Sure there’ll be lots of food and booze to ensure the holiday cheers get spread around, but the holiday office party is more than just an occasion to have company-paid-for fun at the end of the year.
For the smart IT professional, corporate events such as Christmas parties also offer a chance to explore potentially crucial alliances and scope out opportunities for advancement – while having fun of course.
“When done right, taking part in your company’s holiday bash can be a real career booster,” says Ivan Misner, head and founder of Business Network International, a global networking organization. Called the “Father of Modern Networking” by CNN and the “Networking Guru” by Entrepreneur magazine, is one of the leading experts on business networking.
Leveraging this golden opportunity, however, requires finesse, Misner warns. “It’s definitely not the occasion to talk shop at length or pass around business cards. It is a party, after all.”
In situations like this there’s a fine line between vibrant up-and-coming young professional and party bore, says Misner, who has built a career advising executives on how to properly and effectively network.
“The important part is to remember that you’re not selling a product or idea. You’re there to network while having fun and allowing other people to have fun as well.”
Here are some of Misner’s networking strategies:
Spot the opening – In every party there will invariably be what Misner calls the “open twos” and “open threes”.
If you see two people huddled very close to each other, that’s a “close two” leave then alone because in this case, three might be a crowd.
If you see three people in a sort of “V” formation that’s a “close three” not much chance or joining their conversation without appearing you just butted in.
Three people forming a “U” shape is your open three. Head for this group and you’ll find it easier to join the conversation.
Listen – After introductions have been made, resist the temptation to babble or take over the conversation. Listen; try to determine where the conversation is going, find out what your companions concerns are. Be an interviewer. Ask questions and let your questions direct the conversation to where it would allow you to mention some of your strengths.
Be prepared – Know who you are talking to, what their job role in the company is and what they’ve done this year that has improved the overall performance of the business. Use this info as a way to start a conversation such as: “Hi Mr. Boss, I was so impressed by the way you handled the Jones Company’s campaign. How did you know that would work?”
Offer help- Rather than trumpet your accomplishments or special skills, try offering people your help. “While selling yourself is often out of place, offering help is never inappropriate,” according to Misner.
For example, your might be valuable to a colleague needing some assistance on a part of a project which requires your expertise. The important thing to remember is to keep this exchange “transformational rather than transactional.”
“Offering to do something in exchange for another thing is what I call ‘Godfather-type networking’. That won’t work very well in the long run,” said Misner.
Set a follow-up meeting – The end game here is to open the door for follow up. You want to be able to connect with the boss after the party, one-on-one.
Know your value – Introducing yourself to the company executive can be an intimidating experience, so give yourself an informed pep talk. Know your value; make a list of the things you have done for the company over the past year and understand your role in the company’s success.
Once you’ve got this down, there’s no reason you shouldn’t feel good about yourself.
Have a teaser topic prepared – Have an idea ready that describes how you can improve you sector in the coming year. Don’t give away the goose, set up a meeting to discuss the details.
Don’t over do it – Yes, the holiday party is a good time to introduce yourself to the execs but remember it’s still a party. Don’t act as if you’re in the board room giving a presentation, keep it natural and leave them intrigued.
Don’t have one too many – It’s a party, but it’s not YOUR party. You don’t want to be stinking of booze when you approach the higher ups. Remember, the holiday office party should be considered a work event.
After being a hit at the party, the smart IT professional must always follow through on his or her success, according to Misner.
“Make sure re-establish connections. After all it was a party, you want to make sure the people you talked to remember you in a good way”.