You’ve seen him at the mall, hanging out at a party or two, and maybe even ringing a bell here and there. Sure, he’s there to pose for pictures, hand out candy canes, and review gift lists of all the good little (and big) boys and girls... but what he is really doing is ... networking. After all, networking is about creating and building relationships.
And since this dude is probably about the busiest person on the planet during the month of December, it goes without saying that if Santa Claus can make time to network in the month of December... can’t you?
The general school of thought is that in-person networking events in December are not all that productive. As an executive career coach, I hear client after client tell me that networking in December isn’t worth the job searching or career enhancing effort. They proclaim that “no one is hiring in December, so what’s the point?”.
On average, fourth quarter hiring rates of companies in the US (calendar year) are at or near hiring rates to that of first quarter (about 78%). So, if one claims that hiring doesn’t happen in December, I think they may have a bag full of coal.
If you are in the market for a sparkling new job, networking during the holiday season is a great opportunity to connect with those you don’t yet know but would like to and to reconnect with those you already know and (probably) like.
Networking during the holiday season is a great time to connect in a social atmosphere that tends to be less intense than during other times. However, even though the atmosphere may be more party than purpose, it is important to always dress professionally and prepare for each event.
Holiday Networking Dress
Dressing for networking tends to be pretty wide open. However, when it comes to your professional image, it is always better to be overdressed than under dressed.
If you are not sure what folks will be wearing to an upcoming event, ask around. If everyone you speak with will be wearing a suit... wear a suit. Otherwise, generally, business casual is acceptable. Networking outside the office, with more of a focus on culture or entertainment, may also be an opportunity to ‘express yourself’ more in terms of style and color.
For men, depending on your industry, a dress shirt, dress pants, and jacket are generally a good call. If you are in finance or an executive in a conservative industry, adding a tie may be appropriate.
For women, a dress skirt or pants and blouse with a tailored jacket are always a sure winner.
For both men and women, keep the accessories to a minimum. But do display your most important accessory – your smile.
Preparing for the Event
Make a List, and Check it Twice
Make a list of all your professional and personal social events you have been invited to or wish to be invited to. Then, prioritize those events. We all have time constraints on how many engagements we can attend, so prioritizing your opportunities is critical.
Make a list of target companies and/or target job titles you are most interested in pursuing. Getting clear on the type of work you want to do next and with whom you want to work for is all about focus. The more focused you are on your next move, the better.
As you look at your lists (from 1 and 2 above), look for areas of convergence and consider this events as priority. For example, if you are a woman and have an opportunity to attend an event that consists of all women executives and your next career goal is to move into a VP role of a mid-sized company, you may want to consider this networking event as a top priority.
As you look at your ‘final’ list (from 3) above, make sure your list is attainable. Maybe one or two networking events a week is a good number for you. The idea is to be productive in each event by making good connections, while also not stretching yourself too thin so that you lose your ‘wow’ power.
Prepare Your Elevator Speech
This is a critical, must have, don’t-leave-home-without-it requirement. An ‘elevator speech’ is a short, 60-seconds or less, snip-it about who you are and what you are looking for in your next professional gig.
In a 60-second pitch, the biggest mistake I see is that clients try to communicate too many points without driving home a few key attributes.
Most listeners will remember no more than three characteristics about a person in a first meeting. Determine up front the three most important traits you want to communicate, then develop statements that effectively illustrate those qualities. For example, let's say you want to communicate that you're:
A seasoned human resource executive;
Experienced in the IT industry;
A strong leader and team player.
You might share these qualities by saying something like, “I offer more than 15 years of progressive advancement leading human resource teams for highly respected IT companies.”
Then you would go on to support this introductory message with specifics. “I've managed agency teams and internal human resource departments of up to 25, handled budgets ranging between $1 million and $3 million, and overseen development and implementation of international HR programs.”
Finally, you provide the listener information that engages him or her to make a connection with you. “My current research has been focused around Fortune 100 companies headquartered in the Northwest that are focused on global expansion of their workforce, since that's really my sweet spot.”
These three statements portray the core of your value to a company, substantiate your strengths with actual numbers, figures and specifics, and close with your current actions to identify opportunities that meet your interests and qualifications.
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donner and Blitzen...
With your events identified, schedule thoughtfully planned, attire chosen, and ‘elevator speech’ drafted and practiced, you are ready for take off.
The holiday season is a great time to attend networking events. With a thoughtful plan and some investment in preparation, you can have a successful and productive networking season. And who knows, you might have some fun too. Ho, Ho, Ho.
For a great resource on one-on-one networking, check out the book, “The 20-Minute Networking Meeting: Learn to Network. Get a Job”, by Marcia Ballinger.