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Joy to the Networking World: Meet Career Contacts at Holiday Parties By Mariana Ortiz, Career Advisor at National Louis University

Does the holiday season have you feeling pensive about your current work situation? Are you tired of applying for jobs and getting few results? Perhaps you should try a different job search strategy. Eighty-five percent of career positions are attained through networking – so grant yourself the gift of gab and exercise it during the holiday season.

Discover and Mingle at Networking Events

‘Tis the season to mingle away the stress of looking for a job. If you haven’t joined a professional association or attended university student/alumni events yet, now is the time to get involved. Many professional associations host holiday parties in December. These festivities provide an easy way to meet other people. All you have to do is show up and start interacting with fellow attendees.

Use websites like eventbrite.com, meetup.com, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and your industry-specific professional association websites to find out about networking events in your area. For example, if you are in the counseling field, you can join the Illinois Counseling Association.

Need help identifying where to start? Schedule an appointment with an NLU Career Advisor to discuss your options.

Preparing = Gaining the Most Contacts

What if you are not a natural at starting conversations and do not know how to approach people at networking events?  I recommend having a handy list of ice-breakers for your next event. Feel free to write them down on a sheet of paper to keep in your pocket or as a note that you have saved onto your phone.

Employ a simple “Hi,  I wanted to introduce myself. My name is Joanna and I work at XYZ Company. How about you?” Even better, you can ask them a question such as, “What brought you here today?” or “How did you hear about this event?” Or maybe add some weather-related humor, or talk about the delicious appetizer you just tried. Here is a list to get you started.

Make sure to eventually ask them about their career goals and then share what your own goals are. You never know who they know that might be able to provide you with industry insight. Feel comfortable with also asking them what they are doing for the holidays or what their favorite dish is this time of the year – people like talking about themselves! Plus, it sets a fun tone to the conversation and loosens up the mood.

Know the Power of Business Cards

What is the point of going to networking events if people might forget your name as soon as you leave? After you finish a networking conversation, remember to always give people your personal business card and have plenty of them to hand out. Use vistaprint.com or other business card websites to make your own. There are various designs you can utilize along with specific information you can include depending on your industry. This is the best way to represent your brand as a professional and stand out from everyone else who usually take their work business cards.

Once you provide your new contacts with your personal business card, ask them for their business card too. If they do not have a business card, then make sure to take down their contact information. Inform them that you will be keeping in touch via LinkedIn and say something along the lines of “It was so fun talking to you, enjoy your holiday parties – I am sure they are well deserved!”. Exit the conversation on a naturally positive and energetic note!

Link Your Way Virtually through LinkedIn

If you do not have a LinkedIn profile, the time to create one is now. Use LinkedIn to connect with people virtually via private messaging. Add people who work in your desired industry. You can use this newly acquired network to gain knowledge. They have worked in the field or company you want, so use their expertise to your advantage. Make sure to treat them with respect and patience, as they are busy professionals who may have to dedicate time out of their day to help you.

Another strategy to utilize in strengthening your network is to secure informational interviews and take a fellow professional out for coffee. Once you have generated conversation with this person and built some virtual trust, you can go ahead with offering them a lunch or coffee meet. You can say something like, “Would you have 15 minutes to meet me for a brief coffee near your area (my treat) to chat about what you do in your current role? I respect the strides you’ve made in your field and want to ask you more questions about that.”

If they aren’t available, then try to schedule a phone conversation. If they still are not available for that, then ask them one to three questions via private message on LinkedIn. The focus is to make it easy and convenient for them and create a back-and-forth conversation versus just sending a lengthy list of questions. Remember to be patient with this process. Not everyone will reply and this is fine; that is why you have many LinkedIn members in your area to choose from.

All in all, it is well worth it to dedicate time in your schedule to networking and finding meaningful connections. I have seen networking truly make a difference in the results of job seekers. So give yourself some variety and change up your job search strategy this holiday season. You will feel refreshed and happy that networking will help you gain more exposure for yourself – which gets you steps closer to new employment!

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