You may think the holidays are the worst time for networking—let alone finding a new job. After all, it’s the time of year when everyone takes off (or would rather be celebrating; they’ll get back to your email in a week or two).
But the holiday season actually offers some perfect opportunities to boost your career. For example, some businesses slow down around the holiday season, so people have more time to meet for lunch or coffee, advised Michelle Ngome, a speaker and business-networking expert.
Even better, Ngome added, busy professionals are more willing to discuss outside interests and bond on a deeper level when they’re in a festive mood.
So don’t let the “bad time of year” myth hold you back. Here are some ways to use the holiday season to build your network and meet influential people.
Make a List of People You’d Like to Meet
Any endeavor is more successful when you take a strategic approach—and that applies to networking, too.
“Start by making a list of the 10 people you’d like to meet in person over the holidays,” Ngome advised. “Then, increase your chances of connecting by figuring out where they like to hang out.”
Take full advantage of seasonal events by calling to introduce yourself to the people on your networking list. See if they will be attending some of the same parties and events, and let them know that you will see them there.
Here’s another tip: When you are trying to build your network, never turn down an invite to a holiday party. No invite? No problem. See if you can tag along with a friend or someone from your network.
Turn Acquaintances Into Connections
Use the holiday season to turn the influential people you met this year into stronger connections and allies in the job-hunting process. How? Send each one a holiday card with a personal note that not only expresses good wishes but one or two of your key achievements, and how you hope to expand on those in the coming year.
You’ll not only stand out; it’s the perfect opportunity to ask if they want to grab lunch or coffee and catch up. “Even if they want to hold off on getting together, try to schedule a time to meet after the first of the year, and you will be further along in the networking cycle,” Ngome noted.
Expand Your Circle of Influence
Most people think of networking only in traditional venues and business-oriented gatherings, but that’s not using the power of networking to its fullest, advised Dr. Ivan Misner, founder of BNI, who responded to our questions via email.
Leverage the holidays to meet people outside your industry or specialty by attending events that you don’t normally attend. Frankly, non-traditional networking settings offer the most bang for your buck, he added.
For instance, many businesses host appreciation events for clients, vendors and even prospective hires. Charity events, alumni parties and fundraisers are other great places to rub elbows with key influencers around the holiday season.
Be Memorable... but Honor the Event
If you’re going to hobnob with influential people, don’t wing the conversation. “Try to know whom you are talking to, what business they are with, and what they’ve done this year with the organization,” Misner noted. Google the people who will be attending and use the info to start a conversation.
Boost your confidence by making a list of things you’ve done over the past year and how you can integrate those tidbits into the discussion.
However, keep in mind that networking is a secondary concern for many of the people there, so don’t treat it like a business mixer. If you come on too strong or “oversell,” you risk turning people off.
Avoid monopolizing conversations, warned career author and educator Dr. Katharine Hansen. Show interest in others. After all, these are holiday events, and people want to mix, connect, and have fun.
Finally, use your party conversation as a segue for a future meeting. Let some of the people you meet at these parties know that you want to learn more about their business, and that you’d like to meet with them next year.
Prepare a Teaser Topic
If you happen to connect with someone near the end of the year, have an idea ready that describes how you can improve the industry or increase profits and performance. Use that idea as a springboard to set-up a face-to-face meeting.
Don’t Let the Holidays Be an Excuse
Don’t let someone being out of the office stop you from making the connections you need to make, Misner noted. Tell them why you’d like to connect. The more successful someone is, the more they get pitched; show genuine interest (as opposed to, say, trying to sell something) and you’re more likely to kick off the start of a solid relationship.