Mingle All The Way: 4 Ways to Spruce Up Your Professional Network at the Holidays By Christine Andrelczyk, Career Services Advisor

NetworkingHolidaysThe holidays can feel like a huge slump for job seekers. Between the hectic frenzy of holiday parties and gift shopping, it’s easy to lose sight of your career goals or lose motivation altogether, which is why so many people simply postpone the job search until January.

However, the holidays are a great time to find new opportunities. Fewer job seekers means less competition for you, plus companies are looking to fill in any lingering vacancies with strong, new talent to kick off the year with. Whether you’re unemployed, a new graduate, or a professional looking to scope out new opportunities, there are a few simple things you can accomplish during this season of festivities to ensure you will have something to celebrate in the New Year.

Attend (or host) a holiday party. Social events are ground zero for networking, and luckily for job seekers, the holiday season is filled with get-togethers and parties. If you’re currently employed, find out if your employer is hosting a holiday office party where you can meet people from different departments or levels of management. If you don’t have a job or if you’re looking to make some contacts outside your company, look into after-work networking events in your area. Sites like Network After Work or LinkedIn can help connect you with local opportunities.

How do you make the most of a holiday party? Be sure to send the host/hostess a thank you, and follow up with other guests via LinkedIn.

Get out of your comfort zone. The point of networking is to meet new people, so if you’re stuck to your BFF’s side all evening, you’ll miss some valuable opportunities to make new connections. Encourage yourself to talk to people outside your immediate circle. Make introductions, then follow up by sending a LinkedIn request. It may feel a little awkward at first, but it’s definitely worth it.

Keep conversation natural. A common misperception is that networking is all about business. In truth, your most valuable relationships are built on mutual interests and understanding. Chances are if you only talk shop, you’ll never strike common ground with your contacts and you may even bore them if they’re trying to unwind at a holiday event. Maybe you both went to the same university, love the same football team, or both recently took a vacation to Shanghai. Those are things people will remember about you, not the discussion about client retention or bottom lines.

Send out cards. Holiday cards are a tried and true tradition, and also a convenient way to freshen up your contacts. By reaching out a few times a year, you can maintain an ongoing connection with even your most distant contacts, which will keep them from growing “stale” as you drift apart. By sending out cards, you’re doing yourself and your network a favor and also spreading around some holiday cheer.