Holiday festivities are great networking opportunities for job seekers says Karl Smith, Africa’s foremost expert in social capital.

By karlsmith-then…, 25 November, 2013

The holidays can be hectic, but a busy social schedule is also fertile ground for business networking. “Between lunches, office parties and other social gatherings, you may come into contact with dozens of people during the month of December alone, “says Karl Smith, author with more than 6 years of social capital coaching and training experience. He adds that whether you have a job or not, networking is important and you should take advantage of every opportunity. So if you're wondering how to get a jump on the competition for jobs consider these tips:

 1. Strategically plan to be at parties where you know key decision makers or those who have influence on them will be. If you’re not sure which parties to fill your dance card with, aim for the ones with people who work for the companies you want to work for. If you’re lucky, you might have a friend who works for that company who can invite you to the annual holiday party. But also look at networking groups.

2. Don't make the head honcho your only target. Whether it is the CEO of the company or the chair of an organization, don't think your evening is incomplete if you don't shake their hand and spend the token two minutes with them. Have longer and more meaningful conversation with those who are lower on the totem pole and aren't besieged by everyone else. Top brass seldom gets involved in the day-to-day hiring, promotions and other managerial duties. Make a positive impression on everyone you meet so you will be memorable long after the event is over.

3. Introduce yourself well, be natural and conversational. Practise and perfect the art of introducing yourself. Figuring out your "sound bite" is worth it. It gets that conversational ball rolling! Try to establish a sense of rapport. Mention something or someone you have in common. Listen and ask simple questions to engage general conversation. Above all, try to avoid sounding like you’re reading from a script!

 4. Don’t collect/distribute business cards. Contrary to popular belief, the person who collects/distributes the most business cards is NOT the winner. Quantity does not trump quality. Simply collecting cards does not allow you to create the on-ramp to building the relationship, making it more difficult to arrange any kind of follow-up meeting. Establish a connection first! Once a connection has been established, then it is important to exchange business cards.

 5. Schedule a coffee meeting if you feel the connection is solid enough. As you nurture these contacts, you’ll interact with them more and more. It might start out with a few emails back and forth. But if it feels right (you think the person will be receptive), invite your new contact out for coffee. Your objective here isn’t to ask for a job, but rather to get advice. Maybe it’s to ask what this particular company looks for in an employee, or maybe it’s to get mentored on how you can improve your skills to be more hireable. If your contact is comfortable with you and is in a position to help, let him or her ask if he or she can give you a reference or set up an interview.

6. Don’t bad-mouth your employer. It doesn’t matter how horrible your current employer is or your former employer was. It never serves you well to speak poorly of the company, personnel or products with which you have been associated. It simply casts you as a malcontent. People may enjoy the juicy gossip, but they will think twice about adding you to their team for fear ofhow you might speak of them behind their backs. While you don’t need to sugar-coat any negative experiences, take the high road, keep your comments neutral and let your listeners draw their own conclusions.

7. Follow the drinking rules. When it comes to drinking, there are very few people who do follow the rules. But since this holiday party season you are making a genuine effort to make a good impression, you must try to be that minority. A good way of checking alcohol intake would be to eat enough so that you feel full. You could also alternate non-alcoholic drinks with alcoholic ones. Impressions count. Make the right one.

8. Send holiday cards. Bypass the pre-printed, sterile ones. Take the time to sign your name and write a short personal note. As appropriate, send to your clients, prospective employers and, particularly, to those people at any level who are vital links in your networking chain.

Smith encourages job seekers to continue communicating with their network into the New Year. "If there's been some change in your status, send an updated resume with a note about your new accomplishment," he says.



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