One of the best times of the year for networking is upon us: the holiday season.
Now, I know what you are thinking—“there’s no time for that.” It’s a season of worry, planning, deadlines, procrastination, more worry, coffee, and extra cookies. Yet, even with all the craziness and sugar rushes, it is often the best time of year to find and meet new people, as well as craft engaging alliances.
You may have an opportunity to attend special events, such as workplace or school holiday parties, where you can catch up with people who you already know and make new connections. The holiday season is also the perfect time for networking from afar. It gives you a reason to reach out and say hello, to follow up on a conversation you had in the last year, or to reconnect with someone you haven’t interacted with in a while.
So, ‘tis the season for networking—and that’s a good thing. Many people erroneously characterize networking as something that is “dirty.” But that is not true. The goal of networking is not to mine someone’s brain for a job or to trick someone into doing something for you. Networking is an honorable activity because it’s about building win-win alliances, where both parties provide value to each other over time. The sense of joy and generosity that I get when I engage in networking mirrors the sense of the holiday season, which—for me at least—is about community and bringing joy to others.
To help you craft a networking plan for the holiday season, here’s a list of do’s and don’ts.
Do leverage this season to reach out. I often send holiday greetings to clients, colleagues, partners, and others with whom I have interacted professionally. The notes, which come in the form of cards or emails, are a way to keep the connections going, share updates about my career and projects, and demonstrate that I am genuinely interested in the recipients’ well-being.
Don't send religion-specific cards, such as those that say “Merry Christmas.” I keep it very simple with messages that read “I hope you have a great holiday season,” and “Thanks for a great year of collaboration. I look forward to working with you in 2020 and beyond!”
Don’t hesitate to reach out to someone new. Maybe you’ve had a scientist on your mind because they have the same research interests as you and you’d like to work with them in the future. Use this time to send them an email and tell them who you are, how you found out about them, and what you have in common. Feel free to indicate that you see opportunities for collaborations and ask them whether they’d have 15 minutes to engage in an informal discussion after the holiday season is over.
Do attend holiday parties in your region, for instance those hosted by your alumni association, university, organization, company, or professional society. You never know who you’ll meet. And remember to bring business cards with you to every affair and hand them out. When people hand you their cards, feel free to say something along the lines of this: “Can we continue this conversation after the new year? I’d love to hear more about your work and explore opportunities to work together. Perhaps I can assist you.” Afterward, don’t forget to follow up to schedule an appointment and say how nice it was to meet them at the event.
Do expand your gaze for holiday get-togethers. Members of your community might be hosting holiday events for entrepreneurs, for female leaders, or even for people who share your love of a particular hobby. Look for events that you might not otherwise hear about on Meetup, LinkedIn, and other social media sites. Inspiration to think innovatively can come from anyone at any time, and these kinds of events can help you meet people beyond your scientific or institutional bubble—possibly resulting in discussions that will spur you to see your work in a new light.
Don’t be bashful. It can be hard to step out of your comfort zone and introduce yourself to new people, especially if you’re introverted. It’s also easy to get caught up in the fear that you won’t have anything interesting to say. Keep in mind that you don’t have to lead the conversation by talking about yourself—you can let the other person take center stage by inquiring about their projects and passions. My initial go-to question is “What’s the best part of your job?” When you get people talking about their favorite subject—themselves!—in a positive manner, that can be a good way to break the ice. And if you display genuine interest and ask follow-up questions, that will show the other person that you want to get to know them.
Don’t drink alcohol if you don’t typically do so. I recognize that many of the social norms during holiday time parties—and get-togethers in general—often include alcohol. But for those of us who do not imbibe, this is certainly not the time to change your personal habits.
Do have an exit strategy. When you are ready to conclude a conversation, simply state, “It was so nice to meet you. Happy holidays! I hope you have a good evening.” Then, migrate to another person or to get a drink or something to eat. And when you feel you have reached your capacity for in-person networking, call it a night. Don’t keep going if you feel overstimulated from the conversations. Thank the host and leave with a smile on your face.
Do think about hosting your own holiday get-together. You could do so locally, in the place where you live. Or, if you happen to be at a conference this season, you could organize it around the meeting. Organizing an event, even if it is small, gives you an opportunity to make new contacts and hone your skills in event planning and marketing. Moreover, people will truly appreciate your initiative to bring everyone together and will take note of your engagement and dedication to the community. The event itself will showcase your commitment to helping others network.
Networking doesn’t have to be a chore or a bore, nor should it evoke a feeling of sleaziness. Networking echoes the true meaning of the holiday season: exploring ways to help others. When you approach networking with this mindset, you’ll find that it’s a joyful, rewarding opportunity. Many more hidden career opportunities will come your way, and you’ll see ways to share your own talents and knowledge with others.
Networking is a gift that can keep on giving, all year long. So here’s to a happy networking season!
Concepts in this column come from and build on the author’s previous published works, including articles, speeches, and her book titled Networking for Nerds.