Many people dislike office Holiday parties. They find them difficult, often a source of anxiety. But if you're serious about your career progress, they can be one of the best opportunities of the year.
However right or wrong, fair or unfair, just or unjust, strategic networking at holiday office parties can be a career boon. Indeed, getting in the good graces of those with the power to fast-track your career can be a fortuitous turning point that accelerates your climb up the corporate ladder.
If you don't like the idea of using a 'social affair' for anything other than spending time with some colleagues over a dinner and drink - read no further. I understand your position and am not trying to change your mind with my thoughts. But if you are into using any and all opportunities to get that next promotion or raise - this blog's for you.
A Holiday party provides a genuine opportunity to present yourself in a way that is very different than your everyday appearance and style. And if you are in an office, or cube all day, it presents an opportunity to finally get seen by decision makers.
The art of the schmooze can pay strong dividends, and you don't need to come off as brown-noser. Here are a couple of suggestions to make the most out of the next corporate party:
Decide this: "I am going to the party anyway, so why not make the most out of it?" Give yourself an objective and set about attaining it. Think through what would be the absolute best outcome relative to your career growth. How should you go about presenting yourself both physically and personality-wise? How should you introduce yourself and what kind of talk should you engage in to show you in a different light?
Go to the party fairly early so the boss (es) and HR types see you and your date arrive before the masses. When you walk in make a point of going over to the host/boss and giving a message of Season's Greetings. Introduce your date to them (another tip: brief him or her beforehand about who are the big shots and important types; let her or him know what your objective is) and thank them for having the party. They have spent money or gone to some trouble for this event to occur and it's nice when someone recognizes their efforts.
Try to look comfortable. In 8 cases out of 10, even the boss will be a bit uncomfortable. (S)he will notice if someone else seems to be able to 'fit in' and make others feel more at ease. This is true even if the boss and his/her date have done this many times before this year. So if you look relaxed and confident, the bosses and HR types will be impressed with your 'presence'. And they will remember your apparent comfort and ease in a situation where others weren't. All the better for discussions about promotions and how you may be a good candidate.
Finally, before you go to the company party, read up on current events so you can open up conversations in the event that one of those “we all hate these but don’t know what to do” periods of no one talking and everyone looking at the floor occurs. If you can break the ice and keep others feeling a bit less uncomfortable; it will also help to showcase that you’ve got some of the ‘right stuff’ that can help the company succeed in other areas.
John M. McKee is the founder and CEO of BusinessSuccessCoach.net, an international consulting and coaching practice with subscribers in 43 countries. One of the founding senior executives of DIRECTV, his hands-on experience includes leading billion dollar organizations and launching start-ups in both the U.S. and Canada. The author of two published books, he is frequently seen providing advice on TV, in magazines, and newspapers.