The office holiday party CAN help you reach the corner office
Make the office holiday party work for you.
Just as it has been for decades, at this year’s office holiday party, many of your colleagues will be sucking down one too many glasses of Prosecco and busting out Elaine-worthy dance moves — or worse. Indeed, a recent LinkedIn survey found that more than two-thirds of U.S. professionals say they’ve committed an office party faux-pas.
Just ask Greg Jenkins who has 25 years of experience as an event planner and admits he’s witnessed “quite a bit of embarrassing behavior at office holiday parties.” He’s seen venue security get called when a discussion on religion and politics got too heated, a partygoer steal the table centerpiece, and an over-served reveler pass out drunk and knock over the Christmas tree in the process. “Some have treated the office holiday party as the place to let one’s ‘hair down’ and ‘party,’” Jenkins, a partner at Bravo Productions.’ “That’s a big mistake.”
This year, amid the slew of sexual harassment allegations, managers are being particularly watchful about all kinds of inappropriate behavior from employees, says Dr. Marc Dorio, author and executive coach — and not just of a sexual nature. And that’s all the more reason to think of the office holiday party as work, not playtime.
What’s more, that attitude can advance your career. Indeed, nearly half of professionals (47%) say the office holiday party has had a positive impact on their career, and more than one in four (28%) have heard about a new job opportunity at one and 26% have gotten face time with executives they wouldn’t otherwise have, according to LinkedIn.
Here are five ways to use the office holiday party to advance at work.
Create a networking plan before the party even starts. “Use the office holiday gatherings for networking,” says Call to Career founder Cheryl Palmer, as you “may have the opportunity to mingle with higher-ups that you might not ordinarily associate with.” One way to effectively do this is to make a list of who you might want to speak with at the party ahead of time and think of something to break the ice with them, says Dorio. For example, “talk about personal and appropriate topics that will help you build closer relationships,” says Katie Bennett, founder of Ama La Vida coaching. “For example: you could ask questions about their family and what they’re doing over the holidays.
For a shy introvert, this all may seem like too much. In that case, just “take a deep breath and make a plan to introduce yourself to at least one new person,” says NYC-based career strategist Carlota Zimmerman. Pick the person who can most help your career, think up an intro to that conversation — practice it if you need to — and go for it.
Pick your conversation topics smartly. It may be advantageous to talk shop at office parties but you “have to be careful how you approach this so that you don’t come on too strong,” says Palmer. Follow the lead of the person you’re talking to about whether to talk shop or make small talk, says Dorio. If they ask what you do for the company, you can easily segue this into talking shop; if they ask about your kids, they may want to keep it light.
Some ways to talk shop smartly? Talk about something new and exciting that you’ve heard is happening at the company, like a new initiative or direction,” says Palmer. “You want to appear knowledgeable of where the company is headed and how you fit in with the company’s plans,” she says.
Don’t overstay your welcome. “Typically networking conversations at holiday parties are not very in-depth. People circulate and talk to different people,” says Palmer. “Be prepared for chit chat, and know when it’s time to move on.” This rule applies to how late you stay too; once you’ve networked with the people you need to, don’t feel the need to linger until things become awkward.
Get seen with the stars. Dorio says that the company you keep at the office party is important for how people, including the top brass, perceive you — so be sure to network with the stars and rising stars at the company, as well as people from all departments. “Don’t get hunkered down with your little group,” he adds.
Be approachable. Others may also be looking to network, so “smile and look pleasant” so you can appear approachable,” says Palmer.
Don’t overload your plate — or your glass. “Eat a good meal before, so that your first cocktail doesn’t hit you too hard. If you have an amazing tolerance, sorry, you’re going to have to get by on two cocktails maximum. Because yes, people will notice if you keep going back to the bar,” advises Zimmerman. And Dorio notes that having a full plate of apps and a cocktail in hand makes it harder to shake hands and network effectively.
Follow up with people that you network with, but don’t put too much pressure on them. Dorio says that following the office party, it’s nice to send a quick email to people you networked with saying it was nice chatting and maybe wishing them a great new year. But, though “you need to periodically check in with your network to stay top of mind, but don’t overdo it,” says Palmer. “Too much pressure will cause your networking contacts to avoid you.”
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