Holiday parties are a great opportunity to meet new people and explore career options. Whether you're unemployed and looking for work, making connections for down the road or flirting with the idea of a career change, this is a great time of year. As long as you keep things casual and festive, networking is perfectly acceptable. Keep these three basic rules in mind to watch your Rolodex expand.
Rule 1: Remember, You're at a Party
Keep the conversation casual. Sure, you can mention that you were recently laid off or that you're looking for a career change, but don't straight-up ask for a job. Instead, start with something basic like, "How do you know the hosts?" See where the conversation goes. There's a good chance that their connection will be through present or past work, which brings the conversation right where you want it. When appropriate, offer up insights about your experience and interests, but don't go into shop-talk overload (definitely don't bring up your resume, or, even worse, have it ready to give out). Remember: Everyone likes talking about accomplishments, so stroke your conversation partner's ego a little bit. That brings us to our next point.
Rule 2: Do Your Homework
If you know someone you really want to work for is going to be in attendance, it won't hurt do so some basic research. After all, you want to carry your end of the conversation in a memorable way. Your calendar is probably full of holiday parties, and each party is different (people at your roommate's office party will be different from another friend's more alcohol-friendly Friday night bash). Still, all of these are great opportunities to meet different sets of people.
Rule 3: Be Memorable
At the end of the evening, you want everyone you spoke with to think of you as a potential colleague or business partner, so it's important to find an inconspicuous way to stick in their minds. Yes, it's bad form to straight-up ask for a job, it's totally okay to give out your business card. Jot a personal note on it first, and make sure to ask for other people's cards in return. Send a follow-up email stating how nice it was to meet. Sending out holiday cards via snail mail is a good tactic to stay on the radar of existing professional contacts, too.
All these rules can be summed up in familiar phrase: Be business casual. Keep things fun and festive, yet professional. Don't be afraid to subtly let everyone know how responsible, friendly, and intelligent you are. Come the new year, when jobs are opening up, those new contacts will remember your great attitude.