Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Tis the season to be NETWORKING

HOLIDAY PARTIES perfect for extending contacts

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December is typically a crazy month filled with holiday preparations, work and family Christmas and Hanukkah parties, and of course, gift shopping. At the same time, most job applicants would suggest December is not a good month for job seeking. I beg to differ.

With December being a month of celebration, organizational leaders are often more open to meeting with individuals for networking purposes. As well, there may well be a rush to fill various positions prior to the arrival of the new year, so keep up with your marketing calls. In my view, December is decidedly one of the best months for networking and making valuable connections that will, at a minimum, create new relationships and could well lead to a new job. The challenge for any candidate is to get invited to as many special events as possible.

To acquire those special invitations, let your established network know that you are open to accompanying them to their special events; after all, many people do not like attending on their own. Watch for advertisements of an "open house" and be sure to attend. Contact the various organizations associated with your industry and check to see if they are having a December event. If you aren't a member, find someone who is and ask to attend as a guest. Should a dinner event be too costly, then simply join the crowd in the lobby and discretely disappear just as people respond to the call for dinner.

Attending December events is one thing but effectively engaging in good, high-quality networking is another. That's because networking is not selling! Nor is networking about pushing your business card into as many hands as possible. Instead, networking is all about making contact and taking the first step to develop relationships. It's about generating contacts that increase your sphere of influence, create alliances and yes, eventually it might lead to a new, fulfilling job.

11Keep that smile going

A positive attitude and a smile will take you a long way toward developing strong networks. That's because most people want to be associated with other positive people. Keep all your conversations upbeat and avoid complaining particularly about any job search challenges. Remember: make the most of your first impression.

Dress for success

Prior to attending any event, check the dress code. There is nothing worse than attending in an outfit that is considered over- and/or under-dressed for the occasion. Either way, dress can make or break that all important first impression.

Create a script

Being out of work for most people is depressing and a conversation you would like to avoid. If you are anxious about how to address this issue, then write out a simple script. Create a statement that is positive but truthful and focuses on skills. There is nothing wrong with finding yourself in between jobs; just make sure you don't apologize.

Listen, listen, listen

The best networker is a good listener rather than simply a good talker. Being an effective listener demonstrates you are giving your full attention to the speaker. Be sure your body language is connecting with the speaker and maintain eye contact with this person as the conversation moves forward.

Reach out and help

There will be many an individual in attendance who is there out of obligation and is not necessarily very comfortable. Reach out and assist this person by befriending and introducing them to others. Inquire about their interest in attending and seek out their personal interests. Look for common ground. Helping is a powerful reciprocal tool.

Keep conversation light

Stay away from serious topics such as politics and religion that can take you down an unwanted and controversial path. Avoid bragging about all of your accomplishments and/or monopolizing the conversation. Be careful your questions are not interpreted as interrogation. Hand out your business card only if asked.

Adjust your language

Keep in mind your vocabulary may be very industry focused and that other people may not understand the lingo you might use. Be sure to avoid being condescending to anyone who might misunderstand your background. Keep your vocabulary simple and to the point.

Circulate widely

Your goal is to meet as many people as possible. That means avoiding the opportunity to dart over to a special celebrity without having someone known to them make a personal introduction. Avoid monopolizing people's time by limiting your conversations to approximately 10 minutes before you move on and introduce yourself to others.

Share your passion

Focus on talking about things you are passionate about. This enables you to be positive without much effort. It will also help you to connect with people who have similar interests. If you are talking about your job search, speak about your skills and accomplishments rather than job titles or your former employer.

Make use of social media

While you may not be able to attend many special events, leaving a holiday wish through voice mail and/or sending a card through your social media contacts will serve to give good cheer to any recipient. It's quick, effective and well received.

Find a volunteer opportunity

The holiday season is so busy many volunteer groups are short of people to help. Find a charity of your choice and reach out with an offer to assist. You'll find many other individuals doing the same thing. Volunteering is a great opportunity to meet new people who are of a similar mindset. Not only that, helping feels good.

Co-ordinate your own open house

You'll need family co-operation with this, but sometimes inviting friends, acquaintances and family to your own open house is well worth the effort. Ask individuals to bring one friend that would be a good connection for you. Keep the group small and more intimate so you can have quality conversations.

Invite a friend for tea

There's usually a lull between Christmas and New Year celebrations, so this is a good time to call someone and schedule a quick lunch or cup of tea. Once again, keep the conversation at a higher level and focus on your guest's personal interests. There is also no harm in asking someone for their advice; everyone likes to help.

Keep the phones ringing

While many people do indeed take vacation along with their statutory holidays, there are many business leaders that head to the office to enjoy some quiet time. This means they will take the time to receive your call and instead of five minutes, you might spend 15 and/or be invited in for a quick meeting. Be selective and keep those phones ringing.

The festive season is frankly an ideal time for high-volume networking and an opportunity to make valuable new connections. Get out there and get active!

Barbara J. Bowes, FCHRP, CMC, CCP, M.Ed is president of Legacy Bowes Group. She can be reached at barb@legacybowes.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 14, 2013 H1

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