By WALLACE IMMEN
Friday, December 3, 2010 Print Edition, Page B16
A chance encounter at a holiday party led to a new job for Scott Ryan. And it wasn't even a business party.
"I was looking for a new position as a programmer, and at a neighbourhood party I started chatting with someone who worked at a software company that was expanding. He invited me to stop in to tour the office some day," recalls Mr. Ryan, who has a degree in computer science.
When he followed up by phone the next day, Mr. Ryan was urged by his new acquaintance to come on a day when employees take off a little early, and to join them for beers after work.
"I was introduced around and got speaking to one of the bosses and I gave him a quick description of the job I was looking for - and I had come prepared with a copy of my résumé."
That got him invited for an interview and, shortly after, a job offer with Calgary software development firm Ice Edge Business Solutions.
It's seldom that easy, but the holiday season is a unique time for such chance encounters that can lead to job opportunities, because people are more open and approachable than they are the rest of the year, career experts say.
Yet it's remarkable how many people shy from holiday parties or don't use them to advantage, says Eileen Dooley, president of Eileen Dooley Professional Coaching in Calgary.
Even if you aren't looking for a contact who could help you land new job, it's the time when managers and employees mingle on informal terms and you can learn about plans and opportunities for the coming year.
"My advice is to look at these as opportunities and to take full advantage of gatherings where people are in a festive mood," she says.
While you want to be strategic, it's important not to be overbearing, Ms. Dooley adds. "These are supposed to be parties and not business meetings, so I wouldn't get involved in a long discussion of work. People want to keep things light at a party, so pull back and be more general, unless, of course they open up and start talking about it."
Job seekers would be wise not to directly say they're in the market for a new position, which could cause people to decide it is time to excuse themselves to get a fresh drink, Ms. Dooley recommends. "It's best to say something vague like, 'I might be open to new opportunities in the new year.' When you do that, people get what you're talking about." They don't want to go into a long conversation about it at the party, but you've opened the subject.
And by all means work any room and get to meet as many people as possible, Ms. Dooley recommends. If the host isn't introducing you around, take the initiative yourself.
For many, that's a prospect that makes them head for the hors d'oeuvres table or the door, but it shouldn't, says Martin Antony, a Ryerson University psychology professor and expert on social anxiety and shyness.
Almost everyone experiences at least a little social anxiety and uneasiness when faced with a room full of people they don't know well. For many, that is a reason for them to send regrets rather than attend. "But avoiding fearful situations will only worsen your anxiety," Dr. Antony cautions. "If you're shy, talking to others will be hard at first, but will become easier over time if you keep trying to be social."
Many people worry about meeting new people out of fear they will make the wrong impression. "Confidence comes with experience and studies consistently show that repeatedly practising entering feared situations will make future encounters less frightening," Dr. Antony says.
You can consistently make good first impressions by making sure you make eye contact, speaking in a confident volume and showing a genuine interest in the other person, he added.
Experience can turn you into a fearless networker, attests Margaret Glover-Campbell, who credits confidence she gained from holiday parties for putting momentum into her career, even though she didn't actually change jobs.
When companies were cutting back in December, 2008, the Calgary communications specialist decided to test the market in case she had to make a move.
One event held by the International Association of Business Communicators was particularly fruitful, she recalls. "I went with the intent of finding out who was in the room and there were a couple of hundred."
There was lots of mingling and she let people know she might be up for a new challenge and she carried business cards in an outside pocket of her purse so they were convenient to hand out.
"I didn't want to broadcast to the world that I might be looking for work," Ms. Glover-Campbell explains. But several people at the party understood and offered to make introductions, which led to interviews for positions.
As it turned out, her company was soon on the road to recovery and she credits the confidence of holiday networking and the optimism she gained from the experience to getting a promotion to vice-president of marketing and communications for Poynt Corp. in Calgary, which develops mobile-device applications.
"The experience gave me confidence and allowed me to reacquaint myself with people I realized it was important to keep in contact with," Ms. Glover-Campbell says.
OFFICE PARTY TIPS
Dress the part
Ask the party organizer or someone who attended last year's event about dress code if you're not sure. When in doubt, it's best to stick to business attire.
Looking happy and making eye contact are essential to appearing approachable and open to conversation.
Get on the radar
Shake hands with your boss and other senior managers and wish them a happy holiday season. A memory of the encounter with a pleasant, happy employee will put you in good stead when it comes time for promotions.
Don't hold back. Find a way to join groups discussing topics that interest you that will lead to introductions.Ask questions
Here's a chance for you to catch up with co-workers on what they have been involved with this past year and share some experiences of your own.
Respond that you understand what the other person has said and then keep the conversation rolling with a related experience you've had.
Drink in moderation
You are there to do two things - meet as many people as you can, and gather information. Stay sharp and sober to make a good impression.
Reinforce your presence by saying goodnight and thank you to the most senior staff member in attendance, the party organizer and your boss before leaving.
WHERE TO NETWORK
Jon Minners, a writer for career advice site Vault.com, offers suggestions of where to do your networking over the
Cast a broad net
Look for every opportunity to meet possible job contacts in the season of general goodwill.
Who knew your sister's best friend knows someone who is hiring?
Your friends have friends who work at other companies and in other industries, and they have contacts. Get to know them.
Celebrations with colleagues
Year end is a good time to tap into the gossip about changes and opportunities people see coming in the year ahead.
Host your own party
Tell your friends to bring some colleagues from their workplace. Never be obvious about your intentions, but talking off-the-cuff about where you are at and what you are looking to accomplish can bring suggestions of contacts.