that they’re looking for work, ask them for a resume to see if you know someone who has an opening. If you do, you could help two people – the job seeker and the employer. If it turns out you’re unable to help them, let them know that you tried. The job seeker will appreciate that – and you.
There are two main venues to network during a holiday – parties and cards. Here are some ideas to help you get the most out of both.
- Drink very little and very slowly. Getting high during a business event is to invite disaster. So don’t do it. You might also try eating something before you go out. That way you can pick and choose what to nosh when you’re there and concentrate on getting to know people.
- Try to meet the company’s managers. If you’re new to the company or have never met its C-suite occupants before, look them up in the company directory and/or on LinkedIn before the party. When you meet, use their name, tell them yours and your connection to the company or group and make a positive comment. Here’s an example. “Hello, Mr. (name of CEO), I’m Jane Doe and I work in Marketing. Thank you for this wonderful party. It’s a lovely way to begin the holidays!” Be charming, positive about all things – especially the person you report to, your co-workers and your future with the company.
- If your co-workers are talking to people you don’t know, join them. Listen to the conversation attentively and, when it’s appropriate, introduce yourself. If you have something to add to the conversation, do so. If silence follows the introductions, ask the people you don’t know how they know the people you do Get them to talk about themselves, their history with the company, what they’ll be doing for the holidays, etc. Pretty soon you’ll be part of the gang and connected to a new group of friends.
- See someone standing alone? Smile and introduce yourself. Many of the world’s most interesting people also happen to be shy. If you approach them first you can make a friend incredibly quickly! Ask them about the food at the party (“Have you tried the Roast Beef yet? It looks delicious!”) Even better, ask them about themselves – “How long have you worked here, what department are you in, what do you like best about the company, and so on.” Then respond with information of your own. Asking people about themselves is the quickest way to convince them that you’re smart, interesting and someone they want to know.
- After the party send thank you emails to all the party planners and managers. If you’ve met them for the first time at the party, follow up with a snail mail card with your business card inside and a personal note about what part of the event you enjoyed most. If it’s appropriate, suggest that you meet them for lunch sometime in the cafeteria or for a drink after work to deepen the connection.
Sending a holiday greeting card is an easy way to reconnect with people whether you know them very well or barely at all. The great thing about cards is you can include a business card in them without seeming overly aggressive. You can also include a friendly invitation to connect in person for coffee, drinks or a meal after the holidays. Here are some options for you on how to use holiday cards to build, retain and deepen networking relationships.
- Send digital non–denominational holiday cards to as many people as you can. There are several vendors who you can use. For example, Jacquie Lawson (www.jacquielawson.com) has an exceptional card selection for all types of occasions. For a low annual fee, you can send out as many cards as you like, as often as you like to an unlimited number of people, throughout the year. But try to send them to a personal email address since some business networks may not accept them.
- Design, create and send out your own holiday cards. If you’re a writer or designer this is a super way to remind all the people you’ve worked with, interviewed with and networked with throughout the year of how talented you are. Make sure to “hallmark” each card identifying it as your own work. Something as simple as “Card designed by (your name, 2015)” on the back should do it.
Whichever way you connect or reconnect with people during the holiday season, remember that the purpose of networking is to build long-term friendships that can help you in the future. The best way to start is to “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Only do it first.” Happy Holidays!
Wendy Lalli consults on marketing projects through her own agency, Wendy Lalli Ltd. and is CD of Crux Creative, a marketing agency in Wisconsin. She also mentors other marketing professionals in transition and wrote on job search for the Chicago Tribune and 25 newspapers in the Chicago Sun Times network.